The suburbs aren't the best place to grow old

The suburbs aren’t the best place to grow old

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


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.