Covid has made us reassess our lives


March 24, 2021 • Bel Booker

Retirement living brands need to get ready…

As we all know, older people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Many have spent months shielding or been isolated from friends and family throughout lockdown, others have faced the devastating loss of a partner.

These experiences have been transformative and are leading many older people to reassess their living arrangements. The benefits of living close to shops and services and having people around to help out if you need them has become starkly clear. 

For those people who – perhaps unexpectedly – find themselves living alone, the issue of isolation is very real. But there’s also the stress that comes with maintaining a home by oneself. This especially true for older people still living in family homes.

Maintaining a big house and garden might have been manageable when there were two of you, or when family members were freely able to come over and tackle tasks, but how about now? It can soon become overwhelming, regardless of your age. The pandemic has also been stressful for the family members of people living alone, as they’ve had to worry about their wellbeing and ability to cope by themselves. 

All of these factors are likely to lead to a surge in people considering retirement living options this year. The proposition of retirement communities, with no-maintenance homes close to all amenities, will be more attractive than ever before. But for brands hoping to take advantage of this increased demand, it’s crucial to show an understanding of both the physical and emotional needs of prospective customers. 

What does the modern retiree look like?

At Clear, we’ve conducted research into the retirement living sector to really understand what this new generation of retirees want – and how they’re feeling. It’s important to remember that, whatever the circumstances, deciding to sell your family home is an incredibly difficult decision. 

The thing is, people in their sixties and seventies today are just as independent and adventurous as their younger counterparts. They want to carry on living full, active lives and don’t necessarily want to sit around playing bingo. 

There are a lot of negative connotations around retirement accommodation – and terminology has a lot to do with it. Phrases like ‘assisted living’ or ‘sheltered housing’ are associated with people who can no longer live independently and are not attractive to modern retirees. There exists a gap in terminology to describe the independent, maintenance-free lifestyle that retirement living can provide, representing a big opportunity for brands to nail down the right language.

We’ve learned that relief from home maintenance is a key driver for people moving into retirement communities. Freedom from house commitments comes with far greater benefits than anyone could have imagined; research shows that an average 80 year old feels as good as someone 10 years younger after moving from mainstream housing to a house specially designed for later living. 

Why is this? When home maintenance is being taken care of, people have more time to spend doing things they want to, like having days out or holidays, doing hobbies or playing sports, or simply spending quality time with friends and family. 

The pandemic has underlined the value of these activities and how much they contribute to our wellbeing. We can also see now how precious time with family is, and that visits shouldn’t be spent having to attend to jobs in the home and garden.

Retirement living is the next student living

The housing market is expecting a boom in retirement developments over the next decade, with growth matching that seen by student accommodation over the past 10 years. But the similarity doesn’t end at growth rates; these types of developments will have increasing amounts in common in future. 

That’s because retirement communities are going to move out of rural locations and into town centres. With so many retail and office units becoming vacant during the pandemic, councils are looking for ways to breathe new life into urban centres. Will Bax, chief executive of Retirement Villages Group, told Property Week that a new breed of retirement community is coming, starting with its new development in West Byfleet.

“Here, Retirement Villages is taking on a 50,000 sq ft, seven-storey, town-centre eyesore, empty for five years, to create a new beating heart the town will be proud of – a place for young and old,” he said. “Unlike its forebears, typically in rural locations, this new breed of urban, inclusive and design-led retirement scheme will integrate communities and offer shared amenities including cafés, libraries, nurseries, gyms and community space.”

This reflects the mood of modern retirees, who want to maintain the freedom to come and go as they please and live independent lives. From our research, we know that older people desire to live in the centre of things and feel connected to friends, family, neighbours and community.

And when people understand what retirement living is all about (living independently for longer and increased social opportunities that don’t centre around bingo and tea dances) they are much more attracted to it. In a survey carried out by WPI Economics, 68 per cent of respondents said the appeal increased, including 25 per cent who felt it increased greatly. 

Meanwhile, independent research by the Elderly Accommodation Counsel in 2019 found that 92 per cent of residents would recommend retirement living. Many say that moving into a maintenance-free home comes with a new lease of life: it’s the sense of get and go that comes from having all the hassle of home ownership looked after by someone else.

Retirement living brands that can capture this feeling and communicate that selling your family home is not the end, but actually the beginning of something new, stand to win big in the market. 

Want to reposition your retirement living brand for the new generation of retirees? We’d love to learn more about your businesses and share our expertise with you. Give us a call on 0161 448 8008.