City & Country: Cover Story: Driven by passion, love and care

IT took over three years, but TI Homes Sdn Bhd’s senior living project in Ipoh — one of the first in Malaysia — is poised to get off the ground in 2Q2014.

The Perak-based property developer, which celebrated its silver jubilee a few weeks ago, had worked on refining the project over the last few years. Driven by its passion for the project, the developer redesigned the village several times and has come up with contracts to enable the retirement village to operate in the absence of relevant laws. It sounds like a lot of hard work, but TI Homes and its project consultant, ZenCare Lifestyle Australia, are undeterred.

“I guess like in many new developing areas, such as IT and e-commerce, when it comes to the big picture, you find that the industry leads the regulations. The kind of new concepts and paradigms that come in … you often find that regulators struggle to catch up and adapt. But business and life have to go on. We will work within the current framework,” TI Homes’ executive director John Chong tells City & Country.

ZenCare Lifestyle Australia’s founding director is Richard Lim, a chartered accountant and chartered secretary by training who has spent almost 16 years in the retirement and aged-care industry. He is also a founding director of Jeta Gardens, Australia’s first ageing-in-place development that is adapted to Asian culture in Brisbane, Queensland. However, Lim sold his stake in Jeta Gardens years ago.

After two decades in Australia, he is now bringing his expertise and talent home. GreenAcres will be his first project here, although he is helping other developers with similar projects in Johor and Melaka.

TI Homes will build the 13-acre gated development in Meru, Ipoh, which will comprise a 10-acre retirement village and a three-acre aged-care facility.

The retirement village will feature 120 one-storey villas with 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom layouts (built-ups: 700 to 1,000 sq ft) and 170 low-rise apartments with the same layouts and sizes. The aged-care facility will feature 120 suites (240 to 260 sq ft) that will be fully furnished. All the units will have panic buttons within the bedroom, bathroom and toilet as well as a “no-motion” detector that can be programmed to trigger alarms should the residents be uncharacteristically still. Also on the cards is a wearable “fall-motion” detection system that will summon help for residents who fall down and cannot get up after 30 to 60 seconds.

At the heart of this development is a community centre, which will feature not only recreational facilities, but also space for hairdressers and visiting doctors, among others.

GreenAcres is based on retirement villages in Australia and is aimed at the middle to upper-middle group. It has one main goal: to give seniors peace of mind.

“How a retirement village differs from a conventional development and why we decided to go into one is that it is about a lifestyle and not so much about physical units. It is about providing a better quality of life for the residents.

“The retirement village is meant for active retirees — people who are still mobile and fairly healthy. Once they get to a stage where they are less independent and need more care, that’s when they go to the aged-care facility,” says Chong.

The developer is aiming for a 2Q2014 launch for GreenAcres, which is awaiting approvals from the Ipoh City Council. But the project has already received many enquiries from Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and even Melaka, thanks to previous reports on retirement villages and focus groups conducted in Kuala Lumpur, says Chong. A Malaysian couple currently residing in Australia has also expressed interest after finding out about GreenAcres on the Internet.

“We expect most of our buyers to be from Ipoh with the minority being from out of town and foreigners, especially those under the MM2H programme who intend to retire in Malaysia,” says Chong.

While the project appears to be well received by its target market of middle to upper-middle class retirees, TI Homes will pitch GreenAcres through advertisements, road shows and property fairs in addition to its database of registrants.

The developer will not sell the retirement homes but issue lifetime leases on them at RM300,000 onwards, which must be paid up front. According to Chong, the scheme is based on the Australian retirement village business model, albeit modified to comply with the National Land Code here.

The leases will entitle residents to live in the homes and use the facilities until they check out — literally or figuratively. Chong declines to reveal the cost of the development, but says the total lease value of the village is estimated at RM60 million.

“We chose to lease out rather than sell the units in order to maintain GreenAcres’ character. Once you have sold the units, you will have no control over them. Let’s say the buyer decides not to live there anymore and sells it, and a young family moves into the unit, or if the owner dies and the unit is willed to his children … if you have non-retirees moving in, you can no longer call it a retirement village,” he explains.

There is also a wealth-creation aspect to leasing, albeit lower than the capital gains from conventional property ownership. When residents leave the village, TI Homes will deduct a deferred management fee from the lease, which will likely be raised annually to reflect the values of comparable properties, and refund the balance to the resident or his estate as per details in his nominee form. “So, you too get to enjoy a part of the new lease value. There is some upside,” observes Chong.

GreenAcres is considering a deferred management fee rate of 3% per annum, which is similar to what retirement villages in Australia are charging. The fee is capped at 30% over 10 years because actuarial science statistics show that a retirement village sees a new set of residents every 10 to 12 years, remarks Lim.

For example, a couple moving into the village pays RM300,000 for a lifetime lease. When they leave 10 years later, the lease value may have climbed to RM500,000. After deducting the deferred management fee of RM150,000, the remaining RM350,000 will be returned to the couple.

As with regular stratified projects, residents will be charged a monthly service fee to maintain the common areas. There are plans to make available additional services, such as housekeeping, on an à la carte basis.

“We also intend to offer personal services, such as helping the residents manage their medication. There is a chargeable service to send the residents’ prescriptions to the chemist and have the latter send the medication to GreenAcres or send someone to pick it up. It’s possible if the order is big enough,” says Lim.

Other services to enhance the residents’ stay include group activities, such as tai chi, mahjong and daily trips to town or monthly out-of-town jaunts. “There will be tours at least once a month, depending on the residents. If there is enough demand, the village manager can help them get quotations and coordinate with the tour company. We will take them to places like Genting Highlands and all that.”

