Monday 11 November 2013

Ageing Singapore to get first retirement village

Private facility still in planning stage but good news for retirees waiting for this option
By Radha Basu, The Sunday Times, 10 Nov 2013

After more than two decades of debate and deliberation, Singapore's first retirement living community will finally be built at Jalan Jurong Kechil.

Property developer World Class Land (WCL), a subsidiary of jewellery group Aspial Corp, told The Sunday Times last week that it plans to build the facility on a 10,170 sq m plot of land, roughly the size of 11/2 football fields.

It won a tender last November by offering close to $75 million for the 60-year leasehold land earmarked for residential use.

The tender documents said the developer is free to build private flats, condominium units or a retirement living community. At the time, WCL did not reveal which option it would take up.

Contacted last week, a spokesman said the company is excited about the project, but is not ready to reveal what will come up. "The details are still in the planning stage and subject to approval from the authorities," she said.

The project has to be completed within five years of the tender being awarded, which means by November in 2017.

A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said the site was released with special conditions "to facilitate the development of a private retirement housing product by the market".

These include:
- A choice of 30-year, 45-year or 60-year lease options, all shorter than the usual 99 years. The developer tendered for the 60-year option. 
- Special provision of elder-friendly services. The developer, for instance, can use the 10 per cent bonus gross floor area to build services such as medical clinics and "communal living facilities" like activity rooms and a cafeteria or restaurant.
Removal of restrictions on the maximum number of units that can be built - popularly known as the "anti-shoebox rule". This will allow the developer to build smaller studio apartments popular in retirement communities overseas.

Singapore is among the fastest ageing countries in the world. The number of those aged 65 and above will nearly double over the next few years, from 352,000 in 2011 to 600,000 by 2020.

The news of the future development was applauded by retirees, like Mr Ngiam Tong Yuen, who have been waiting for such living options for years.

The engineer and his wife, Jean, who are in their mid-70s, live in a spacious bungalow in Braddell Heights. "This place is far too big for us," he said.

But a smaller flat is not all that he is looking for.

"A retirement community can offer seniors much-needed companionship from like-minded peers," said the father of two adult children. "That's especially vital if, as you age, you lose your spouse or your friends."

Senior living champions such as Mr Tan Kee Hian, while equally excited, added a word of caution.

"A senior living facility is much more than building just a block of flats," said Mr Tan, who spent two years trying to raise capital to start a retirement village. Its value comes from the services, facilities and on-site care management, such as having a dedicated village manager to deliver high-quality services and nurture a community.

"I hope the developers pay heed not just to the housing needs but also the lifestyle and care services, which are what seniors want and value more."

While Mr Tan hopes more land with similar senior-friendly incentives will be made available for retirement villages, the authorities are taking a more cautious approach.

Said the URA spokesman: "We are monitoring the response and outcome of this pilot site before deciding whether more such sites will be released in future."

Baby boomers worried about growing old alone cheer the news
By Radha Basu, The Sunday Times, 10 Nov 2013

News of Singapore's first retirement village has brought fresh hope to a group of older folk who have been pleading the case for such communities here.

"We have been waiting for this for so long and our hopes were fading," said Dr Ambika Sarah Dharan, 64, a semi-retired doctor who has been lobbying for years. "This is the biggest piece of news I have heard this year."

Over the past five months, she has penned two open letters on behalf of a group of more than 150 "elderly, healthy, educated and enlightened folk" clamouring for more senior-living options.

"I was just too scared of staring at the four walls of my flat when I grow old and infirm," said the single woman who lives alone.

Her letters went to 30 ministers, politicians, active-ageing advocates and developers, seeking more "First World options for retirement living".

She questioned why, despite rapid ageing and a growing population of educated, affluent baby boomers, there was still no retirement village in Singapore.

Common in developed countries, these communities combine flats or houses with services such as medical clinics, nurses' stations, restaurants or cafeterias, gyms and activity rooms that seniors can use for line dancing, drama or music classes, reading rooms and other activities.

Dr Dharan has been gathering support from like-minded older folk like retired school principal Mabel Wee and a group of friends.

After visiting a retirement village in California, Ms Wee, 64, had begun meeting a group of retired friends every week to play the ukulele, share food and chat.

Last Friday, a dozen or so members of this group met at Ms Wee's Serangoon Gardens home to discuss the news of the first retirement village. "This is a long-awaited dream come true," said Ms Wee, who is single and lives alone.

"Retirement villages are especially useful for those like me who are ageing alone in landed homes we have lived in for nearly all our lives."

