Lifetime-compatible homes not an illusion

How can we speed up the current housing market?

July 14, 2017

Accommodation in the Holocene era had its benefits. Caves were automatically lifetime-compatible homes because not many people made it past the age of thirty. But our life expectancy has increased considerably in the meantime. Do we have to start working on 0-to-100 homes? We decided to ask two clients and head of Market development at Heijmans, Frits Lely.

Eleven thousand years after the Holocene era, people in the Netherlands have seen a massive increase in their life expectancy. Statistics from the CBS: in 1950, the average life expectancy for men and women was 59.3 and 63.2 years respectively. In 2015, this had increased to 75.4 and 80.5. Scientists in New York recently calculated that the upper limit is 115 years. However, some gerontologists believe this figure is not the end point.

Becoming a hundred at home

But where will we be blowing out the 115 candles on our birthday cakes? At the care home? Or in our own living rooms, surrounded by our great great grandchildren? Probably the latter, believes Annette van der Poel, Senior Consultant Healthcare at CBRE: “Traditional care homes will slowly disappear. Due to changing laws and regulations, people continue to live longer in their own homes. This is now possible thanks to home-based care and technological support. However, existing and future homes must be suitable for lifetime living if this growing demand is to be met.”

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From left to right: Frits Lely (Heijmans), Annette van der Poel (CBRE) and Daan Tettero (SyntrusAchmea).

An irreversible development? Yes, states Frits Lely, head of Market Development at Heijmans: "We have noticed that even though people have the same care needs, they are receiving less allowance than in the past. As a result, people live by themselves for a long as possible. And research shows that's what they actually want. An important factor is the high mandatory contribution in residential care homes, where there is an increasing mismatch between price and quality. This will only increase the call for lifetime-compatible homes.”

Organising support

Daan Tettero is a concept developer for healthcare real estate at Syntrus Achmea. He agrees with what his colleagues have said, even when we consider demographics forecasts: “In 2040, 26 percent of the population is expected to be over the age of 65, a third of whom will be older than 80. Lifetime-compatible homes are thus essential. And yes, home-based healthcare and support services can be arranged.”

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From an engineering perspective, not a lot of extra work is required, says Tettero. A few prerequisites: spacious passages, a large bathroom and no thresholds. “A standard home, wheelchair accessible as well as suitable for moving a bed. But digital connections with the outside world are essential.”

Lely nods in agreement. “ICT and home automation are becoming par for the course. This digitalisation is also compatible with our Smart Living concept, where residents are able to arrange energy, comfort and security in their homes using remote technology.”

Old and young

Care on demand and ingenious home robots – technology can be found all over the place. But does it help to reduce loneliness? Lely never loses sight of the social component. He would prefer to see younger and older generations inter-twined in a complex or neighbourhood featuring lifetime-compatible homes. “It is successful in Germany, and involves shared gardens and handyman services. The concept also appears to attract young people.”

But Van der Poel also has a note of caution. “It is nice to mix. But you must also realise that different age groups tend to live separately from each other.” Tettero smiles, and adds: “I have great confidence in the market and believe the social aspect will resolve itself. From an investor's perspective, it would be wise to provide areas where interaction is facilitated.”

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Let’s press ahead

After exchanging thoughts for an hour, all three are more or less in agreement. But things are difficult in practice: lifetime-compatible homes are few and far between in the Netherlands. “There will still be a shortfall, even if we are conservative about how the market will develop”, warns Van der Poel. “It is a growing market”, says Lely, who is not averse to the odd understatement. “Look at the last ten pages of the ANWB Kampioen: nothing but adverts for stair lifts and walk-in bathtubs. The will is clearly present.”

Time to press ahead, says Tettero. “Everything we build from now on will have to be lifetime-compatible.” On the one hand, he highlights the need to overcome the stagnation in home building. “The number of new homes will increase from 20,000 to 30,000 per year. On the other hand, it is being outstripped by demand. There really need to be 60,000. So we will mainly have to make the current housing stock as lifetime-compatible as possible.”

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The Building Decree will not be a deal breaker, says Van der Poel. Lely also expects it to mainly be a case of smarter layouts, dimensioning and ICT. But he needs to get something off his chest: “The market currently places too much emphasis on comparing prices and does not spend enough time examining quality-related aspects. We are sometimes forced to cut back some of the good features we have come up with. And that's unfortunate. The most important thing is long-term property value.”

Tettero is in agreement. “Heijmans is one of the few constructors that looks ahead and wants to be a pioneer. This issue is still far from the beds of many constructors and investors. They are following the philosophy of scarcity: no matter what you build, people buy it anyway.”

A lifetime-compatible home does not need to be more expensive to build, emphasises Lely. “As long as you implement standardisation. But that does not automatically exclude personalisation. Giving people endless options is in no one's best interest and only increases the cost of failure. In the Netherlands, we find it easier to drown in choices rather than to consider the basic qualities.”

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Locations not a problem

There is no shortage of locations for lifetime-compatible homes, says Van der Poel. “They can be built in cities as well as villages, as long as building plots are available. Important prerequisites: close to shopping and healthcare facilities, as well as public transport.” Lely believes the homes could even improve living quality. “Consider the homes from the 80s, which now need to be renovated in order to prevent dereliction.”

However, Tettero has doubts about lifetime-compatible homes in shrinkage areas. Investors also want long-term security in, for example, Appingedam or Hoensbroek. But Lely is less concerned. “I am curious about what will happen to people with limited finances. In shrinkage areas, you tend to get a lot of extra meters for your money.”

Why drown in all kinds of options, when you can actually start considering basic qualities.

They themselves will become old one day. Where will their lifetime-compatible homes be located? Van der Poel is sticking with the city of Amsterdam; Lely has already settled in Utrecht; Tettero prefers the countryside of Twente. All three hope to live in a pleasant and healthy manner. But one thing is certain: everyone has lifetime-compatible needs.