Retirement Villages: A Look at Singapore and Other Asian Countries

Retirement villages – a new concept in living for senior citizens has recently became the talk of the town everywhere because it is no secret that people are living longer thanks to advances in medical science and technology.

But length of life and quality of life are not the same. To ensure a good quality of life as we age, there must be retirement options for us, be it staying at one’s current home, downsizing or moving to another city or country to live altogether.

Some prefer to settle into the quiet life of a retirement village on the urban fringes in another country. Also, the trend of seniors moving to cheaper accommodation in less-developed countries has gained traction in Germany, where the elderly move to neighbouring Poland and Slovakia.

However, an increasing number of retirees want to lead a more active retirement lifestyle, perhaps work part-time and still have fun in the city. That’s why the next generation of retirement living, or what we refer to as retirement villages, is getting started up in cities such as Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US.

What’s driving this trend, you asked? Mostly well-heeled baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, those who have been exposed to technology at home and at work for years to want those functionalities to also be integrated into their retirement homes in future.

All About Retirement Villages

A retirement village is defined as a planned area where accommodation and support services for the elderly are provided, and it is normally catered to residents aged 55 and above only, mostly retired from full-time employment and who want to live there voluntarily, whether long-term or temporarily.

These retirees who opt to stay at a retirement village are provided with facilities such as accommodation, food and other services like laundry. The services provided at a retirement village are the same ones that could be provided at a residential care or in an aged care facility.

Features of a Retirement Village

The accommodation provided at a retirement village is mostly independent, but the rest of the facilities can be shared with the rest of residents there such as:

  • Rooms for meetings and get-together.
  • A library of books are provided, because most of the retired people likes to read books.
  • Swimming pool areas, along with a lounge or a café etc.

Sometimes, lifestyle services and socially favourable activities are conducted at the retirement villages, such as:

  • Get-together sessions and outings
  • Joint meal sessions
  • Crafting workshops
  • Healthcare workshops and checkups

Staff at a retirement village would normally have the capacity and knowledge to deal with healthcare issues of the elderly, though not all retirement villages provide this facility. These retirement villages are generally run by the commercial operators for the purpose of earning profits. Sometimes they are run by community organizations which can be an ethnic or religious association.

Retirement Villages In Singapore

Singapore is among the fastest ageing countries worldwide, where the number of people aged 65 and above will more than double over the next few years, from 352,000 in 2011 to 600,000 by 2020. By the year 2030, every fourth Singaporean will be 65 years of age or even older. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once suggested that Singapore is “growing old faster than any other society in the world”.

There is no doubt that Singapore is an expensive country to live in. Whenever an individual is retired after putting most of his or her life into an employment and the income stops coming in, it becomes difficult to live without a regular salary as basic necessities are expensive, with the country’s high standards of living.

After retirement, most people plans to settle in their current Housing Board flats as they want to relax for the rest of their life. But this time brought in a lot of confusion because one cannot decide whether they want to live in Singapore or move elsewhere where the standards of living is lower. As everyone is aware of the fact that the funds received after retirement won’t last for a lifetime, it can be the most stressful time of your life. Some people, when left with no option tend to work again, though on a lower salary. Due to this, many Singaporeans try to move to other countries which allow cheaper living and a comfortable retirement.

Retirement villages are very common in Europe and the United States though they are not so common yet in Singapore or other Asian countries. They offer an alternative housing for the elderly who do not need intensive nursing and medical care that nursing homes provide, but just a place to relax and retire with like-minded individuals.

The concept of retirement villages however, is fast developing and getting accepted in Singapore. A survey of 3,000 baby boomers released in 2009 found that one in four would not mind living in a retirement village. This number is far higher than the 12% of elderly who actually live in such communities in countries like the United States.

Another study by the Lien Foundation and NTUC Income in 2016 found that younger Singaporeans were more receptive towards retirement villages than nursing homes. Among respondents aged 30 to 44, 67% would not mind staying in a retirement village, compared with 48% of those aged 60 to 75. In contrast, only 35% of the younger people would not mind living in a nursing home, compared with 58% of the older segment.

The popularity and attitudes towards retirement villages is also fueled by the influx of a few key projects.

Singapore’s first retirement village, St Bernadette Lifestyle Village opened in December 2015, at the prime district of Bukit Timah, taking in only eight residents who will each pay SGD3,500 per month. The basic rates for a nursing home in Singapore range from SGD1,200 to SGD3,500 a month before government subsidies.