Not all of those who want retirement villages are single.

Some like Mr Sreetharan Viagasu, 74, and Ms Jacqueline Oehlers, 63, have children, but don't want to depend on them. Two of Mr Sreetharan's three children live overseas. He does not want to burden his only son in Singapore.

"We hope he will have children soon and it's stressful being a parent these days," said the retired army officer.

"My wife and I don't want to trouble him with our day-to-day needs," he added.

Ms Oehlers, who has a 34-year-old daughter, said what she finds most attractive about retirement villages is the fact that they offer services on-site.

"When you are on a wheelchair visiting a food centre or a clinic, even a 10-minute walk may be a problem," said the counsellor, who has visited a retirement community in Sydney.

A retirement village also allows older people to "age in place" and is not a depressing institution.

"It is your home. And it provides activities, care and companionship when you need it most," she said.

* 1st retirement housing project prices 'on high side'
Prices within forecasts but experts tell buyers to note short 60yr lease
By Cheryl Ong, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2013

PROPERTY agents have started marketing units at Singapore's first retirement housing development.

But preliminary prices suggest that units at the privately developed project are on the high side, experts say.

Developer World Class Land, a unit of jewellery group Aspial Corp, submitted the top bid of $73.8 million - or $482 per sq ft per plot ratio (psf ppr) - for the Jalan Jurong Kechil plot in November last year.

The 1.02ha 60-year leasehold site is earmarked for residential use and the Urban Redevelopment Authority said private flats, a condo or retirement housing may be built.

Marketing material describes the project, The Hillford, as a "retirement resort". It is expected to launch on Jan 10. The 281-unit project will boast 24-hour concierge service and 18 commercial units, such as food outlets, a convenience store, clinics and medical-related facilities.

Early price indications show a one-bedder of 398 to 431 sq ft could cost at least $400,000, or about $1,005 psf. A two-bedder of 506 to 560 sq ft could be at least $500,000, or about $988 psf. Prices of a 657 sq ft two-bedroom dual-key unit will start from $700,000, or at least $1,065 psf.

Analysts had expected units to go for $900 to $1,100 psf.

Although the prices fall within forecasts, industry experts say buyers should be mindful of the property's short lease.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of property firm Century21, noted that 99-year leasehold one-bedders at The Inflora range from 462 to 495 sq ft and were sold for just over $400,000 in late October.

Units at nearby Sherwood Towers, with 62 years left on the lease, were selling at a lower psf price, he added.

The Jalan Jurong Kechil project's shorter lease could mean banks may offer buyers a smaller loan for properties with shorter leases.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said the developer could have priced rising construction costs and the cost of providing concierge services to residents into the selling price.

A World Class Land spokesman said that people may not be familiar with the offering, adding that retirement villages cannot be compared with condos as they provide different amenities.

Semi-retired doctor Ambika Dharan, 64, had been interested in the project, but is considering a retirement home in Iskandar instead. She said she would have to live on her savings if she sold her current flat to buy a one-bedder.

"It's a little pricey considering it's for retirees, not just a typical condo. I don't think you can peg it to the condo market," she added.

Lots of room for improvement at 'retirement resort'
By Radha Basu, The Sunday Times, 12 Jan 2014

Interest in Singapore's lukewarm property market heated up in the New Year as showflats of what is being billed as the first "retirement resort" opened for previews last weekend.

First off the block after a 20-year debate on whether Singapore should have retirement communities, The Hillford in Upper Bukit Timah comes with plenty of promise.

Developer World Class Land says the 281 units will have elder-friendly features such as emergency alarm systems in bedrooms and bathrooms linked to a 24-hour concierge service counter. A full-time "resort manager" will coordinate activities such as yoga and art or enrichment classes for residents.

It promises a staggering list of more than 30 recreational facilities and spaces, including swimming pools, a reading lounge, fitness corner, gym and theatrette. Residents will also have access to clinics, restaurants and an eldercare centre.

The development is likely to go on sale next weekend.

But before opening their chequebooks, older buyers must carefully consider the details about this project that may well be glossed over by the sharp-suited men and women hired to sell this golden retirement dream.

For starters, although The Hillford bills itself as "Singapore's first retirement resort", it has no age restrictions on ownership or occupancy. In Europe, Australia and the United States, most such developments tend to be restricted to seniors above a certain age.

Asked about this, the developer told The Sunday Times it would give potential buyers "flexibility" and it was "only natural - given our Asian context - for families to want to stay together".

Indeed, there are a small number of two-bedroom "dual key" units which will enable parents to live with their adult children.

