Permanent holiday living
The idea for National Lifestyle Villages came from a simple observation: people who spend extended times in parks and resorts experience a unique sense of low stress, security and community. Founding Director John Wood grew up in caravan parks, and his father started Fleetwood Corporation, a company whose operations are based around the sale of caravans and caravan accessories – so he had a strong association with the industry. “He thought ‘Well, what if we could offer a permanent home experience in a holiday or resort type atmosphere?’” recounts Mike Hollett, CEO of National Lifestyle Villages. That was how the idea first originated in the late ‘90s. Wood funded his first village, Lake Joondalup, soon after in 2000. 11 years later, the company is on village number 10.
At National Lifestyle Villages, they combine the carefree enjoyment of a vacation with the fulfilment of being part of a community. The ambience is relaxed and fun, making National Lifestyle Villages more analogous to a resort then a retirement home. Of the over 2,000 people living in their various developments, the average age is 63 – a generation younger than the average resident of a retirement home. A third of their residents – alternatively called Lifestylers – still work a job, and have just downsized out of the suburbs. “Our residents are very get-up-and-go,” Hollett describes. “They are off to the gym, to the pool, they have their Zumba classes – they’re very active, and in a lot of cases they are still fully integrated into the external community through work and other activities.”
Hollett himself started at National Lifestyle Villages back in 2008, when he was approached to be CEO. He was attracted to the opportunity primarily because he thought the land lease model was interesting – since National Lifestyle Villages is leasing the land they are building on for 60 years, they are able to disconnect the house from the land and therefore the price points can be significantly lower. In some cases, their houses can even be 40 to 50 per cent cheaper than average. “We have so much land in Australia, and we have this housing affordability issue. It seems like a crazy situation to be in, when land is so readily available,” Hollett says. “It’s not like we have to fill in land, or create land so we’ve got more places to live. I think the market needs to mature and look at different models. Owning the land is not the key.”
An expanding village
National Lifestyle Villages has experienced rapid growth and considerable success over the course of its lifetime. They established their first village, Lake Joondalup, in the northern metro suburb of Ashby in 2000. Lake Joondalup has 315 homes, and sold out within three years. After that, they established their second village of Pineview down the road – literally, a kilometre and a half away. Pineview has over 230 homes and sold out quickly as well. “One village led to another,” recalls Hollett, and in 2005 they commenced their Bridgewater village in Mandurah, which has 384 home sites and is now almost fully sold as well.
After Bridgewater, they came up with their Hillview village in High Wycombe, which has 266 home sites, and is now sold out as well. Later came the Busselton village, located on the Southern Coast with 235 homes, of which two-thirds are currently sold. The sixth village, Vibe in Baldivis, was when Hollett came on board. Hollett then oversaw the construction of their premium village, Tuart Lakes, which has 470 home sites and is located over 24 hectares of land. “That one has premium facilities and homes starting from 249,000 up to 380,000 dollars,” Hollett says. Hot on the heels of Tuart was Oyster Harbour in Albany, with 235 home sites. Finally, National Lifestyle crossed the border into Victoria with their Lakeside Lara village. Their display homes for that site open in February, and presales are already looking strong.
Early in his tenure at National Lifestyle Villages, Hollett and the management team diversified and developed a building company in EcoFit Homes. “We realised it would be a good proposition to build the homes we put into our own villages so we can have greater control, and at the same time offer another service,” he explains. That company was established in November of 2008, and like National Lifestyle Villages, it has been steadily on the rise since the word go. Last year alone, they built 220 homes – “Which is exciting,” Hollett says, “because it served our own villages, and we were also successful in putting a significant number of homes in Karratha in the northwest of Western Australia.” As with their core business, EcoFit built those homes under a land lease model, so they have also been providing affordable homes to service workers in desperate need of accommodation.
A light footprint
Because National Lifestyle Villages will be occupying the same space for a minimum of 60 years, they are responsible for maintaining land they are using. “It’s important to the group and to the employees because we believe in having a light footprint on the land,” Hollett says. It is critical for National Lifestyle Villages to be efficient in utilising energy and water, as well as in managing their waste streams, because that directly impacts them and their residences. For this reason, they have added recycling centres to their grounds, have implemented water recycling schemes, and even have their own wastewater treatment plant. Hollett himself used to work as a senior Executive for the Water Corporation, where he led key sustainability initiatives in water recycling and efficiency, so he has experience in this arena.
Also, because the company acts as both the builder and developer, it is able to exercise a lot of control over how their homes are built, and where they are located. In this way, National Lifestyle Villages is able to ensure their homes are optimally placed to harvest solar energy, which reduces their residents heating and cooling costs. “We do try to look at the whole thing,” Hollett says. “Right now we’re looking at our supply chain and the impact of the new carbon legislation.” With every new village, Hollett says they take another step forward in being more innovative in their sustainability practices, and their waste water and energy management.
The employee count at National Lifestyle Villages is spread across several main departments, such as their village services, their management, and their construction development sector. They also have a business development team, an internal design team, and several hundred subcontractors who work every day to build the homes. “We’ve got a lot of disciplines covered because in very simple terms we’re a developer, we’re a builder, and we’re a manager,” Hollett says. “That’s a simple message, but it’s quite a unique one because you don’t generally find all three at once.”
When recruiting, Hollett has to consider different qualities for different departments, but in general he is looking for people inspired to service the senior living market. “They have to have an affinity with providing a service oriented culture to that sector,” he says. “I think its important people get that. The other cultural fits are around environmental standing – we’re always looking for people who innovate along those lines because it’s a very important flavour to what we do.” Finally, their employees need to be flexible, as National Lifestyle Villages is evolving and changing all the time and their personnel need to be able to keep up.
Having quality employees is necessary to fostering a quality community – and the quality of the National Lifestyle Village communities is one of their chief selling points. “We have a very strong culture and strong village policies,” Hollett says. “It’s our residents community, but we’re there as a manager.” While the management is friendly, if a resident does the wrong thing, Hollett says they will always intervene and make sure the right thing ultimately happens. “I think it’s important that they know we’ll make sure we’re managing their community at all times,” he explains. “Our culture in the villages is open and friendly – the managers always have coffees and morning tea where people can come with enquiries, and we have a formal get-together once a month.” Additionally, National Lifestyle Villages fosters social community networks, clubs, and hosts events. “People can choose to take as much or as little of that as they like.”
Another of National Lifestyle Villages’ chief selling points is their facilities. Those vary from village to village, but each location always has clubhouses, open areas for entertaining, lounges, formal seating areas, and A-class kitchens to serve large meals and cater for events. Also, they have gymnasiums and swimming pools – some outdoor, most indoor. Select villages even have indoor cinemas, squash courts, tennis courts, bowling facilities, and more. “Generally anything you would expect to find if you were joining your local gym or local clubs,” Hollett summarises. “We’ve got most of those facilities covered, and you can just walk down the road and use them when you want to. The facilities are of a very high standard, are well maintained, and we’re very proud of them. They truly offer that lifestyle, as well as a wellness component to living. We know if people are fitter and happier they generally live longer and enjoy life a bit more.”
Looking forward, Hollett says they will continue to offer a premium level of accommodation at the villages already built, as well as continue to expand nationally. He also says that they have been asked by some of the major mining companies of Australia to look at village style accommodation for their employees, so he sees a very promising opportunity in that area. “We see us having a strong portfolio in senior living and an emerging diversification into resources,” he says. By 2020, he sees their resident count growing from the 2,000 they have today to as high as 10,000. “I think we can grow quite quickly,” he says. “I think the next decade will be a strong decade.”