GreenAcres will also accommodate family and friends who are visiting. “We encourage family and friends to visit and they are allowed to stay for a short while. How many can stay will depend on the unit, but let’s say a whole family comes to visit, then we will give them the option to rent a unit — we will set aside one or two units for the purpose. Such visitors will be considered guests of the residents and can therefore use the facilities. We want to make people feel welcome, so that they are encouraged and keen to visit the residents [presumably their parents],” Lim says.

From left: Chong, Siew and Lim, who are building a retirement village with one main goal — to give retirees peace of mind

Aged-care facility
The aged-care facility is expected to come up in another two years. Envisioned as a home providing a level of care that is just a notch below a hospital’s, the facility will fill the gap for step-down care, where patients recovering from serious ailments can convalesce, says Chong.

“It will have nice hotel room-like suites, likely with minimal facilities. In an aged-care facility, because the residents’ needs are higher, it’s almost full service because all your meals are catered for. So, life in the aged-care facility is, shall we say, slightly more regimented?”

Potential residents may have to undergo a check-up prior to admission. Instead of a lifetime lease, residents of this facility will have to pay a bond. TI Homes and ZenCare Lifestyle Australia are still working out the specifics of the business model.

While non-residents of the retirement village are welcome to check in, priority is given to residents who feel they need more care. Those who move from the retirement village to the facility will also be refunded their lifetime lease minus the deferred management fee.

“Those who can afford it, the middle class, they want better care. They are whom we are aiming our aged-care at because they do not have many options. If they wanted cheaper places, there are those facilities at converted houses with a caretaker and Indonesian helpers.

“Since that kind of product is already in the market, there is no need to build that. We want something of high quality that is purpose-built because from our feedback, that is what the market wants,” says Chong.

The aged-care component was also inspired by a friend’s illness, says TI Homes’ director and Chong’s mother Siew Yin Leng. “We had lunch one day and later that day her brother finds her unconscious on the kitchen floor,” she recalls.

“She was in a coma for a few months. When her condition improved, although she did not regain consciousness, they moved her out of intensive care. Her hospital bill was about RM15,000 a month. Then when she regained consciousness, she was on physiotherapy, speech therapy and the works. I don’t know how much she is paying now, but it must be in the thousands of ringgit.

“Two months ago, I visited my friend and what she told me brought tears to my eyes. She said, ‘I went out with you for lunch. You were the last person I saw.’ The point is, there is demand for such care because the hospitals are so full. You will only be admitted if there is capacity, so you cannot check in as you like.”

So TI Homes is also looking at patients who require step-down care that hospitals cannot offer due to lack of space. The aged-care facility will start offering low-level care, but TI Homes hopes to eventually build its ability. “Traditionally, we were in housing development. Now this business is very service-oriented, so we need to build our expertise to move to higher levels of aged-care,” says Chong.

He stresses, however, that the aged-care facility is not a hospital. “We are not looking at the ambience and service level of a hospital, which is very functional. The nurses are not always friendly because they have to take your blood pressure and all that and move on to their next task. What we want is a homely atmosphere with personalised service.”

One of the biggest issues TI Homes faces in its new venture is manpower. As running a retirement village is largely hospitality-driven, it is crucial to find staff with the right attitude and qualifications. Thus, TI Homes will invest in staff training.

“The challenge is not getting people from the hospitality industry. It is training them to deal with seniors. The psychology of a senior will be different from that of a hotel guest or someone from a different age group,” Chong points out.

This is even more crucial for the aged-care facility, he adds. “There are no existing aged-care facilities in Malaysia … it is easy to find nurses, yes, but not caregivers. That is where training will come in. We plan to send our more senior staff to Australia to get a feel of the environment we want to create here. They can come back and train those we hire here.”

Chong notes that in Australia, there is certification for caregivers in the aged-care industry, which is distinct from that for nurses. “That is what we want to introduce here. We expect the industry to pick up and we hope more people will explore it because its manpower requirement is high.”

Technically qualified nurses are not hard to find in Malaysia, but the people TI Homes seeks must have the right attitude, says Siew, who is a trained nurse.

“The level of care we were trained to give in the 1960s is very different from what is needed now. It was drummed into our heads then that we would be taking care of human beings. The stress was on life. So, when you are in that kind of environment, in everything you do, you put the patients first. When you take care of people with that mindset and attitude, it’s a completely different ballgame. They will treat you like a friend, a family member, rather than a caregiver,” she explains.

It is still early days, but Chong and Siew are keen to do more similar projects. “We intend to have more retirement villages, but mainly in Perak at the moment, because that is where our landbank is. We still have over 200 acres in Ipoh and in Sauk [near Kuala Kangsar]. Most of the land has been earmarked for conventional residential developments. We are keen to build retirement villages outside Perak, provided we can acquire suitable land for it,” says Chong.

ZenCare’s other projects
ZenCare Lifestyle Australia is also consulting other developers that are building retirement villages and wellness lifestyle resort communities based on its wellness concept.

In Penang, a high-rise retirement village (for life) is coming up on 35,000 sq m near the Penang International Airport. The master plan is pending approval, says Lim.

In Johor, one of ZenCare Lifestyle Australia’s clients is developing a wellness lifestyle resort community on 90 acres near Johor Baru. According to Lim, about a third of the development is earmarked for a retirement village. A smaller but similar development is coming up on 14 acres near Melaka.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 14, 2014.


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