The Edge Roundtable on Property 2013 | Investing in senior living homes: Are we ready for senior living?

From left: Malathi, Chong, City & Country assistant editor Rosalynn Poh, Au, Chen, Chua and Saw during the roundtable session

HOW time flies! Now, isn’t that a common observation? We also know that change is the only constant in life. And with change and time comes aging. One may not consider this a sexy subject, but it is real and affects everyone. In fact, there is a need for senior living homes right now in Malaysia, according to the panellists of The Edge Roundtable on Property 2013, entitled “Investing in senior living homes”.

The panellists were a mixed bag, comprising Tan Sri Eddy Chen, patron and past president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) and group managing director of MKH Bhd; Joseph Chong, managing director of WOW Property Sdn Bhd; Dr Chua Hong Teck, director of healthcare and low-income households at the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) in the Prime Minister’s Department; Terence Saw, head of innovation, central marketing and customer care at Mah Sing Group Bhd; and Malathi Thevendran, executive director at Jones Lang Wootton.

Au Foong Yee, The Edge Communications managing director and former executive editor of property and retailing, was the moderator. Au also acts as a judge of The Edge Top Property Developers Awards, The Edge-PEPS Value Creation Excellence Award and The Edge-PAM Green Excellence Award.

Here are some interesting facts to consider. According to Global Age Watch Index 2013, 8% of our population today is over 60 years old and by 2050, it will be 20.4%. Malaysia can be considered to have a young population compared with, for example, Hong Kong and Japan, but it is better to start paving the way for senior living now than to leave it too late.

The panellists were unanimous in saying that there is a need for senior living homes or retirement villages in Malaysia. As the subject is wide and rather new to most of us, the discussion this time focused on the (higher) to middle-income level onwards.

It is important to point out here that building senior living homes is not for every developer. It should not be just for profit. While the design requirements may be somewhat similar, developers have to go into this with a long-term commitment in mind, with a passion for senior living homes. Hardware is said to take up about 30% of such developments while software accounts for the rest. Hardware, in this instance, refers to the physical building while software comprises a huge spectrum including the services (medical) offered in the retirement village, legislation covering all parties involved, the management of the village, community activities, etc.  In other words, building and maintaining a successful retirement village costs time, money and most of all, a long-term commitment.

Another key point that was brought up at the roundtable was government legislation. It took mature communities in Australia, the UK and the US many years to get where they are today. Japan, for example, has long-term age insurance. Everyone aged 40 and above has to contribute to long-term insurance. The publicly-mandated long-term care insurance will cover both home-based and institutional care. Pemandu’s Dr Chua also talked about an aged healthcare bill, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament some time next year.

Citing successful retirement villages in Australia as examples, the panellists talked about what would make them successful here. Location would play a vital role — the villages should not be too isolated and must be close to medical centres, malls and other amenities. There are three main categories of senior living: independent living, assisted living and dependent living. Activities need to be organised on a constant (daily) basis to keep the community active.

In the end, the panellists agreed that the best way forward was to start with independent living for senior living homes and move on to the next step as time went by. But before that, hopefully, developers will drop their wait-and-see attitude.

When one talks about senior living homes here, the name Mont’Kiara Sophia crops up. Initially built as a low-rise retirement condominium and completed in 1997, it is said to have been ahead of its time. But due to the stigma attached to such homes, the developer decided to sell the condos without any conditions (age limit and so on) and they were a success (see story on Page 5).

Today, as the panellists agreed, senior living homes are more acceptable. Families are getting smaller and Malaysians are looking forward to growing old in a community of like-minded people, doing things together. The panellists also shared their outlook on property for 2014.

An excerpt of the roundtable follows.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 23, 2013.

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