By Brian Lavery, Managing Director, CBRE Northern Ireland
With UK student numbers reaching a record high, and Belfast remaining an ever-popular university city, it’s unsurprising to see an abundance of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) popping up around the city.
However, we simply cannot afford to slip into an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mentality and ignore the fact that there is a country-wide shortage of Senior Living accommodation available for the older generation.
CBRE recently deployed a senior living survey, which raised the question of how many people, over the age of 55, would be open to moving into a senior living scheme in the future.
A quarter of all respondents were already considering a move within the next five years; however, the lack of suitable accommodation is seriously hindering take up.
The same report found that 63% of respondents over the age of 75 have not yet downsized since retirement, highlighting a potential huge market for senior living schemes.
Downsizing by the older population gives the opportunity to release housing equity and many of the CBRE survey respondents detailed that they would consider renting in a senior living scheme to free up equity from the sale of their houses.
With increasing conversations occurring around senior living provision, here in Northern Ireland and right across the UK, it is important to dispel many of the misconceptions about the senior living sector itself.
Whilst a common perception of getting older is negative, we have to show that with great housing, help, and support, it can be anything but depressing.
We have to look at senior housing schemes that foster independence and provide full-service experiences including restaurants, leisure, and entertainment as well as delivering care and support to the more elderly people in their own homes.
We have to shine a spotlight on the important provision of well-located senior living spaces that boast more than one bedrooms, on-site amenities, and good outdoor facilities – all key requirements noted in our survey by potential residents.
Other parts of the globe, such as Florida in the United States and New Zealand, do this particularly well and provide much better solutions for an increasingly aging population.
Whilst later living will cater for one of the largest target demographics for housing and will present a significant development opportunity for the commercial property sector, it isn’t without its challenges.
Finding and competing for land on which to build schemes is one of the greatest problems facing such development. There is a limited supply of residential land that is available so working with changes to the planning system and working with local authorities is vital to delivering solutions.
Just as strategies have been specifically identified to target students in Northern Ireland, with PBSA developments popping up over the city, including a 774 bedroom £48 million project on Nelson Street, 795 bedroom complex near Ulster University’s new campus, and a 156 bedroom accommodation in Bradbury Place, we should have a strategy in place to target local authority housing for older people.
Albeit slower than other sectors, we have seen some advances with regards to senior living real estate, with the sale of duplex apartments to the over 55s at the Kings Hall Health and Wellbeing Park. A higher density older persons apartment scheme is currently being planned at the same site and it will be interesting to see the demand for same.
We are also aware that some of the more forward-thinking care providers are linking in potential older persons living accommodation alongside nursing homes or residential homes, with on-site facilities such as surgeries, pharmacies, and leisure.
Many people consider care homes and nursing homes as the be all and end all of senior living, but that needn’t be the case.
In the CBRE survey, 65% of those who have had experience with senior living detail it as a massive positive, with the top three reasons for such positive feedback including social interaction, security, and the option of further care being readily available nearby.
Within the 75+ age group, wellbeing was also listed as a reason for their positive experience.
The industry needs to improve its marketing if seniors are to understand the senior living concept and the many benefits it can provide. When that shift happens, so will the surge in demand.
Local authorities, developers, and the commercial property sector as whole need to be primed for when that eventuality becomes a reality.
Here at CBRE NI, the exploratory groundwork is already underway to build a solid foundation for the significant senior living opportunities coming down the track.
Originally published in Irish News, Tuesday 19th December.