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Retirement Village for affluent Muslims. Will there be a demand?

Malaysia will become an ageing nation soon. Yes, that’s right. It was projected that by 2030, 15.3% of the population or 4.9 million are aged 60 and above. Currently, it is estimated that 1 in 10 Malaysians are aged 60 and above. Malaysians are also living longer where the current average life expectancy for women is 77 years and 72 for men compared to 61.4 years and 58.8 years respectively in 1960. People are living longer nowadays primarily due to advances in medical science & technology and better healthcare services being provided.


It’s not just a property but a quality aged living with care

What do they look out for and what are their basic needs upon reaching retirement age? Well, research has shown that finance, health care and housing are their basic needs after retirement. In terms of housing needs, more demand for retirement homes is expected as the ageing population increases especially among the baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. According to Savills, a global property agent, France, Germany, the UK, Finland, Norway and Sweden has invested the most in retirement homes in Europe.


In the US, similar investments were also seen with the rising interest shown on continuing care retirement communities among baby boomers. Increased life expectancy, ageing baby boomers and the advent of senior living technology are the drivers for retirement homes in developed European nations and in the US. Similar trends are visible and are taking shapes across the Asia Pacific in countries such as China, Australia and New Zealand.

Photo Credit: Parklane Retirement Village, New Zealand


Over the years, these retirement homes have evolved into a retirement village due to the changing needs and the availability of hotel-like amenities and concierge-level services being offered to affluent retirees. Basically, the retirement village is a collection of private residential units, designed and purpose-built for and limited to the retirees. As part of the service package, operators will provide shared facilities and services, ranging from 24-hour on-call assistance, catering and home maintenance services, to a full lifestyle clubhouse with regular activities organised by staff to enhance and maintain the well-being of the elderly. Medical, nursing and other healthcare services are considered crucial for the commercial viability of retirement villages. In terms of its overall façade, the common sight of a retirement village is a sprawling resort-type community with the extensively designed landscape. However, “vertical” retirement villages similar to condominiums have been well established in developed countries while in Malaysia, a similar development is gradually being adopted.


We believe the demand for continuing care senior housing model popular in the US is likely to grow among the retirees in Asia who wants to age in place. For some seniors, the continuing care model of transitioning from independent to assisted living to nursing and memory care, in the same facility is the best option. As baby boomers age and making an entrance into the market, they are reinventing the retirement living concept leveraging on the sharing economy and digital platforms. Provision of technology and services such as dining-on-demand, transportation-on-demand, online shopping, wealth management and online learning will take centre stage, enabling them to happily age in place. Baby boomers are more educated and have acquired a wider range of modern-day life experiences compared to their parents. As a result, they are more sophisticated in terms of lifestyle and needs.


The arrival of purposely built quality active and community living villages

In Malaysia, developers are already noticing the potential of this segment and have invested in building retirement villages to cater to the anticipated growing market. Three retirement villages each in Samarahan, Ipoh and Damansara are already in operation while another in Penang is starting operation later this year and several others are in various stages of development. Despite the potential opportunities, there are similar projects, which have been placed on hold for some reasons.


We foresee a new retirement village can be modelled as a hybrid between a retirement village and cohousing model. The former will have all the social engagement, independence and well-being ambience while the latter emphasises on access and share ownership in a communal place with greater social responsibility for sustainability. The latter model is also able to eliminate social isolation, depression and loneliness enabling residents to enjoy more independence and active living, and eventually becoming a sustainable society in a communal.


Photo Credit: Village Hearth Cohousing in Durham, North Carolina


Interestingly, for retirees in Malaysia, there are four key elements deemed important according to a research*. These are resort-like environment, strong spiritual support, close family and community bond and accessibility to medical facilities. With these requirements, the operator may opt for short-, medium- and long-term tenures for residents to choose from leveraging on Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme to entice medical tourists. The operator may advance further by establishing strategic collaborations with any of the 10 hospitals accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI) for treatment and rehabilitation purposes. Malaysia has gained prominence in this space. Its healthcare facility is of international standard and was ranked first in the Best Healthcare in the World category of the 2019 International Living Annual Global Retirement Index.


All told, is there a demand for such a retirement facility for the retirees? Based on another study** conducted in 2014 involving 464 respondents, there is potential demand. The study found that a group of respondents (6.3%) intent to move into a retirement village in the future, where the majority of respondents is elderly. Interestingly another group of respondents aged between 40 to 49 (2.9%) have considered moving to a retirement village, if there were such a concept in Malaysia. Aside from acknowledging the existence of such a facility in the country currently, based on this research, we can form an opinion that there is some evidence in purchasing or moving to a specific accommodation for older people in the future.


Viability of an Islamic-themed Retirement Village

Driven by retirees who are looking for spiritual needs and supported further by evidence-based research or survey especially among the affluent Muslims, the promoter has a business case to realise its potential viability. Islamic elements in design, layout and features can be embedded into the overall structure. For example, the use of “masjid” as the community centre for communal activities and “pondok system” for religious learning can be considered when designing the facility. Research has shown those spiritual needs are regarded as a significant element in defining active ageing, particularly for Muslims, in the development of senior housing.


Will there be a demand for such facility offering Islamic elements and values? Based on existing use cases below, there is some evidence that can be tested further if it were to be featured in a more modern and resort-like environment.


  • In Putrajaya, a women-only home care service provider provides Islamic module that includes Quran recitation, religious classes, and motivation programmes. This is in addition to the usual physical activities such as gardening, handicraft, and cooking organised for its residents.

  • In the “Pondok” or “Madrasah” models, the operators are incorporating educational and spiritual elements into the residential activities and facilities for the elderly. For example, the operator for Baitul Maab in Temerloh, provides two tenure options (rent or own) to its Muslims residents in addition to organising religious programmes. Residents’ age must be 45 and above, mobile and healthy.

  • In an upmarket property development in Cyberjaya, the developer is building an Islamic township designed to be a multi-generation family housing and knowledge-based community. For the retirement community, the developer is providing limited units of ‘assisted living suites’ at lower floors of the four high-rise residential towers.


Based on these scenarios, further studies with concrete evidence may be needed to ascertain the viability of Islamic elements if it were to be featured in a retirement living facility. Such establishments will only attract the Muslims and among the affluent retirees who wish to experience the amenities and services of a retirement village as well as the religious programmes offered to residents.


Notes:

* “In Search Of Appropriate Environment For The Retirees In Malaysia”, Noor Hanita Abdul Majid,

Union International Architects-Public Health Group International Conference, November 2010.

** “Middle Adults’ Housing Expectations for Old-age: A Study of Urban Area of Greater Kuala Lumpur”,

Ainoriza Mohd Aini, Centre for Sustainable Urban Planning & Real Estate (SUPRE), Faculty of Built

Environment, University of Malaya, 2014

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