The Hillford Pros, Cons and Concerns

Interest in Singapore's lukewarm property market heated up the New Year when The Hillford showflats opened for previews last weekend.

Located in Upper Bukit Timah, the 281-unit Hillford, which is likely to go on sale next weekend do come with plenty of promises:

  1.  elder-friendly features like emergency alarm systems in bedrooms and bathrooms linked to a 24-hour concierge service counter
  2. a full-time "resort manager" coordinating yoga, art or enrichment activities for residents.
  3. access to clinics, restaurants and an eldercare centre for residents
  4. a long list of more than 30 recreational facilities and spaces, including swimming pools, a reading lounge, fitness corner, gym and theatrette.

The development is likely to go on sale next weekend. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Cons

Unlike Europe, Australia and the United States, where most such developments tend to be restricted to seniors above a certain age, The Hillford billed as "Singapore's first retirement resort", has no age restrictions on ownership or occupancy.

  1. "With no age bars, the very purpose of a retirement village is in danger of being compromised".
  2. The price of the units  is seen to be steep - $388,000 for a one bedder 398 sq ft unit.
  3. The development has a 60-year lease. Other private properties here are freehold or come with a 99 year lease.
  4. There is no guarantee that all the senior-friendly services being advertised now will be kept.

Pros

  1. The need to give potential buyers "flexibility"  without age restriction requirements was "only natural in the Asian context - for families to want to stay together".
  2. Indeed, there are a small number of "dual key" two-bedder units which will enable parents to live with their adult children.

 

Retirement housing remains a niche development overseas, with only 10 per cent to 15 per cent of older adults interested in living in them. Residents tend to be single or widowed, or to not have or to not want their children to live with them.

But young buyers, some of whom have been priced out of the condo market after curbs on shoebox units, may find the price attractive and buy a unit, given its rental and investment potential and proximity to good schools. Indeed, potential buyers in their early 30s with young children in tow have appeared on national television extolling the virtues of having good schools nearby.

 

Concerns

In the West, retirement villages are often operated by aged care companies who have care staff committed to work with residents long-term to meet their evolving physical and emotional needs. Some of these companies even buy back units or help heirs to sell them when the resident dies. In short there is a clear demonstration of commitment under a legal framework.

Since The Hillford - with input from an experienced Australian retirement housing expert - is being built by a property developer, whose job is to build, sell and get out, The Hillford's management will eventually be handed over to a management corporation strata title (MCST) committee, run by residents who will hold veto power over the condo services and facilities.

Retirement village developments in countries such as Australia and New Zealand are legally bound to continue providing the core benefits and services promised to the elderly resident in his occupation agreement. In fact the latest trends in retirement housing lean towards communities which cater not just to an older person when he is independent, but also as he becomes frail and infirm. Residents can continue living in the same unit even when they lose mobility, if cared for by trained care staff.

The MCST of The Hillford may be under no such obligation here. In short there is no legal framework and no guarantees that the integrity and vision of the retirement objective will be maintained.  

The Hillford developer said that the property has been positioned for active, independent seniors aged 50 and above, and that a "substantial proportion" of those interested in buying comes from this target segment.

However concerns have surfaced that by catering to "independent and active" seniors, the design of the Hillford showflats is not in sync with the safety needs of the frail, the feeble and the infirmed elderly. For instance:

the hard marble floor in the living room could be a slipping hazard and does not help to cushion a fall.

the small step to enter the bathroom create obstacles for wheelchair-users.

the lack of a shower bench and no grab bars.

a glass panel in the shower area blocks wheelchair access.

All these finer issues will need to be addressed by developers of retirement villages here if they want to make it truly elderly and retirement friendly and on par with western trends.

Despite these shortcomings and the growing clamour for more retirement housing options, the fact remains that the Hillford developers have dared to go where none has gone before.

Though imperfect, it is still a good start to fulfilling a demand first voiced nearly two decades back.

Source: Straits Times - 13 Jan 2013