It was also announced in the Straits Times that property developer World Class Land, a subsidiary of jewellery group Aspial Corp, plans to build Singapore’s first retirement living community at Jalan Jurong Kechil on a 10,170 sq m plot of land, about the size of 1 1/2 football fields.

The Singapore government is experimenting with the idea of enabling seniors to remain in their own residences but having improved access to healthcare and other amenities. Singapore’s first “retirement kampung” by the government, called Kampung Admiralty, was opened in 2017. Located in Admiralty, it is made up of two blocks of Housing Board flats with 100 apartments that only Singaporeans aged 55 and above can buy. These Housing Board flats are the first-of-its-kind in Singapore to feature elderly-friendly features for seniors to live independently and actively, with a two-level Admiralty Medical Centre which offers specialist outpatient consultations, endoscopy and day surgery procedures. There is also a hawker centre with 43 food stalls managed by NTUC Foodfare, belonging to the government. There are also community rooftop gardens with farms and trees for relaxation, and adequate space for communal activities such as yoga and solitary meditation.

In 2013, Ageing Asia, a Singapore consultancy on ageing issues, announced that it was looking to build a “virtual” version where seniors can age in their homes but still have convenient access to services commonly found in a purpose-built retirement village.

This virtual retirement village will consolidate services — ranging from physiotherapy to social activities — already available in the market and facilitate access to them, for an annual fee. Transport will be provided to help seniors get around. Ageing Asia said that the objective is to support the elderly as they age, and draw them out of their homes to be socially inclusive in the community. 

The pilot will run for six months with 200 to 300 seniors participating, and the long-term goal is to form satellite retirement communities in different areas — each comprising up to 200 people.

Meanwhile, let’s have a look at retirement villages in other countries as compared to Singapore’s options.

Retirement Villages In Malaysia

Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad stated that the new age for retirement in Malaysia is 95, which means if you are 55, you can still work and earn over there. If not, you can easily settle into the retirement villages. While the concept of retirement villages is still relatively new in Malaysia, there are already four retirement villages nationwide – two in Selangor (The Green Leaf and AraGreens Residence), one in Ipoh (Green Acres) and another in Kuching (Eden-on-the-Park).

All four of these villages offer facilities for senior citizens and houses people from all over to the world. Green Acres had invested RM100 million in their project, making 177 units of houses on more than 5.26 hectares for people who wants to live alone or with their spouses, among terrain covered with greenery and surrounded by limestone hills. The first phase consists of 26 units of single-storey landed villas, with a community-centric clubhouse filled with recreational activities for the residents.

Such living villages for the elderly in Malaysia are expected to grow to cater to an increasing ageing population. Most Singaporeans are already thinking about moving to Malaysia because it has more to offer in terms of comfortable retirement life. For that matter, some Singaporeans are already living the retirement life in Malaysia. For instance, in Taman Johor in Johor Bahru, where it’s just a 30-minute drive away, there are among 20 Singaporeans among about 190 residents in a row of bungalow houses. Although these houses look like residential properties, they belong to City Heart Care Licensed Nursing Home and is targeted at aged residents from Malaysia and Singapore.

Meanwhile, developers in Malaysia are already noticing the potential in building more retirement villages to cater to a growing market. Besides Australia, Lendlease sees Iskandar Malaysia as another ideal place to develop retirement villages due to its lower land and operating costs.

Real Estate And Housing Developers’ Association patron and immediate past president Datuk Seri Michael Yam foresees an increase in demand for properly planned and managed retirement homes in the next five years.

He said that by 2030, when an estimated 15.3% of the Malaysian population or 4.9 million are aged 60 and above, Malaysia will be an ageing nation and there will be no stigma in living in retirement villages or homes and the demand for better lifestyles by the 4.9 million citizens would lead to an increase in retirement villages, with developers wanting to fulfil that need, and planning to include retirement villages as one of the components in their large mixed developments. But most developers are currently at the market research stage or getting designers and stakeholders to understand and support this diversification.

According to Carol Yip, CEO of Aged Care Group, an organisation that provides aged care services, with the ageing population phenomenon happening worldwide, retirement villages will definitely be in demand in Malaysia.

In particular, she said that there will be a market for people who want to downsize their current home due to personal reasons, ’empty nesters’ (parents whose children have left home) and individuals or couples who want to have hassle-free services for their domestic needs. She stressed the need to have proper facilities and retirement villages in every township as it is part of the social needs of individuals within the community.

