Kerikeri Retirement Village chief executive Hilary Sumpter might be expected to welcome a strong increase in demand, but the current boom has her worried.
Older New Zealanders looking for long-term accommodation, and middle-aged children eager to find facilities for their parents, were driving high demand for retirement accommodation in the wider Bay of Islands area, which was not over-endowed with such facilities, and last week she sounded the alarm about health implications for the elderly.
Sumpter said her team had been astonished by persistent high demand for accommodation throughout June and July. Enquiries after the lock-down resumed at pre-Covid levels, and had continued to trend upwards since then.
The three months to the end of July saw a 50 per cent increase over January and February figures in enquiries about availability of the village's independent-living retirement cottages. There was an even bigger increase, 280 per cent, in enquiries about its new apartments, although much of that additional interest was attributed to advertising over that period.
Three of the apartments had sold since the return to alert level 1, and the residents have moved in.
The Village signed seven occupational rights agreements in July alone, however. It usually signed just one a month.
"It's as if Covid never existed," Sumpter said, "or perhaps it's because Covid does exist and people are looking to attractive rural centres like Kerikeri, where they feel less exposed, in greater numbers than ever before."
Simon Upperton, of Borders Real Estate in Kerikeri, said the demand for retirement accommodation was mirrored by other parts of the market.
"Enquiries and website views are on average 60 per cent higher than pre-Covid levels, and this is across a wide range of properties, from lifestyle to residential, lower-priced and the very high end," he said.
"June sales in Kerikeri and Waipapa bounced back to a little above the seasonal average. There is a noticeable influx of out-of-town buyers, particularly from Auckland, but also from other parts of the country. It's pleasing to note that among the large number of retirees there are also many young families making the move to take up well-paid jobs created by the large amount of investment pouring into the Far North."
There was a downside though, Sumpter saying that the national shortage of retirement accommodation for New Zealand's swelling "silver tsunami" was a growing social issue, one that the country could not keep "kicking down the road."
She was concerned that the handful of aged-care providers in Northland, and elsewhere, were on the verge of being overwhelmed by elderly pouring into the provinces.
"It's a ridiculous situation on a number of levels," she said.
"Firstly, why are our civic and political leaders apparently comfortable with the fact that aged care provision in our provincial centres is provided predominantly by under-funded, under-resourced and hopelessly-stretched charitable community organisations like ourselves and the Claud Switzer Memorial Trust Rest Home and Hospital in Kaitaia?
"And secondly, why are they giving the green light to more and more developers, who appear interested only in building retirement accommodation while swerving adroitly past the need for bed-care facilities for the people who will occupy those dwellings? While these developers say they are going to build care, there is little evidence of this being turned into a reality."
Retirement accommodation and aged care provision were two sides of the same coin, she said.
"They're like the proverbial chicken and egg. Which should we attend to first? At Kerikeri Retirement Village we're building more retirement accommodation so we can earn the money we need to expand our aged care facility. Others appear to be building it so they can off-shore the proceeds to their institutional investors," she added.
New Zealand needed to "wake up and wise up" to the impact of the silver tsunami in its provinces, and to compel the developers of retirement accommodation to invest in modern, dedicated aged care provision.
"The pips are squeaking," she said.
"Politicians speak loudly about the need for infrastructural investment in our regions. Well, I'd suggest that proper, First World aged care facilities, which are well-known to be major employers and down-stream generators of regional wealth, may well be a sound home for some of the seemingly endless billions on offer."