The suburbs aren’t the best place to grow old

Don’t neglect the realities of aging when choosing a place to live.

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Alan Lulay, a sales consultant with Divosta/Pulte Homes, rig
The upcoming real estate investment summit in Edmonton caught my eye as an event that is likely to be well-attended by a highly engaged audience. Big name speakers, including David Chilton, are on the agenda reflecting the broad appeal that real estate investing holds for Canadians. Edmonton is an ideal location for this topic being the capital of the affluent province of Alberta. The two major cities in Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton, are home to young and rapidly growing populations. These cities have an average age of approximately 36 years in comparison to Canada’s average age of 40 years. Seniors (those aged 65 and older) represent about 15% of the national population, but are only 11.4% and 9.8% of the populations of Edmonton and Calgary, respectively.  These demographics are likely to provide an audience with great interest in learning about expanding their real estate holdings.

Older age segments are typically more set in their choice of principle residence. However, results from a research study indicate that they continue to strive for ideal home locations by relocating to more appealing housing developments. One study on urban/suburban living and aging populations in Edmonton showed that many older residents preferred to purchase newer, expensive homes on the outskirts of the city. Over time, as the city amenities and noise pushed into their quiet housing developments the owners sold and purchased newer homes. These new homes were sprawling even further from the city centre but offered the tranquil setting preferred by these retirees. Their lack of a work commute made living on the outskirts of town more practical than it would be for many younger adults.

My thoughts after reviewing the study results was that their real estate choices were ignoring the realities of aging. Sure, they weren’t “old”…yet. However, access to transportation, medical services, non-big-box shopping and entertainment are limited in most outer suburbs. Eventually they will need many of these services but will hesitate to move from a community where they have roots. From the perspective of taxpayers, those living in sprawling suburbs increase the costs of providing services such as transportation and health care. Increasingly, when health issues arise, much of the care and convalescing takes place within private homes. Suburban sprawl means that health and community services personnel travel farther in order to attend to fewer people. Whereas those older people who live in high density, multi-unit dwellings are more efficiently served because it is easier for the health care provider to commute to a single address and visit many clients, often living just floors apart. Even our Canadian winters become less of a factor when providing services within cities since there is reduced travel and therefore reduced travel risk to mobile professionals.

At next week’s summit there will be many individuals considering real estate investment opportunities within and outside of Canada.  I bet that no one talks about real estate and aging populations. Eventually Canadians will need to address these tough issues such as service fees for those living in less convenient service areas. Real estate choices are a key contributor to our well-being. Aging populations will undoubtedly change our perspectives on good real estate investments—but it’s time hasn’t come…yet.

Lee Anne Davies has worked as a consultant for insurance, wealth management, banking and financial education companies. She has a PhD in Aging, Health and Well-being and a Masters of Arts (MA) in Gerontology and Health Studies from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from Athabasca University’s Information Technology Management program. She’s also successfully completed the Canadian Securities Course and the Professional Financial Planning Course. To read more from Davies, visit her blog Agenomics.

7 comments on “The suburbs aren’t the best place to grow old

  1. I think this article hit the nail on the head. My fiance and I are both heathcare professionals and my fiance is actually one of those "mobile professionals". She has large amounts of travel time that are booked into her day as well as a per km fee. This means that a 15 minute appointment may end up taking over an hour in total (easily, and likely more). This puts a huge drain on the healthcare system and leads to the kind of deficits we are seeing in our country (one of many reasons). Unfortunately, the solution to this issue cannot be to continue to throw money at a system that is failing, and I believe that if a solution is going to be found, it won't be an easy pill to swallow.

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    • I agree that the resolution is likely to be a bitter bill to swallow. One way to make this a bit more appetizing is to have more open dialogue on this particular point. There is increasing dialogue on ‘aging in place’ but it needs to be accompanied by these realities that health services cannot be the same for all people living in diverse situations. This information will help people plan better for the long term. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  2. This article has me wondering a lot about where those baby boomers will end up in the next 10-15 years? What about those baby boomers who aim to live out their golden years on that cottage property? Maybe those golfing communities are the next big hit afterall…

    JM

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    • Interestingly, suburbs in Ottawa – Orleans and Kanata, for example, have a lot of good shopping, they have become little cities – and even my doc now has her office there – over 20 kms from my central location.

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      • Both comments show the range of community type: urban, suburban and rural. Cottage-country is an interesting one because it can be quite active at certain times of the year, but other times it can be isolating. Unfortunately the access in cottage country becomes an issue later in life both from the stand point of services such as home care being able to get to the individual and the individual being able to get to grocery stores, medical care and so on, often on snowy rural roads. Orleans and Kanata are large centres but as these suburbs spread it becomes increasingly difficult for mobile services to get to these individuals. It’s an interesting balance between a person’s right to live where they want and their right to have equal access to public services.

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  3. Sometimes older people underestimate their ability to adapt. My parents moved from a country farm to a city suburb; Dad was sure it would kill him but within weeks he'd bonded with the neighbours and found two card groups. If you have parents who know they need to move but aren't sure how to make the transition, here are my tips for helping them get over the hump; remind them that they have continued to learn new skills, even if it is using the phone answering machine or email; even a new recipe. Focus on the benefits of moving that matter most to them; closer to a doctor or hospital etc. Last but not least, paint their house and declutter. Not just to improve the real estate value but because as one friend said to me "when my daughter painted those baseboards, it didn't feel like my house any more and that made it easier to move on."

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    • Really neat insight about changing the interior of the home to ready it for selling and how it helps with the transition. Thanks.

      Reply

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