Retirement Villages In China

retirement villages

China is the largest senior care market in the world with a rapidly ageing population. In Beijing alone, one of the richest but rapidly ageing areas in the nation, up to 16%, or 3.5 million people, were over the age of 60 in 2016. In Shanghai, which has one of the oldest populations in China with 4.8 million, or 33% of the total population, aged over 60. 

One in three Chinese, or 487 million people will be over the age of 60 by 2050, more than the population of the United States, according to Xinhua news agency. 

The care of the elderly is still the responsibility of the children in China, and there is also a push by the Chinese government to encourage the elderly to stay with their families. But China’s one-child policy, which was aimed at curbing population growth, means that Chinese couples are now tasked with raising their own children and supporting both their parents, without the help of siblings.

As a result, the idea that children should take care of their elderly parents is changing as society develops, which is why in recent years, the demand for institutional care, retirement villages or western-style aged care services is on the increase as more parents willing move into such homes themselves to make it easier for their children, many of whom are young workers who migrate from rural areas in search of higher wages and work opportunities and are no longer home to care for their parents or grandparents. 

In particular, the upper crust of this Chinese society are choosing to spend their retirement years in luxury because for this segment of society, their children could be living overseas or just too busy with their successful careers to look after them. Hence, an increasing number of rich pensioners are more than willing to pay a premium to live comfortably in luxury retirement villages or homes and Chinese president Xi Jinping had identified aged care as one of the industries he wants to open up to more foreign investment, which explains the influx of luxury retirement apartments and villages in recent years. 

In 2018, it was announced that Australian property developer Lendlease will build a retirement village with 900 units in Shanghai at USD400 million. It signed a 50-year land usage contract with the Qingpu government to develop and operate the retirement village, which will gardens, recreation areas and health services. Residents can buy long-term membership rights for an apartment from USD340,000, which are transferable. In China, foreign companies need to get a specific approval from the local government to allow it to use the land for retirement living. But already, there were many retirement facilities in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities in China before Lendlease, with most in good demand. 

There is the luxury Ney Sublime Senior Living facility which can house a total of 1,700 seniors, and currently about 100 wealthy elderly are living there. The 43-square-metre unit rents for 20,000 yuan (SGD3,978 or USD2910) a month, plus a service fee of 7,000 yuan (SGD1,393 or USD1,019). There are barrier-free facilities, fingerprint locks in every apartment, theatre and hobby classes as well as nutritionists to recommend healthy meal plans. 

Golden Sunshine in Shanghai’s Pudong new area is also a luxury retirement facility with customized meals, on-call staff and other luxuries, at a rate of 18,000 yuan (SGD1,392 or USD2,619) per month. 

Also in demand is Qinheyuan, one of China’s first high-end retirement villages which opened in Shanghai in 2008. With 15 residential buildings that are made up of more than 800 apartments, there are more than 1,300 elderly currently living there, and more than 80% of them have a bachelor’s or higher degree, with respectable artists, famous writers and retired military cadres among its customers. 

In Beijing’s Yanyuan community home, which is run by insurance giant Taikang, residents can purchase its 2 million yuan (SGD394,500 or USD288,500) pension plan or make a downpayment of 1 – 2 million yuan on top of monthly living expenses of at least 6,000 yuan (SGD1,194 or USD873), not including food expenses. 

Yanda Golden Age Health Nursing Centre, 33 kilometres east of Beijing, has a 98% occupancy rate. It’s also adding new beds and will soon have a total of 10,000 beds by 2018/2019. 

Hong-Kong listed Longfor Group Holdings, one of the top 10 developers in China opened its first retirement village in Chongqing in late 2018, with 72 rooms and 151 beds. Named appropriately Chun Shan Wan Shu – implying “long life” – it is designed to meet the special needs of older residents.

It seems like more and more property developers are eyeing a share of the pie, though most are still in the exploratory stage, as retirement homes are deemed to be more complicated than traditional housing because the elderly needs medical care as well and costs can be higher. The ASX-listed Aveo Group has a 30% stake in a joint-venture company, which also owns and operates a retirement village in Shanghai. Ramsay Health Care and Macquarie Capital are also eyeing the sector. China Vanke, China’s second-largest developer, began exploring the elderly care business in 2009, as was China Poly Group, Sino-Ocean Group and Greentown. 

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