A cry for help from WA: we desperately need public education on retirement villages or ‘Trust’ is lost

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Most people in Perth know Mike Graebner, the owner of Seniors Own Real Estate. He has been one of the leading marketers and sale agents of private and not-for-profit retirement villages for many years.

In his portfolio are retirement village homes in Mandurah, the epicentre for retirees 70 km south of Perth.

This week he made an impassioned plea in the wake of the Sterling First collapse which has resulted in up to 100 retirees losing their life savings and homes, on top of the Berrington Care collapse in central Perth and the Earle Haven Retirement Village debacle on the Gold Coast.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care has recently been in Perth and Broome with operator stories predominating.

Mike appeared in the West Australian newspaper, saying:

“When the issue of aged care arises, and some of the bad treatment that’s apparently been happening comes to light, people generally tend to think of retirement villages as being tarred with the same brush”.

“Aged care is aged care, it’s not independent living in retirement villages.

“Whilst there has been legitimacy to some complaints, there has been a lot of misrepresentation and misunderstanding about retirement villages.

Mike tried to explain that retirement village operators are controlled by the RV Act but The West Australian newspaper editorial did not help when it finished this article with:

“The lifetime lease packages offered by Sterling First were not guaranteed for the life of the customer, but for the life of the company, which left customers’ life savings and houses on the line when the company went into administration.”

In another article the West Australian described the Sterling First situation as follows:

Jenny Seaton

“Some of the 101 investors handed over their life savings to Sterling First to secure a home on a lifetime lease of up to 40 years via a subsidiary Sterling New Life, which was promoted by former Test cricketer Mitchell Johnson and media personality Jenny Seaton.”

The ‘lifetime lease’ with an upfront payment of $300,000 sounds remarkably like a retirement village contract.

Here, in NSW the far smaller 20 independent living units at Toukley Waters retirement village is in receivership and for sale through Ray White commercial (and currently under offer).

Toukley is in the centre of the Central Coast retirement village mecca. We hear that its failure is the subject in bowls clubs.

At the same time over the past week I had a conversation with a prominent resident in a big village saying that if he wanted to sell his home he could do a letterbox drop to his neighbours and within 24 hours he would have five people at the door wanting to buy.

He said his village is very well built and he joined the village knowing that with him being some years older than his wife, it was important to ensure that she was set up if anything happened to him.

The message: balance is missing in the public conversation on the ‘why’ of retirement living and in the victim is ‘lack of trust’.

As the law firm Minter Ellison says: “The sector is one minute to Midnight”.