Accommodation varies tremendously from area to area but the same real estate rules apply… the more upmarket the area, the more expensive the complex. Remember that land is costly, so cottages with gardens tend to be in the suburbs or further away from towns, so don’t try to find a cottage at a reasonable price in the middle of Durban’s Berea, next to Sandton City or with sea views at Sea Point! Be reasonable in your expectations. The bottom line is how much you can afford to spend now, pay for all expenses and allow for levy and cost of living increases? It is better to buy cheaper and sleep at night, than to buy upmarket and spend your time worrying.

Do Your Sums

As a very approximate guide your monthly income should be four times the levy: if your levy includes meals then three times the levy may be sufficient. Make allowances for medical aid increases. Remember though that this is just a guide. If in doubt, consult your bank manager, accountant or financial adviser.

Different Types of Accommodation

Generally there are three types of retirement complexes offered for sale.

Hotel Type

These vary from basic bedsitters with shared bathrooms to luxury suites, but they have one thing in common – no kitchens! They may allow kettles, toasters, microwaves and a bar fridge, but definitely no stove. This means that you will have to pay for at least one or more meals a day whether you want them or not. You will have to decide whether the convenience of not having to shop for and prepare your own meals is outweighed by the fact of having to go to a dining room at set times every day. Also, you may be paying for a lot of food that you don’t actually want. Lastly, the monotony factor must be taken into account. Nevertheless, this appeals to many retirees.

Flats/Apartment Blocks

These are very popular, as they are usually situated close to all amenities and on bus routes. It is just like living in an ordinary Sectional Title development, except that you have the security and companionship of a retirement complex. A communal lounge and dining room with optional meals would be desirable and an emergency call system.

Garden Cottages or Town Houses

Because of the cost of the land, these are usually situated away from busy centres. If they are conveniently placed near facilities such as shopping malls they tend to be more expensive. If you have a beloved pet, then this type of accommodation is for you, as pets are seldom allowed in units that do not have private gardens.

Obviously, town houses must be all on one level, as this is not the time to buy a duplex! For those moving from a house, the garden cottage is a logical step. Check on transport arrangements: if the complex doesn’t have its own facilities how will you manage when you no longer want to drive?

The above options all have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. When all is said and done though, the final decision is yours. Try to be as sure as you can that it is an informed one.

The Complex

What to ask and what to look for.

First Impressions

*Are there secure gates? Is there a security guard on duty? Are they on duty 24 hours a day 7 days a week?

* Are there intercoms to individual units? Is the manager or someone on call?

* Is the entire property secure and fenced? If possible, walk around it.

* Is the overall appearance one of a place that is well kept, neat and tidy?

* Are the driveways well maintained and well lit?

* Have all the stop signs and road markings been clearly defined?

* Are the gardens neat and cared for, with mown lawns, and flower beds, trees and shrubs pruned and healthy?

* Is there a standard for alterations and additions to individual units, such as fencing for pets, awnings and blinds? Are these uniform and in keeping with the rest of the complex?

Club House / Community Centre

* Does the club house or community centre have its own manager and if so who is he /she answerable to?

* What facilities are provided? These could include daily activities, from exercise routines to bingo, carpet bowls, talks and computer classes. Ask to see a daily program, if available.

* Is it within walking distance from the unit? If not, is some sort of transport available for residents, such as golf carts?

Communal Lounge / TV Room

* Is it well furnished? Is a TV available with M-Net, DSTV? May friends or relatives be entertained there?

Dining Room

* Is it bright and cheerful, conducive to good conversation and pleasant company?

* Is there a separate frail care dining facility?

* Are frail care patients admitted to the dining room? This can be trying for relatively fit and healthy people.


* Are meals cooked on the premises? If so, is the kitchen clean and well equipped?

* Are any meals compulsory?

* What costs are involved?

* Ask to look at a week’s sample menu.

Sport & Recreational Facilities

* If available, are additional fees charged for the use of the facilities?

* Who is responsible for the care of swimming pools, bowling greens etc? A designated manager or a volunteer committee made up of residents?

* Who pays for the upkeep of these facilities? If included in the levy you may very well be paying for something you never use.

TV Antenna

* Are these provided?

* If M-Net and DSTV aerials are provided is this optional or included in the levy?

Management Structure / Staff

* Does the manager reside on the property, and if not, who is in charge in his absence?

* Are the staff helpful, considerate and smiling?

* Are the domestic and garden staff neat, clean and cheerful?

* Who is the manager answerable to?


Services provided could include:

* Garden service, which includes lawn mowing, pruning of trees and shrubs, maintenance of flower beds.

* Servicing of individual units.

* Window cleaning. Are they included in the levy? If not, what are the charges?


* The perimeter fencing should be secured with either razor wire or electric fencing.

* Video cameras and infra red beams are additional measures.

* Security guards on the gates and patrolling the fences are a very expensive alternative: remember your levy will reflect the cost of security.

* How are visitors screened? Is there an intercom from the unit to the security gates?

* Does each unit have burglar guards on the windows and security gates on all doors?

* Panic buttons or telephone alert systems are a must. If you can’t rely on someone rushing to help you in the event of an emergency 24 hours a day, then you might as well buy into any ordinary development.

Frail Care / Clinic

* Are frail care facilities available on the property? If not, what happens should you require such care?

* Ask to be shown around the frail care premises. What costs are involved?

* If no frail care is provided, is there a nurse on call for the community?

* Is there a clinic where weekly blood pressure, medication and general health care checks are provided?

* Ask whether any portion of the levy is allocated to frail care (if provided). You may be paying quite heavily for a facility you may never use.


* If the complex is off the bus route, what measures are in place to transport residents to shopping malls and medical appointments?

* What costs are involved?


* A well run complex should have various committees in place, for example gardening, entertainment, sport, bridge, bowls and bingo, as well as educational classes such as basic computer instruction (mainly for e-mailing children and grandchildren) and U3A courses (University of the Third Age).

* A monthly newsletter is an added advantage.

House Rules

* Ask for a copy, as this will give you some insight into the community you could be moving into.

The Residents

* Last but not least, chat to the people who live in the complex: more than anything else, this will tell you whether or not it’s the right place for you.

The Unit

Whether you decide on a room, a flat or a cottage, keep an eye out for a few basic requirements that could make your life easier in the future:

*If there are any stairs they should have a guide rail. The complex should be wheelchair friendly, making all units and facilities easily accessible for walkers and wheelchairs.

* If the complex has more than one floor, a lift is essential.

* Is the unit fully fitted with burglar guards and a security gate?

* How are visitors screened? Is there an intercom from the unit to the security gates?

* Does the unit have an emergency button or some method of summoning help if needed?

The Bathroom

Check for the following:

* If floors are non-slip, including the shower.

* The shower cubicle should have a fold up seat and hand held shower.

* The toilet should be built up between six and eight centimetres higher than average so that it is easier to sit down in the event of knee, hip or back problems, and a grip handle should be easily accessible.

* The bath should be lower than usual and there should be grip handles.

* An emergency button should be placed near the toilet and bath.

* The bathroom should be wheelchair friendly, as should all doors and pathways.

Electrical & Maintenance

* Are electrical plugs positioned at a convenient height from the floor?

* Do you know where the electricity board and geyser are?

* Is there someone on site who is responsible for minor maintenance, and is a handyman available in the complex?