Older folk like Ms Cecilia Ng, who is in her late 50s, say in that case, The Hillford should at least have had a provision for the majority of occupants to be seniors. "With no age bars, the very purpose of a retirement village is in danger of being compromised," said the retired school principal, who has visited an age-restricted community for seniors in the US.

Retirement housing remains a niche development overseas, with only 10 per cent to 15 per cent of older adults interested in living in them. Residents tend to be single or widowed, or to not have or to not want their children to live with them.

So it could be argued that the real reason there is no age restriction at The Hillford is to enable the developer to sell units as fast as possible and offset what have been seen as early sticking points: the price of the units and the fact that the development has a 60-year lease. Other private properties here are freehold or come with a 99-year lease.

Current prices start at $388,000 for a one-bedroom 398 sq ft unit, which, given the limited lease period, is considered steep by many retirees.

But young buyers, some of whom have been priced out of the condo market after curbs on shoebox units, may find the price attractive and buy a unit, given its rental and investment potential and proximity to good schools. Indeed, potential buyers in their early 30s with young children in tow have appeared on national television extolling the virtues of having good schools nearby.

A second issue is that there is no guarantee that all the senior-friendly services being advertised now will indeed see the light of day.

In the West and in Australia, retirement villages are often operated by aged care companies. The Hillford is being built by a property developer, albeit with input from an experienced Australian retirement housing expert.

Traditionally, aged care companies have care staff who work with residents long-term to meet their evolving physical and emotional needs. Some of these companies even buy back units or help heirs to sell them when the resident dies.

Property developers, on the other hand, tend to build, sell and get out. So as with any other condominium in Singapore, The Hillford's management will eventually be handed over to a management corporation strata title (MCST) committee. Comprising residents, it will have veto power over services and facilities in the condominium. In theory, if the majority of buyers are young, they could nix support services for the old.

The developer says the property has been positioned for active, independent seniors aged 50 and above, and that a "substantial proportion" of those interested in buying comes from this target segment. A spokesman said it "does not expect the MCST to make any drastic changes to the property".

Still, there are no guarantees. In countries such as Australia and New Zealand, retirement village developments are legally bound to continue providing the core benefits and services promised to the elderly resident in his occupation agreement.

So if a developer promises a 24-hour concierge service, for instance, this cannot be done away with simply because a majority of the younger residents do not want to pay for it.

Finally, there is also some apprehension over the fact that The Hillford aims to cater to "independent and active" seniors. Indeed, the design of the showflats is not in sync with the safety needs of frail elderly. The marble living room floor, for instance, is a slipping hazard.

There are some obstacles for wheelchair-users too, such as the small step to enter the bathroom, the lack of a shower bench and no grab bars - although the latter can be added on request. The shower area has a glass panel, blocking wheelchair access.

As a journalist covering ageing issues, I have visited more than a dozen retirement communities in Europe and the United States and spoken to those who run similar developments in Australia.

The latest trends in retirement housing lean towards communities which cater not just to an older person when he is independent, but also as he becomes frail and infirm.

Residents can continue living in the same unit even when they lose mobility, if cared for by trained care staff. There are no such provisions here. These are issues developers of retirement villages here will need to consider.

But these shortcomings of The Hillford cannot take away from the fact that its developers have dared to go where none has gone before despite the growing clamour for more retirement housing options.

Imperfect it may be but it is a start to fulfilling a demand that was first voiced nearly two decades ago.

* All 281 units of retirement resort sold out within hours
By Cheryl Ong, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2014

ALL 281 units at the first housing project here aimed at retirees sold out just hours after its launch yesterday as 1,000 hopeful buyers thronged the showflat.

Many were older home seekers, but plenty of younger buyers were also drawn by the relatively affordable prices at The Hillford, a mixed development marketed as a "retirement resort" by its developer, World Class Land.

By 4.30pm, all units at the project had been sold, at an average of $1,100 per sq ft (psf). Units range from 398 sq ft to 675 sq ft.

The developer could not give figures on the proportion of older and younger buyers by press time.

But when The Straits Times visited the showroom in Jalan Jurong Kechil in the morning, there was a a mix of buyers in their 20s and 30s, as well as those over 50.

When the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) tendered out the site for what is said to be Singapore's first "private retirement housing product", it had certain conditions.

While there are no age restrictions on buyers, it recommended providing space for elder-friendly services such as medical clinics, as well as shorter leases for the project.

