Village Life

Retirement villages are springing up everywhere, offering worry-free lifestyles for older people and those who need extra support. Ranging from trendy apartments to standalone homes with plenty of space for guests, is village life for you? By Sarah Wale

What is a retirement village, exactly? It is somewhere for you to lead an active, independent life in your retirement, without the stresses of running and maintaining a home and garden. It will offer you security and companionship while enabling you to maintain as much privacy as you wish.

Spoiled for choice!

There are various types of village and you should consider carefully which sort would suit you best. The term retirement village covers a variety of accommodation and services for retired people. There are many different types to choose from, with some emphasising ‘lifestyle’ and providing resort-style accommodation and facilities like a swimming pool, gym, club-room, restaurants, maybe even golf.

Most villages have a community centre and a range of recreational facilities. Some have a hairdresser on site and may even offer a ‘Blokes’ Shed’ for the hobbyist or handyman who no longer wants the hassle of home maintenance but isn’t quite ready to give up his tools!

Often villages also offer a small care home facility, whilst others may feature a full range of care options, sometimes up to hospital standard, so residents can enjoy the village lifestyle for as long as they want regardless of their level of fitness or self-management.

Each village is unique and they scale in size from just a few homes to hundreds. The type of accommodation could be anything from a villa or town house to a studio apartment (serviced or not, as you wish).

A retirement village allows you to live independently in a secure environment, free from the work and expense of remaining in your own home (one that may now be too large and rather lonely).

You can enjoy the retirement village lifestyle whatever your age; different villages will have different lower age limits but many will accept those aged 55 and above. Although the villages are specifically for retired people, if only one partner or spouse is retired the other can continue to work.

Retirement villages are usually located in prime areas which may be by the sea, near a golf course, or in the heart of the city. Another advantage of retirement village accommodation for those who love to travel, and now have the time to indulge, is that they can simply leave their home (having ensured that any monthly payments or fees are covered in their absence), safe in the knowledge that it is secure and will be just as they left it upon their return. Some villages also offer parking for boats and camper vans.

What’s the best choice for you?

Research, research and more research! Research villages in your chosen area. The best way to do this is to contact the Retirement Villages Association of New Zealand (RVA) to request its helpful DVD. Around 92% of registered villages are RVA members.

Check out the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) website to find additional information about the Retirement Village Act for residents and operators, download a Code of Practice, find out about fees for retirement village registration and contact the Registrar.

You’ll also find information about choosing a village at the Get Sorted website and on Age Concern’s Common Questions website page. Or call in at your local Age Concern office.

Then you need to consider some other things. Why are you taking this step, and what changes do you expect to happen in your life as a result? Decide what you really want – are you sporty and active, or do you prefer quieter pursuits like music and the arts? Be honest with yourself and don’t be swayed by what you think you ‘ought’ to want.

What type of accommodation do you want? How many bedrooms will you need, do you require disability access, and so on (think about your potential future needs, too). Would you like to have a small garden, or prefer to be in a unit where there is no garden or the grounds are cared for by the maintenance staff? Where you want to live? Nearer to family, in the neighbourhood where you live now, or would you like to settle in another part of the country?

Seek advice

Arrange to visit the village(s) of your choice and ask to speak to residents. Read everything you are given. There are laws and a Code of Practice governing retirement villages, and you must be given all relevant information in writing. Get advice from an independent legal advisor, not just from family or friends.

Make sure you are absolutely certain what the financial commitment will be, not just for the initial purchase of your Licence to Occupy, but also any ongoing fees and charges. Get sound financial advice from an independent source as well, such as your bank or a trusted investment advisor.

What if it all goes wrong?

The Christchurch earthquake was a dramatic example of things going wrong and it was soon realised that the Code of Practice did not provide for such a catastrophic event, where a village was completely destroyed. Although this was an exceptional occurrence, the RVA saw that something needed to be done quickly so that residents could rebuild their lives.

The RVA put together an assistance package, including interest-free loans and help in finding and moving into new homes, which ensured displaced residents could move on with the minimum possible stress or disadvantage. As a result, amendments to the Code of Practice have also been addressed and are being implemented.

Choose wisely

You may wonder why we refer throughout this article to registered villages. The Retirement Villages Act requires retirement villages to be registered with the Registrar of Retirement Villages (part of the Companies Office). This is because only registered villages are protected by the legislated Code and therefore you can have confidence that you are protected in the event of the failure of a village due to damage or even insolvency. As a resident of a registered village, you will be given priority over any other creditors, even the government or banks, if financial matters are at issue. RVA member villages have regular compliance audits and receive an Accreditation Certificate, which you should ask to see when you visit prospective villages. Be aware that nonregistered villages are not required to comply with any of the above.

Choosing a village which suits you can enrich your life and give you the time to pursue your interests amongst friends. Most people who move to a retirement village enjoy their new life so much they wish they’d made the decision sooner!

Downsize in style

Retirement villages aren’t for everyone, and you may want to explore the growing range of relocateable dwellings offered by home design companies. From granny flats that can be moved onto land adjacent to family to complete small homes like Haven Homes’ trendy Mod Pod, the choices are endless. And because the homes are prebuilt and ready for inspection, decision making is easy.

Most home design companies have models suitable for elderly people and those with specific health or mobility needs. Often layouts and designs can be easily modified to suit your preferences. Talk to local housing companies to learn about options in your area.

MedCottages / Granny Pods

MedCottages are attractive dwellings, not currently available in New Zealand, that give a glimpse of how ‘ageing in place’ might look here in years to come. MedCottages have the appearance of a regular small home, but are fitted with the latest technology to assist with care. Features include the automatic delivery of medication reminders, and monitors to raise the alarm in case of falls or other emergencies. New Zealand is a bit behind the times in such offerings, but no doubt this will change quickly in our greying society.

We thank RVA executive director John Collyns for his assistance in the preparation of this article