Graham Wilkinson's Christchurch-based Retirement Assets is spending $320 million developing and expanding three retirement villages and he is now hunting for further sites.
Wilkinson, who lives on a rural property between Arrowtown and Queenstown, made his name in the luxury hotel sector, particularly sorting out body corporate and management issues at Auckland's ex-Westin, now the Sofitel and Wellington's ex-Holiday Inn, now Rydges Hotel.
But since the 1990s he has turned his focus to aged care, after finding high demand and strong pre-sales but many under-capitalised owner/operators who needed expertise and capital to upgrade and redevelop properties.
Without a listed vehicle and no public backing, the entrepreneur has used his own extensive resources, secured finance from major trading banks including BNZ and ASB and formed partnerships with existing owner/operators to buy into the three villages.
He estimates around $100 million will be spent at Mt Eden's Ranfurly Village, $150 million at Pacific Coast Village at Papamoa and $75 million at The Russley Village at Christchurch's ex-Russley Hotel - but he's less focused on the big numbers than on the stages of growth at each village.
Ranfurly at 539 Mt Albert Rd will have six new accommodation buildings. The first 27-unit block facing Mt Albert Rd opened just before Christmas: one-bedroom 68sq m units were advertised at $460,000 to $480,000, two-bedroom 89sq m $465,000 to $640,000 and two-bedroom corner 91sq m to 92sq m from $570,000 to $670,000.
Some units in the second block are selling for more than $700,000.
A weekly tariff of $148.50 is advertised, cut to only $66.50 until the big Ranfurly House refurbishment is complete.
The weekly fee pays for rates, insurance, water, maintenance, management, the community centre, rubbish, 24-hour emergency call monitoring and response, communal transport and organised activities and outings. Additional service fees apply, dependent on the level of care required. The weekly fee will rise alongside inflation, pegged to the consumer price index.
Ranfurly residents do not own their places but instead sign an occupation right agreement. Like Metlifecare, Ranfurly charges New Zealand's highest deferred management fee (a slice of the unit purchase price money residents never get back when they leave their unit) of 30 per cent. Ranfurly's 30 per cent is charged at 7.5 per cent annually over four years till it reaches the maximum.
Summerset Group charges 25 per cent and Ryman Healthcare only 20 per cent.
But Wilkinson said Ranfurly was different from every other village: if a unit resale takes longer than expected, part of that 30 per cent is repaid at the same rate it was charged.
"If it's good enough for your mum to get charged, it's good enough to pay it back at the same rate."
Wilkinson said around $1 million would soon be spent on demolition at the Ranfurly site, run as Auckland's main war veteran's rest home for 112 years, removing the more modern ward and rest home additions which once housed veterans.
"This is a renewal project," Wilkinson said of work due to start soon on the stately two-level return verandah heritage Ranfurly House, built in 1903, and which will undergo extensive refurbishment. A grand exterior staircase and four towering chimneys will be rebuilt and the adjoining but rundown hospital wing will be demolished. Sunken floors will be relevelled and heritage features in the weatherboard mansion will be restored and enhanced.
"This will serve as the village community centre," he said of Ranfurly House.
Architects Sumich Chaplin and Boffa Miskell designed the six new blocks and surrounding landscape.
He struck a deal with the Ranfurly Veterans Trust to lease the property on a 100-year term and, in 2013, opened a new private care home. But he drew fire two years ago when former trust chief executive Michael Martin and some residents' families complained about activity levels being cut and that standards had fallen, and workers struck and picketed the property.
Wilkinson said a confidential agreement was reached with "about half a dozen" disgruntled staff members but complained about lack of media coverage for the village winning New Zealand Aged Care Association food and aged care awards late last year.
Ranfurly resident Peter Grant said he would change nothing at his new place. An internal wall was lengthened from the original plan to accommodate his antique furniture and he is delighted to have left his larger house for a two-bedroom second-level corner apartment with balconies overlooking Mt Albert Rd.
Developer 'tireless' in aged sector
Leaders in the listed retirement and corporate sector say developer Graham Wilkinson is making a big contribution.
"He has worked tirelessly to support the sector, to ensure that we continue to provide the best services we can to the residents," said Norah Barlow, a Summerset Group director and its former chief executive.
"He has been active in the Retirement Villages Association now for many years and is always looking to assist those in the sector who are struggling, offering advice when needed," she said.
Alan Edwards, Metlifecare chief executive, agreed.
"He is a very experienced entrepreneur and has been involved in the industry for a long time. During this time he has made significant contributions to the growth and development of the industry and is also the deputy president of the association," Edwards said.
"Our industry provides a variety of products catering to a variety of needs. People like Graham add significantly to the opportunities older New Zealanders have and add to the choices they can make. Competition is a key driver for ensuring that consumers have choices."
Summerset chief executive Julian Cook said Wilkinson had a lot of experience in the industry and was well regarded.
Although not everyone is as effusive. In 2013 ex-Ranfurly chief executive Michael Martin said standards dropped after Wilkinson bought into that Auckland property and picketing staff expressed deep dissatisfaction, going on strike.