The Hillford's 60-year lease - the first for a residential development - has allowed the developer to price units more cheaply, attracting younger buyers with shallower pockets.

Marketing executive Stephanie Keh, 29, and her husband, both Malaysian permanent residents (PRs), came looking for their first home. But they failed to secure a two-bedder of 506 sq ft, priced at about $560,000, in the ballot. "The key point is the price, it's relatively cheaper than other condos," Ms Keh said.

She added that PRs now have to wait three years before buying a resale Housing Board flat, and that The Hillford was the only private housing project they could afford in the current market. Units at the Creek @ Bukit nearby, for instance, were sold for $1,637 psf on average in November.

Ms Alice Tan, research head of property firm Knight Frank, noted: "PRs who want to satisfy their immediate aspirations of owning a home here could be attracted to this project."

Though the prices of units were cheaper than private properties with a longer lease, Madam Rita Gan, 61, a nurse, said the project was expensive in psf terms. "But I intend to live in it. I'm coming to an age where I just want to retire, so it doesn't matter to me."

But Madam Kong Chuy Ming, 74, had more than retirement on her mind. The retiree, who turned up with her husband, said they bought a two-bedder for about $525,000 so their children can lease it out after their passing.

"It's for us to live in, but it can also be an investment for my children," she said in Mandarin.

Build on the lessons — and buzz — from the Hillford
By Richard Hartung, Published TODAY, 6 Feb 2014

After the disappointment of what was supposed to be the debut of a retirement resort community at Hillford turning out to be more like an ordinary condominium launch on Jan 17, policymakers have an opportunity to do better.

Admittedly, neither the developer nor the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) might call Hillford a failure. Yet, a look at what happened shows how the project strayed from its intended purpose.

When the URA released the tender for the property, it offered benefits including a shorter leasehold, higher land coverage, extra gross floor area and space for supporting services if it became retirement housing.

However, the URA also said it had provided flexibility for developers or operators to decide on the criteria used to screen those buying or renting the retirement housing units. There was nothing to guarantee that the developer actually turned the property into a proper retirement community in return for the benefits.

The developer then went ahead and opened up sales to almost anyone and probably sees it as a tremendous success, since all the units sold out immediately and there is little obligation to provide ongoing support for a retirement community.

The net result is that the Hillford is far from a successful model for new retirement communities in Singapore. There is still a great opportunity, however, to leverage lessons from what happened to create the successful retirement communities that are needed for an ageing population here.

The first step is to analyse the sale and take stock of what went wrong.

As pundits galore have mentioned, buyers were from all age groups rather than only seniors; flats do not include elderly-friendly amenities such as grab bars or wheelchair-friendly access; there is no certainty that the proposed services for the elderly will be put in place; and retiree buyers have few extra protections.


The second step is to learn from successful retirement community projects elsewhere.

Singapore is, of course, set up somewhat differently from other cities — such as the fact that land released by the Government can come with both regulatory as well as statutory requirements. Still, we could pick up tips from practices elsewhere.

For example, regulations in New Zealand, Canada and some other countries help ensure retirement communities are for senior citizens and provide protections for seniors after they buy a unit. The Retirement Villages Act in New Zealand and the companion Code of Practice, for example, provide a multitude of protections.

Resources from the World Health Organisation, which has a long-standing Checklist for Age-friendly Cities, can help in setting minimum standards.

Offering state-of-the-art ideas, the Lenbrook “continuing care retirement community” in Atlanta in the United States has become a magnet for foreign delegations, who come to see how it offers resort-style amenities, activities for residents and a full spectrum of healthcare services.

Sun City in Japan provides services such as shuttle buses and train stations to give residents independence, as well as a spectrum of amenities and organised activities. The Assisted Living Federation of America, advocates for operators of retirement communities, also showcases innovative practices such as mobile technology.

Putting regulatory requirements together with these best practices to tailor a set of requirements for retirement communities in Singapore — and making sure developers follow through — would benefit the growing senior population here.


The third step is to build upon all the lessons, as well as on the buzz, the Hillford has generated.

Other developers that saw the Hillford sell out fast can now understand the benefits of creating retirement communities — and creating them better. To capitalise on the momentum, the URA should act within months to release other properties for similar purposes, but with more specific requirements about who can own the units, the facilities they should have and how they will be managed in the longer term.

As our population ages, we need to provide appropriate living facilities to help senior Singaporeans and make sure they receive what they sign up for. Rather than simply providing broad outlines and allowing private companies to work within or around them, let us put in place policies that ensure retirement communities are truly built and maintained for the benefit of seniors.

Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.


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