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The challenge of downsizing on the Northern Beaches

Retiring on the Northern Beaches of Sydney is an appealing proposition. With our gorgeous beaches, relaxed lifestyle, brand new hospital and terrific selection of shops, cafes, restaurants and outdoor facilities, who wouldn’t want to live on the peninsular in their later years?


But finding suitable housing when you’re an empty nester is a problem. It’s a challenge the Northern Beaches council identified in its Local Housing Strategy which reported anticipated demand for an additional 1,716 self-contained retirement units by 2036 (i.e. over 55s living).


The extra demand is expected to come from our increasingly ageing population. According to the 2021 Census, around 30% of the Northern Beaches population is aged over 55 representing 80,000 or so people. In the 65-plus cohort, there are around 48,000 people. According to demographers, this portion of the population is expected to grow by 19.6% between 2021 and 2031.


Despite the pressing need for suitable accommodation, only 270 retirement units have been built on the peninsular since 2016. And there have been several high-profile rejections of proposed retirement developments in places such as Terry Hills, Allambie Heights, Seaforth and Frenchs Forest. It’s an issue that has the community divided, with some fighting for more accommodation whilst others are seeking to preserve the natural landscape.


To try and understand the issue facing downsizers on the Northern Beaches a little better, 26 and Sunny’s Nick Freeman and Cat Denney sat down for a chat with Amy Young, Principal of Liang and Simmons Avalon Beach.

Amy, to get started, can you tell us what led you to the Northern Beaches?


Absolutely. The reason for moving here was that my beautiful husband grew up on Avalon Parade in Avalon Beach and we felt there was no better place in the world to bring up our kids.


Having spent many years living and working in the Eastern Suburbs, I was a little apprehensive about the move at first, but the Northern Beaches has exceeded my expectations in every single way. The schools are phenomenal, the community engagement is next level, and our family has never been happier.


You predominantly focus on the Pittwater end of the beaches. What’s the story for downsizers up there?


In the last five years we’ve seen many asset-rich empty nesters cashing out as the market has been so strong. When they sell, they are then on the hunt for more suitable homes to continue their retirement in.


Some downsizes are staying local, but it can be challenging to stay on the Northern Beaches as there's not a lot of places to shift into. Downsizers are often price constrained as they are looking to spend a particular amount that fits with their nest egg yet allows them to keep some cash in the bank.


The options for over-55s complexes, or newer builds with two beds and so forth, sell at a real premium. So unfortunately, downsizers can get priced out of the market given the limited options and the fierce competition for property.


Do we need more apartments?


That’s a tough one to answer. If we add more apartments to the area, then you lose some of what makes the area so desirable – the fact that it’s so chilled and relaxed. I know the state and local governments are looking at options, so they're trying to work it through but it’s tricky.


What about more over 55s developments on the beaches? Is that what we need?


It’s an option but remember people downsizing don't always want to live in an over-55s dedicated complex. It's not for everybody.


For instance, I sold a property recently to a lady who's downsizing and she specifically told me she was not interested in that option. This lady was in her 70s but she was young at heart and wanted to be around young families, in a vibrant area where people are having fun, going to barbecues and enjoying life in the area.


As a result, are seeing downsizers having to leave the beaches?


There’s a definite trend of downsizers leaving the area. A lot of people are looking around two hours north and two hours south to places like Newcastle, Lake Macquarie or Port Macquarie.


The good news in those markets is you can still get really good value. You can get flat level blocks with a lovely little garden and beautiful sunshine coming in. It’s certainly a trend we’re seeing.


For downsizers who haven’t bought and sold in a long time, what tips would you give them?


First off, I would encourage them to have a conversation with us as early as possible because then we can help them execute their plan.


For instance, there's a beautiful couple I worked with recently who had lived in their house in Avalon for almost 30 years. They only ever bought and sold once before that. Naturally, they were stressed about the prospect of buying, selling and moving.


To help manage the stress, when we had open houses on their place, they would go up to Lake Macquarie and start shopping for something up there. They found something they really liked, and we were able to line it all up to have a simultaneous exchange. The purchaser came in on their place unconditionally and bought it pre-auction at a price that allowed them to buy the beautiful house right on the water at Lake Macquarie.


Additionally, we were able to secure them a five-day cooling off period so it took the stress away. The process meant they didn't have to worry about renting in between, and they knew how much they could spend when they put their offer in. We’re not just helping people to sell, we’re helping families to move.


Amy, to finish off, could you tell us about the interesting approach you have to engaging your local community?


Absolutely. Our office, which is called The Studio, doubles as a community space where a local artist exhibits once a month. Rather than the artist paying any fees to exhibit, they nominate a percentage of sales to go to charity. We've raised over $25,000 so far.


When the new artist comes into the space we host a function for them and we invite the local community. They come down for some drinks and live music, and then the nominated charity has an opportunity to do outreach, sell merchandise, and gather volunteers for the programs they're running.


This year, we were lucky enough to be recognised by the Real Estate Institute of NSW and won the top gong for community service, which was the proudest moment for us. If there's one award to win in real estate, it’s recognition for the work you do in the community. We love our community here and we’re so grateful for the lifestyle that it provides to our family - it absolutely warms my heart.


Prefer to listen? Check out the podcast interview with Amy here

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