Luxurious retirement

Colin and Edie Lorimer are part of a growing breed of active seniors determined to age in the privacy of their own homes.

Twelve years ago, they built a retirement home in a gated community in Brampton . Colin, 81, former president of a cosmetics company, and Edie, 84, loved the location on a golf course, as well as the fact that chores, such as lawn mowing, were taken care of. This gave them more time to pursue a busy schedule of volunteering, golf and swimming.

But after a bad spell with their health last year, the Lorimers found that even the Brampton home had become too much to handle, so they bought a ground-floor, 1,000-square-foot condo in Mississauga in a lifestyle retirement community that will be more like a hotel than a condo.

It will allow them to pursue an active life even when they’re no longer able to drive. The community is called Origin Evergreen, off Mavis Rd. , just north of Eglinton Ave. W. Its amenities will include a bowling alley, indoor pool, fitness room, a pay-per-use dining room, a full-time activity co-ordinator and a nurse.

Developers are betting there will be more and more people like the Lorimers who will be more concerned with the amenities a lifestyle community has to offer than whether it’s located near shopping centres and restaurants.

Statistics Canada projects that almost eight million people (23.1 per cent of the population) will be 65 and older by 2016. And by 2025, the proportion of elderly and disabled drivers will be near 20 per cent.

Neil Prashad, Origin Evergreen’s president and CEO, says the three levels of accommodation offered at Origin – 140 rental units, 106 condo suites and 54 garden flats (three-storey condo town homes) – will support people’s lifestyles as they age.

“People know they’re aging in the back of their head, but don’t want to be reminded every day,” Prashad says.

That’s why features are being built into the suites with the future in mind. Walls will be reinforced so that grab bars may be added on later, while shower stalls will have seats and lights in the ceiling, making it easier for people to continue bathing independently if their eyesight dims.

The L-shaped kitchen with island in the units will provide enough wall space for a wall oven and cooktop, which means no bending is needed to use the oven. And the island can be removed down the road to accommodate a wheelchair.

But this quality of aging-in-place lifestyle doesn’t come cheap. A one-bedroom rental unit (530 to 600 square feet) starts at $3,200 a month; one bedroom plus den (725 square feet) rents at $3,650 a month while a two-bedroom unit (840 square feet) goes for $4,200 a month. Included in the rent are two meals a day, weekly laundry of sheets and towels, free washer/dryer on every floor, weekly housekeeping, daily recreational programs and a bus for excursions.

Assisted-living services, such as bathing, can be purchased as people need them. Nursing staff will also be available for a per-usage fee.

“Everyone ages differently,” Prashad says. “This is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Assisted living rental suites are 450-square-foot studios for $3,800 a month, including three meals a day, all laundry, housekeeping and other services.

The condo suites range in size from 742 square feet to 1,176 square feet and in price from $234,900 to $447,900.

The Lorimers, who will be moving to their condo in the spring of 2009, are looking forward to the change, which will mean more amenities and services under one roof.

“There’s going to be a nurse there 24 hours a day,” Colin says, “and a doctor comes in once a day so we don’t have to travel for medical appointments. The dining area will be attractive to us if we don’t feel like cooking, and I think we’ll use the bowling alley and certainly the swimming pool. On a cold winter’s day, we’ll be able to walk underground to these things, which is really meaningful.”

Niall Haggart, vice-president of the Daniels Corp., has been anticipating an influx of boomers looking for condos, which is why 10 years ago it partnered with Amica, a developer that builds rental housing for seniors.

“Historically, we have viewed building near a subway as important for first-time homeowners,” Haggart says.

“My sense is that when we talk about the buy-down market, they’re a little more discerning than first-time buyers in terms of unit size, and whether the dining area will fit their table.

“Sixty is the new 40,” he says. “As boomers age, they want to get involved in fitness classes and organized activities. If people live in the city, they don’t want to relocate. They want to shop at the same stores and visit friends. These are people used to getting their own way, so the offering has to be right.”

To this end, Daniels and Amica are in the process of building or have already built six combination rental/condo developments in Toronto , Mississauga and Markham . Daniels handles the construction of the buildings and Amica operates the rental buildings, which contain the bulk of the amenities, including restaurants and spas. Condo owners can take advantage of these amenities as well, which include a minibus for organized outings.

“Our objective is to provide a holistic approach to retirement living, which is why we have wellness and vitality co-ordinators,” says Colin Halliwell, CEO at Amica. “The average age of our rental residents is 84 and for our condos, it’s 75. These people are buying into the whole lifestyle. People in the rental suites get two meals a day and condo owners have access to coffee and tea times in the morning and afternoon. Condo owners can also buy services. The club fee is less than $100 a month.

“There’s a stigma attached to retirement living, but we’re breaking these stereotypes.”

Haggart says the demand for this kind of lifestyle is strong, with Kilgour Estate, at Bayview and Sheppard, selling out rapidly even though it’s not subway-friendly. The cost to live at Daniels’ next project, The Bayview, will start at $300,000 and go to more than $1 million for suites that will range in size from 600 to 2,000 square feet, and it will be on the subway line.

Outside of urban areas, only those seniors who can afford to live in upscale developments with lots of amenities on-site will be able to retain their independence without a car. While there are projects in the works to meet these future needs, experts fear they won’t be adequate to meet the growing trend for aging at home.

Mary Lou Kelley, director of the Centre for Education and Research on Aging and Health at Lakehead University , says people prefer to stay in their own homes as long as possible.

“The World Health Organization has initiated a project called Age-Friendly Cities,” Kelley says. “The idea is to see if our cities are good places to grow old, looking at criteria such as housing and transportation.

“In focus groups, I’ve asked older people if housing meets their needs. Many want in-home services with modifications made to their homes as they age. One lady said she wanted to live in a bungalow in a housing complex for seniors. Others want mixed ages. There’s no one solution. But all seniors will tell you they don’t want to go in a long-term home.

“We try to choose the least intrusive intervention and that’s living at home with modifications,” Kelley says. “The next level is a senior’s apartment. It’s kind of like a scale.”

The hot condo market is creating much more than homes; it’s revving a new self-regenerating economy

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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