Adapting homes and lives to a growing population
The world’s growing and aging population is creating a fresh wave of challenges, determining how our lives will need to change in the future. The way we live and the homes we live in can play an important part. AXA Investment Managers’ Dani Saurymper, portfolio manager at AXA Investment Managers talks to Ivo Bracher, president of the board at Swiss real estate business Bonainvest, to discuss the challenges and opportunities this new backdrop presents.
Dani Saurymper: Living in a house or flat and living in the ‘forever home’ are two very different things. You have made it your task to find out what makes for a good residential property for all ages. What has sparked your interest in this?
Ivo Bracher: Many years ago, my grandfather told me that he wanted to die in his own house, and at over 90 years old, he managed to do just that. He did not have to move out and he managed to walk the stairs in his house until the end.
My grandmother also reached the age of 90. But she was not as lucky, as she was wheelchair-bound early on. This meant she had to move into a retirement home, which was a difficult process.
Another difficult process was having my grandmother visit us in our house. The house was not small – it had three bathrooms. But my grandmother had to use a provisional bathroom in the garage because the wheelchair did not fit through most of our doors. It is experiences like that which shape you.
DS: The challenges your own family was faced with led you to think about the best possible living environment – and you were not looking to just create another retirement home. How is your vision different?
IB: I am the president of the board of a nursing home, which I established. One day I asked my colleagues on the board: “If your partner died, would you voluntarily move into a nursing home at the age of 70?” And the collective answer was “No”. That made me come up with the idea of Bonacasa, a community to support better living for everyone.
The Swiss population has grown from some 6.5m in 1985 to 8.5m in 2018. By 2045 the Swiss statistics office expects some 10m will call the country home.
And while we are all getting older, millennials, who were born between 1980 and 2000, will soon make up the largest share of the country’s population. But in the future, we will probably also see another doubling of the population of 80-year-olds in Switzerland. We need to find concepts that work for all.
DS: I am very interested in longevity trends and often hear myself talking about demographic change and an ageing society. Which of the megatrends the world is dealing with, would you say, are the most important to consider from a residential property perspective?
IB: We have defined four megatrends we are specifically trying to address – the silver society, the new ecology, individualism and connectivity.
When you compare how we live today, to the past, there are a lot of differences. If you think back to your grandparents – our view of 70-year-olds today is different to 50 years ago. The share of the Swiss population which is 65 and older has doubled in the past 20 years, and this will continue to grow. This is what we call the silver society.
Everybody needs to be more ecologically friendly, be it by reducing consumption or lowering the reliance on natural resources. Individualism has also changed things. About one third of all households in Switzerland are now single households. And single households need different supply networks to traditional single-family homes.
And then there is connectivity – this encompasses both virtual and interpersonal connections, but also technological connections like smart homes. And over the past few years we have slowly started to use wearable technology – and this has expanded, also to the older generations.
Any real estate developer looking to future-proof new developments will need to consider all these trends. And to be ready for the megatrends, a property investor needs to think about the quality of the land and architecture of the properties, and any necessary services, especially if the aim is to keep costs for society low and supporting self-sufficiency.
DS: When you consider all these trends, what would living well look like?
IB: Living well does not mean living in a ‘ghetto’ only for older people. Nobody wants to be old. However old you are, the apartments need to work for older people living there – your 90-year-old grandmother, who comes to visit, or the 26-year-old assistant, who just had an operation and needs to be able to get around on her own. At Bonainvest, we have an average age of 58 years.
What does this mean for the plot of land? Central location, good connection to public transport. In terms of architecture it means building without steps and thresholds, and with door openings that are large enough to fit a wheelchair.
You also need good connection to services, which don’t cost the earth, and which you only utilise when your friends and family and neighbourhood can’t help. The idea is to have a concierge system, which is not anonymous but run by people you know, who you are happy to rely on to feed your pets while you are on holiday or help with other chores.
DS: And what impact is the ever more connected world having? You touched on wearable technology. How do you embed this into your residential model?
IB: Home technology is an integral part of the new way of living. This means not only offering safety boxes for parcels, which send digital notifications, and key safes, but also smart networks, which allow you to open and close the front door via your smartphone or the tablet located in your apartment. Lights can be adjusted, while you are in or out, and so can be your heating system.
And for those who don’t want to deal with the app or tablet, they can just talk to an intelligent avatar, with facial expressions, who can do everything for you on the tablet, without you needing to even know how to use a computer. And if you don’t want to find the answers that way, or the answers are not what you expected, you can still rely on inter-personal contact through your personal concierge. This is our innovative, future-focused way of living for all ages – and could be an example for your potential ‘forever home’.