Forever homes overtake retirement villages: Tech and co-design are the backbone



‘Living in an apartment is NOT a compromised experience. You are upgrading from a family home to a more wholesome, futuristic living experience. It is a stark option to a retirement village.’

Across the globe, 210,000 people turn 60 every day. Older consumers’ spending power is projected to reach US$20 trillion by 2030. Yet despite the Economist’s prediction that ‘older consumers will reshape the business landscape’, few older consumers believe they are being courted.

In The Super Age, Bradley Schurman  maintains that the ageing of the world population will uncover a new reality for both businesses and governments.

Put simply, demographic disruption = massive business opportunity.

But is anyone listening?

Warnings of the risk to those companies who fail to read the tea leaves seem to be falling on deaf ears. Which led me to explore whether Australian companies are any worse or better than their northern hemisphere counterparts. I started with the property sector…

Mya and Don Russell are enjoying the late winter sun in their 14th floor apartment in Mirvac’s Eastbourne in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

‘When Covid hit, the word that came to mind was ‘safe’ says Mya, ‘I feel so safe in this apartment.’ The Russells weren’t even looking to move when they discovered the proposed Eastbourne development on the site of the former Dallas Brooks Hall in East Melbourne. They had arrived early for a nearby funeral and, fortuitously, wandered into a display unit.

The rest is very rapid history. They booked a longer viewing a couple of days later, and within 24 hours signed the contract of sale. They weren’t the only enthusiastic purchasers of this development– with $300 million in sales committed within three days.

The Russells are now ensconced in their 2-bedroom, west-facing apartment, and couldn’t be happier. In particular, they enthuse about the ease of living in this carefully designed community, celebrating the location opposite Melbourne’s historic Fitzroy Gardens, the high standard of design and finish of the complex and the diversity and colour of their local neighbourhood.

Let’s be honest, there really are few better locations in Melbourne, with ready access to an arts precinct, sporting hub, café and dining options and the CBD within an easy walk.

But nothing related to the siting and creation of this community has happened by chance. Instead, it is a considered response to the realities of the Super Age that has resulted in a building that successfully meets the needs of the new generation of older Australians who are post-full-time work, but far from retired. Which begs the question whether the property sector in general, with Mirvac at the forefront, is leading the way in meeting the needs of Australia’s discerning, asset-rich baby boomer cohort?

One could make this case. And co-design seems to be playing a strong part. Eastbourne Project Manager Mark Trovato believes a major factor in the success of the 250-apartment community is the early engagement with potential buyers, who are taken on the journey of design, construction, fit-out, and connection with their future neighbours, across the three-year timeline prior to occupation.

The Mirvac team also shares a very clear understanding that most buyers are not actually downsizing, even though they are moving from a standalone family home to an apartment.

‘Rightsizing is what most of our customers are doing,’ says Trovato. ‘It’s not a buzzword, it’s the correct term. Factually many older buyers don’t want fewer bedrooms or carparking spaces. They do, however, want to share infrequently used spaces such as dining rooms or larger leisure spaces and to delegate the maintenance of pools, gardens and home theatres to someone else. People aren’t downsizing – they don’t necessarily want to be moving down, or to the side – they want to be moving up.’

The result of a collaboration with architects, Bates Smart, the Eastbourne’s shared facilities are nothing less than 6-star, including a lap pool, spa and steam room, yoga studio, theatrette, conservatory with attached kitchen, ‘Masters’ club with individual temperature-controlled cellars and a basement carpark with CCTV. And in a nod to the increasing number of entrepreneurs aged 50+, as well as pandemic imperatives, a bookable stateroom for meetings or work sessions on demand.

Such amenity is not confined to the Eastbourne development. In Sydney, at the Mirvac Portman on the Park project in Green Square, residents can, in a minimum of five minutes, reach a newly created library, civic centre, aquatic centre, park, creative precinct – and the Green Square train station. Whilst car parking is an option for the 1–4-bedroom apartments currently on offer, many buyers are choosing to relinquish the family car, and explore the neighbourhood on foot or by bike instead.

Portman on the Park also responds to interest older purchasers have in maintaining a long and active life, by being the first residential project in Australia to seek the WELLv2 certification. This ranking encourages design values based upon research, which uses 10 central concepts of the connection between a physical environment and human health.

Developments such as Eastbourne and Portman on the Park respond well to the core challenges of older Australians – how to maintain independence and personal choice within a residence that is designed to age with them. Mirvac’s GM, Design, Marketing and Sales, Diana Sarcasmo, believes that this goes beyond the notion of accessibility or barrier free living. ‘It is in the creation of a truly integrated local community which fosters an active lifestyle with apartments that can be adjusted over time. Details include wide corridors, level access to balconies, kitchens with easy-to-open cupboards, and reinforced walls so any room can be retrofitted if and when necessary. It is in fact, designing a ‘forever’ home, wherein technology supplies the backbone of this flexibility.’

‘Great design is flexible design’ says Stuart Penklis, Head of Residential. ‘The Covid pandemic has revealed many things, rather than causing them. We now better understand the need for frictionless environments, fewer touch points and digital door locks.

Living in an apartment is NOT a compromised experience. You are upgrading from a family home to a more wholesome, futuristic living experience. It is a stark option to a retirement village.’

The moving experience is also carefully supported by Mirvac, with hosted meetings to introduce new neighbours in nearby restaurants or parks. Stylists assist new residents to choose which furniture will work well in their new homes and how to store or part with other pieces. Moving day is carefully choreographed to remove stress and ensure that first impressions are positive ones.

Sarcasmo, Penklis and Trovato all agree that the feedback loop between customers and sales personnel is the vital link which enables a level of individualisation, ultimately ensuring enhanced customer satisfaction.

Says Sarcasmo, ‘Just because many of our purchasers are over 55, it does not mean we take a blanket approach to our developments. Each community is different and appropriate to its location. There is no formula rolled out across our projects; every building we design looks different. Scale is very important. Some buyers want a smaller, bespoke apartment. Some want a tower. One ‘Brady Bunch’ family combined three apartments in the Eastbourne to create a 7-bedroom home. But human scale is everything.’

Which brings us back to the feeling of security noted by Mya and Don. This is further reinforced by the attentive 24-hour concierge service on offer at their apartment and applauded by many of their neighbours. But there’s another aspect of security that baby boomers seek, which is not confined to the built environment. This relates to the security of their financial assets. Since the Eastbourne was completed in June 2019, about 15 apartments have been resold. Trovato says every sale has achieved well in excess of what the original purchasers paid.   

The Mirvac organisation, founded by Robert Hamilton and Henry Pollack in 1972, will turn 50 next year. In a 2017 interview, Hamilton shared one of his key survival tips, to scrutinise the market for trends. It’s worth noting that the company he co-founded is now entering the same decade as many of its target market. Perhaps it’s this business maturity coupled with future gazing that enhances Mirvac’s likely success in the Super Age?