Solutions for Baby Boomer downsizers and renters
Amanda Graham is CEO and co-founder of the downsizing.com.au website. Originally known as Seniors Housing Online, her business started two decades ago when she was working in NSW state politics as the chief of staff for the Honourable Fay LoPo. Amanda assisted the Minister on planning and preparation for the ageing of NSW’s population.
At the same time, her father was looking for a home on the NSW Central Coast. Amanda tried to help him locate a retirement village online, but there were no listings. Her work for the government meant she knew there was a growing demand, but she could not locate a website where consumers could search. She ultimately resorted to phoning listings in the Yellow Pages, with no information on cost, aged care add-ons, nor images to help her father count properties in or out.
This confirmed a huge gap in the market. A few months later she faced the same dilemma while helping her sister-in-law look on behalf of another family member. It was because of these experiences that the original Seniors Housing Online website was born and quickly garnered consumer support.
Industry wasn’t quite so kind with Amanda recalling that they were initially ‘laughed out of the room’ when sharing the listings service at a gathering of retirement village operators.
Today the same operators are regular advertisers on the site as it expands its offering.
“We seek to help people aged 50 and over, and their friends and relatives, to find retirement living accommodation, aged care residences and in-home care services. The major part of our business is for independent living for the over 50s. The site is free to consumers, with operators paying to advertise, as opposed to paying a commission.
Consumer tastes have changed a lot. Many younger Baby Boomers have made money on their homes and are seeking to access equity to be able to better fund more aspirational retirements. The potential to release that equity opens all sorts of possibilities – a whole new world, in fact”.
Over the past twenty or so years, Amanda has witnessed a change in the type of accommodation being sought
“Younger Baby Boomers are more than happy with the vertical retirement villages that are emerging in the inner city. There is also stock of relatively inexpensive units in regional areas, offering a good range of accommodation. But people need to be clear about what they are buying into.”
Yet there remain multiple barriers to this major financial decision
“Many retirees will defer this decision until they are too old or too infirm for such a big move. There remains a lack of trust in financial advice. But the complexity of decision making means that professional advice is probably needed on matters including superannuation, taxation, the Age Pension ramifications, legal issues and Body Corporate obligations. It’s a lengthy decision making process and many people just keep deferring it.”
And what of the ‘they’ll carry me out in a box’ naysayers?
“Younger retirees tend to have a different attitude. Their parents were usually happier to live frugally and leave decent bequests to their children. The younger Boomers tend to live in the here and now rather than planning on leaving a hefty inheritance. This means they are more than happy to consider downsizing”.
Amanda sees her greatest contribution as making previously unavailable information accessible to both the children of older Australians, as well as the retirees themselves.
“What bemuses me is that this generation of consumers remains under the radar. It’s partly due to the stereotyping of older people as well as some latent ageism. But it’s an asset-rich, fast-growing market, one that is also demanding online Age Care listings for their later lives.”
But perhaps Amanda and her team are making an even bigger contribution to the housing needs of older Australians, with their latest offering.
Matching senior flatmates
An innovative free service for seniors seeking rental accommodation has been launched by CEO and co-founder of downsizing.com.au, Amanda Graham. Trading as seniorflatmates.com.au, it offers a matching service for those with spare rooms – and those with nowhere to live.
“There was a group of people using our site who were seeking affordable rental accommodation. They were getting more and more noisy. One lady contacted us and shared that she was living in her car and showering at the beach. We realised that we urgently needed to do something, so we created this new offering.”
Seniorflatmates.com.au helps connect those with excess space to those seeking an affordable rental option. Some empty nesters with spare bedrooms are able to offer such an option, as can people with an empty granny flat. Listings are limited to people applying for themselves or offering private rooms to others.
The dearth of housing stock for older renters has been well documented. As has the rise in homelessness amongst women aged 55 and older. Amanda notes that many such women can be ineligible for a home loan, are no longer able to work or have had health issues which have reduced their savings. Those on a full Age Pension are now paying more than 40 per cent of their income in rental fees, so room sharing may offer a much more realistic solution.
There’s another obvious benefit to sharing, of course. And that is, when sharing with a compatible housemate, the debilitating effects of isolation are greatly reduced.