Living the Dream

National Lifestyle Villages

We question what we eat and how we think, and we seek out the latest health and scientific treatments and technologies to calm our minds, strengthen our muscles and live lives which are not only measured in years, but by the quality of life we experience.

Fortunately, for those of us looking to make a move, there is an option available which encourages a healthy, active lifestyle without the hassles that come with home ownership: National Lifestyle Villages.

Far from being a traditional retirement village, National Lifestyle Village (NLV) locations across Western Australia and Victoria offer independent living in the truest sense of the term. While NLV is promoted to men and women in their mid-fifties, the average age of residents is 63, making the residents far younger than the average age of 83 in traditional retirement villages.

“There is a generational difference between us and traditional retirement villages of about twenty years,” says John Wood, Chief Executive Officer at NLV, which focuses on resort-style independent living aimed at mature, health-conscious individuals. Many of them are empty nesters looking to downsize while still young in mind, body, spirit and attitude. “For many years, their only choice was a house in the suburbs or a retirement village. We’re the gap in the market.”

Mr Wood developed a passion for innovative housing solutions at an early age long before founding National Lifestyle Villages back in 1999. He vividly recalls snapshots his father took while abroad in the United States and Europe of places he had visited, which included trailer and caravan parks – the origins of manufactured community homes in the US – along with affordable mid-market communities and luxury manufactured communities, one of which boasted six-time major champion Lee Trevino as the golf pro.

“I got the spark of the idea from that research in America and Europe,” says Mr Wood. Over the years, he amassed considerable experience in the real estate, housing, tourism and marketing industries. At just twenty, Mr Wood purchased the business from his employer and subsequently won the Rothwell’s Young Entrepreneur Award and the West Australian Young Achievers Award, representing Western Australia at Kirribilli House with former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Selling about 1,000 mobile homes while working for another company, Mr Wood realised that expectations of buyers kept growing, as they wanted more and better amenities in caravan parks situated in WA around the Perth metropolitan area. Inspired, he decided to build something revolutionary. He envisioned a type of non-tourist caravan park for people whose children had left home and who wanted to continue to maintain a quality standard of life, freed from the financial burdens and maintenance requirements that come with owning a large house in the suburbs.

The model for National Lifestyle Villages is innovative on a number of levels. Using the example of a couple in their fifties whose children have left home to start lives of their own, the parents have a challenge on their hands. Do they keep their oversized suburban home, now too large for their needs, and continue paying for maintenance and utilities for the next twenty or thirty years?

Presenting a sensible alternative to owning a home which no longer meets their needs, National Lifestyle Villages offer individuals the opportunity to purchase a home which requires little maintenance and allows residents to be located in a dynamic community alongside others who share similar passions. Best of all, many residents are able to sell their homes for a profit, not only freeing themselves from mortgages and future financial concerns enabling themselves to more ably indulge in hobbies, travelling and more.

“That is how the National Lifestyle Villages model emerged for us in Western Australia,” says Mr Wood. The idea soon caught on and was endorsed by the local government and the marketplace once legislative requirements were discussed to develop the villages under certain guidelines. “The government wanted to check that what we were saying would actually work,” says Mr Wood of the government moratorium which took place after the development of the first NLV.

With ten villages constructed in the past decade, Mr Wood and his team have received numerous awards over the years, ranging from the Telstra WA Business of the Year award in 2007 to the 2010 HIA Greensmart Awards to Development of the Year for National Lifestyle Villages – Tuart Lakes. Offering a bold new choice, the NLV phenomenon has literally created options for living which did not exist previously. “It opened up a new choice for people, which is a real challenge for Australia, because we’ve got this ageing population, but not everyone wants a retirement village,” comments Mr Wood, who says the market would allow them to have one hundred villages across Australia. There are currently about two thousand residents in the company’s villages.

Created as a stand-alone product, the National Lifestyle Villages model is built around a sixty year land-lease arrangement. Under the agreement, a resident owns his or her home outright – a willable asset – and leases the land it sits upon. “Part of the legislative framework means that we can deliver a much more affordable model because we’re not on selling and cutting up the land,” explains Mr Wood. “We’re providing a sixty year lease, which allows people to free up that equity that they would otherwise put into the land – and still enjoy the fruits of the community – but own the home and not the land. And that’s how the model is quite different from retirement villages and / or Torrens title or Strata title.”

