Today’s seniors have specific demands when it comes to condos, including senior-friendly designs, nearby amenities for active living, and large suites. Getty Images

The upside of downsizing

Popularity of condo living among seniors is on the rise

When it comes to choosing a home later in life, age often brings thoughtful consideration of what really matters. More and more in Calgary, that wisdom is leading seniors to choose condominiums as the place to live out their golden years.

“Five years ago, when we tracked inner-city demographics, you saw maybe 1-2 per cent of seniors purchasing condos,” said Oliver Trutina, vice-president of Calgary-based builder Truman.

“Today, that number is around 20 per cent. Since this is often their third or fourth home purchase, they know what they want and are asking for it.”

So, what exactly do they want? “For many, it’s a space that better fits their circumstances,” said Trutina.

“They’re living in a 3,200-square-foot home built in the 1970s, the kids have moved out, and they can’t recall the last time they went in the basement, so it’s time to downsize.”

For some seniors, choosing a condo is part of taking a pragmatic approach to planning for their future.

“They are 60 now and want a nice area with services and amenities and good architectural controls where they can downsize again at 70 or 75 without a lot of hassle or changing neighborhoods,” said Trutina. “Some may have had a life-changing event like a stroke or broken hip and wish to handle things before they’re at a point where they can’t take care of themselves. It’s an admirable approach, and it’s making condos more mainstream.”

It’s also a trend that developers ignore at their own peril.

“Our company and our industry has listened to what seniors want and proceeded accordingly,” said Trutina. “It all comes down to a senior-friendly design – wide walking pathways, ease of use, rounded handrails and ample seating in common areas.”

Also important is the overall experience available to senior condo buyers.

“Five years ago, when we tracked inner-city demographics, you saw maybe 1-2 per cent of seniors purchasing condos. Today, that number is around 20 per cent. Since this is often their third or fourth home purchase, they know what they want and are asking for it.” – Oliver Trutina, Truman vice-president

“There needs to be an all-season environment that encourages people to walk, bike, snowshoe or whatever they wish, and is close to facilities for swimming, skating and exercise classes. Seniors are more active now and want to be connected to these amenities, either within the building or nearby.”

The right environment was a big part of the appeal for Yvonne Hazeldene, a senior condo owner in the northeast community of Huntington Hills.

“The lack of maintenance compared to a house is appealing and I love the ample green space and sense of community,” said Hazeldene.

As for the condos themselves, builders have responded to a common senior sentiment that downsizing should only be taken so far.

“You’re seeing more large condos than you did five years ago, because the older generation is not used to a smaller suite,” said Trutina.

“We were showing them 600-square-foot units and they felt that wasn’t enough space, so we asked if 900 square feet would prompt them to cut a cheque. They said ‘yes’ and we started changing some of our designs.”

Part of that design includes senior-friendly features, such as lower light switches, as well as the ability to make necessary modifications to a unit down the road, such as wider hallways and bigger bathrooms to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility aid.

Interestingly, the rising demand for condos among seniors stands to benefit not just one age group.

“Our ultimate design goal now is to have as many age groups as possible living in close proximity. That gives people the chance to ‘age in place.’ They can start out in a smaller unit and wind up in a larger one adapted to fit their needs, all without leaving the building or the neighborhood they’ve grown to love.”

It’s a trend that suits Hazeldene just fine.

“Our complex has everyone from young couples just starting a family to parents with teenagers to oldsters like myself, and I love that,” she said.

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