LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Given the litany of nursing home horror stories exposed by 7.30 and last night’s Four Corners, it’s no surprise that a growing number of Australians are doing all they can to avoid aged care and retirement homes.
Instead they’re choosing to live in their own homes for as long as possible and renovating them to allow it.
But, as Ashlynne McGhee reports, with Australia’s ageing population and property already in high demand, the question is whether the trend will put even more pressure on house prices.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE, REPORTER: Robin and Geoff Feuerheerdt have a new toy.
GEOFF FEUERHEERDT: This will be a blessing not to have to carry these groceries up 32 stairs.
Yeah well, as long as we don’t put on too much weight with the lack of exercise.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: For now, they are insisting they will just use it for groceries.
ROBYN FEUERHEERDT: Put the groceries here and then we’ll walk up.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: The lift is a bit of an insurance policy against ageing. They want to stay in their home as long as possible.
ROBYN FEUERHEERDT: I don’t know where we would go to get that view again so I’m staying for as long as we can. I will have you in the wheelchair… (laughs)
GEOFF FEUERHEERDT: I’ve had a few medical problems. I have got a new hip and I’ve had some heart operations and we realise the time will come, maybe, when we can’t manage steps.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: They built their home on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast about 20 years ago.
GEOFF FEUERHEERDT: Having lived in the country and endured droughts and extremes of temperatures, summer and winter, we just can’t believe our luck living in a place like this.
ROBYN FEUERHEERDT: We’re going to live here for as long as we can.
GEOFF FEUERHEERDT: All our friends have stayed in their own homes. It never occurred to me that that could be affecting house prices.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: More and more older Australians are staying put.
PROF RACHEL ONG VIFORJ, CURTIN UNIVERSITY: Often the family home is where you’ve raised your children. It’s where you have all these wonderful memories and they are of significant value to people and people want to hold onto them.
So they will look for ways to try and stay in the home.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Economics Professor Rachel Ong Viforj has been studying how that affects the housing market.
RACHEL ONG VIFORJ: It certainly doesn’t help, in terms of housing affordability.
House prices are probably higher than what they should be.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: 7.30 has crunched the numbers.
About 92 per cent of retirement-aged Australians still live in their own homes and that hasn’t changed in the decade since 2006.
But what has changed is the sheer number of older Australians in their homes – in 2006, 2.4 million were staying put. Ten years on it was up to 3.4 million and climbing.
RACHEL ONG VIFORJ: We are having a situation where we often find one or two older people living in houses that are three to four bedrooms which are too big for them.
I want to be really clear here that I’m not trying to say to older people just hanging onto the family home and hogging space that they should free up for younger families with children, because that is not the way I want to put it.
I think the issue here is that there’s very little options for older people.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Professor Ong Viforj says the problem is it is easy to find a unit in the inner city but not in the suburbs where older Australians want to live.
And so when they stay put, there are fewer houses freed up for younger buyers, which ultimately means higher house prices.
BETH DIETMAN: I think it is pretty selfish thing for them to think because we were younger too, we had to start somewhere.
We had to work the hard way to get the house and pay for it.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Beth and Maxine’s home means everything to them.
BETH DIETMAN: You work hard to make it how you want it and the thought of leaving it doesn’t even cross my mind because I’m not going anywhere.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Beth had a major stroke earlier this year that left her in hospital for six months.
BETH DIETMAN: You’ve got to think about the future when you have had a wake-up call like I have had and in fact, that is the second wake-up I’ve had, I had cancer 12 months ago and that is all clear now, well, I’m in remission anyway.
So it makes you think “Gee, what else can they throw at me?”
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: To move back home, Beth and Maxine had to make changes to their house.
They modified their bathroom.
MAXINE: They’ve replaced the glass across here with a shower curtain. We have also got a shower chair.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: And installed a ramp.
BETH DIETMAN: Age doesn’t impress me. It means you’re old. I’m not one for sitting around to crochet. I’ll sit and read or do a bit of glass work.
That is what it will basically look like when it is put together with all the bits and should have it done by Christmas. That will be nice.
That is our aim and our ambition, I guess, to live until we’re 99 and get a telegram from the Queen, or the King as it may be in our case.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Professor Ong Viforj says the important thing is that older Australians can make a choice, otherwise:
RACHEL ONG VIFORJ: They will delay the decision until such time as they’re perhaps forced to do it because of some adverse life event, like a health shock or some financial crisis.
And when things like that happen it becomes a forced move and people don’t often make optimal decisions for themselves when they’re under stress.
ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Beth and Maxine are lucky that government fundings and their own savings have meant even in a time of stress, a decision wasn’t forced on them.
BETH DIETMAN: The home is everything, that’s where your heart is, it’s where my heart is and that’s where my partner is and my dog and everything that I like is all around me here.
I’m in the garden, I’m inside, and the paint work most of it.
It’s just everything, it’s ours, it’s paid for and we’re happy here.
LEIGH SALES: Ashlynne McGhee reporting.