The design and construction of homes in the villages also sets them apart from others. Unlike traditional wood construction which is costly, labour-intensive and prone to damage from weather conditions and insects, National Lifestyle Villages are modular in structure. Two halves are constructed offsite, transported to a location and assembled over several weeks, not months, as is often the case with standard construction. Guaranteed to be built, delivered and fully finished within a twelve-week cycle (with the exception of the Village in Lara, Victoria, where a different build process is in place), the streamlined process makes the transition as effortless and stress-free for buyers as possible.

“That way, it eliminates the amount of construction work in our villages – where people are trying to enjoy a nice lifestyle,” says Mr Wood of the process, which can add four to eight homes per month to an NLV community without the dust, noise and traffic that comes with conventional construction practices. NLV “Lifestylers” get to know the people working on their sites as the villages use the same personnel and sub-contractors, from plumbers and electricians to painters and car port installers.

In addition to being high-quality homes which are built to last, NLV units are created and constructed using a number of award-winning initiatives to reduce their ecological footprint. From passive-solar attributes like north-facing long axis to open-plan living areas and water-wise fittings and fixtures, the homes are geared toward cost-savings and environmental sustainability. Through the introduction of dozens of green initiatives, the villages feature innovative waste reduction and recycling measures including the re-use or sale of recyclables, worm farms, paper farms, rainwater tanks and a great deal more.

“We’ve included that idea of sustainability in our lease agreements and it’s what we explain to our clients before they move into the community, so they buy into the concept,” explains Mr Wood.

Unlike many typical developers who take a flat land approach to construction and remove trees, National Lifestyle Villages take every measure possible to keep existing trees and build houses and roads around them. In one instance, a colony of nesting sea eagles lived in an area during construction and development and remain there to this day, adding value to the community.

The company spends considerable time finding ideal sites for the next village as location is critical, says Mr Wood. Always on the hunt for land that is likely to become urban to “get ahead of the development curve,” the company takes measures to educate the local shire and works with state planning authorities to ensure successful and positive development. The company seeks large un-zoned parcels of land thirty to forty acres or greater and located close to local services.

“We’re not making a development profit,” explains Mr Wood. “We’re adding value to the land and entering into long-term leases. So we have to find land that is fringe urban, that is perhaps zoned rural, that allows a permitted use of a caravan park and then we go through an education process with the shire, describing why they should allow us to build a NLV on land abutting services. In that way, instead of paying a premium for the land, we add millions of dollars of facilities and value to the local community – where they can sell their house and move into one of these villages and free up that house to someone that wants to have a family.”

Prices for a small garden apartment are as low as $149,000, with two bedroom units in the low $200,000s and larger three or four bedroom units in the high $200,000s to mid-$300,000s. National Lifestyle Villages are well designed with bedrooms, a study, outdoor entertaining area, high ceilings, well-fitted and appointed kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. Built with steel frame and concrete floor construction, residences feature steel roofs and exterior cladding which does not require painting. Even patios, landscaping and a clothesline is included in the price and lifestylers are able to choose from a range of around fifteen unique home designs. Low weekly fees include a host of amenities, ranging from rubbish removal to gym and spa access and the security that comes from living in a gated community.

“The facilities are not token,” says Mr Wood. “Gyms are fully equipped and not just an old treadmill next to a small pool, which you will find at some other places.” With a range of indoor heated pools, saunas, gyms, spas, tennis and squash courts, theatres and much more, lifestylers are able to remain fit and healthy.

“It is the best of both worlds. Go and have a swim if you want to, but you don’t have to maintain your own pool. If you want to spend six months travelling and six months at home, gone are the days where you have to worry about who is babysitting the house, what are we going to do with our dog, and having work to come back home to. Being able to lock up and go out and enjoy life is just a real driver for a lot of our clients.”

As for the future of National Lifestyle Villages, there are a number of projects on the go currently which, when finished, will see about 5,000 lifestyle village sites. “We’ve got quite a pipeline ahead, and a lot to do.”

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January 18, 2018, 8:32 AM AEDT

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