By Gina Baldassarre on 3 October 2018

Australia’s retirement living sector is worth $5 billion, with statistics from the Property Council of Australia finding over 185,000 Australians – or 5.7 percent of over 65s – currently live in retirement villages; this is expected to grow to 7.5 percent by 2025.

For many Australians, however, the retirement living space is shrouded in mystery: it’s hard to find and compare villages, what’s on offer, and what all the different types of fees are for and why.

Aiming to bring some transparency is CompareVillages, a platform helping users, well, compare retirement villages.

The idea was born out of founder Jessica Kinnear’s experience as a lawyer working across the retirement living space. Having worked at developer Lendlease, which owns and operates retirement villages, and Russell Kennedy Lawyers, a firm specialising in retirement living law, Kinnear often dealt with both operators and residents experiencing common frustrations.

“For people considering moving into a retirement village, consumer feedback is that they don’t understand what retirement living is all about – for example, that it’s distinct from aged care – nor do they understand the fees involved,” Kinnear explained.

Kinnear believes the problems are threefold: the sector is full of complex financial terms, there is a lack of transparency, and industry is failing to properly educate the community about their offerings.

“Being more transparent about the fees involved and explaining why they exist would go a long way to better informing people about retirement living, and at the same time, restoring confidence in the sector,” she said.

Kinnear’s solution is CompareVillages, launched earlier this year with the aim of bringing transparency to the sector. The platform allows users to find and compare villages and their fees, including entry, ongoing, and departure fees, with explanations for each given in plain, easy-t0-understand language.

A departure entitlement calculator, meanwhile, allows users to get an estimate of what they ought to receive when they leave.

For Kinnear, this was “an obvious problem to solve”.

“As I see it, seniors are often neglected when it comes to online solutions to their problems. There was a glaringly obvious need for an online platform which properly assists seniors make the significant life decision of moving into a retirement community,” she said.

Having mulled over the idea for almost 10 years, Kinnear decided earlier this year the time was right to take the plunge and began work on the platform. She started by designing an initial concept and then working with a developer to produce interactive wireframes to test with seniors and operators of retirement villages.

“While most operators thought the idea was great, some were hesitant to disclose their fees online and queried whether they would actually receive more or better leads than from their existing marketing pursuits,” Kinnear said.

Perseverance, Kinnear said, eventually saw her launch with 10 on board, but she admitted that navigating the world of entrepreneurship has been challenging, particularly as a solo founder.

“It’s one thing to have a great idea, but having an online business is much more than building a great website.  You’ve got to wear many hats to make it succeed and I’m determined to achieve what I set out to – for it to be the most useful and trusted online resource for people considering moving into a retirement community,” she said.

“I am also adamant to remain independent and for no retirement living operator listings featured on the site to be favoured over others.”

Rather than ads or premium listings, CompareVillages will take a fee for each enquiry an operator receives through the platform.

Operators on CompareVillages are able to manage their listing and content, with this then submitted to CompareVillages for publishing.  

“As we are asking for more information than any other website featuring retirement villages, it can be more tedious for operators to set up the listings,” Kinnear admitted, “however we provide assistance to make it easier.” 

Meanwhile users – seniors over 65, and their kids – can search villages by location, type of living – such as independent living unit, serviced apartment rental unit – price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and lifestyle features specific to retirement living, Kinnear said.

Places that are of interest can then be added to a comparison table, which Kinnear explained compares entry prices and lifestyle features. From there, users can receive more detailed legal and fee information after sending an enquiry to an operator.

From to, Kinnear said there are competitors in the market however she believes CompareVillages offers a unique proposition in that it focuses solely and extensively on retirement living.

With this in mind, Kinnear’s goals for the coming year are clear: she is aiming to sign up at least 70 percent of the retirement village market, and in turn increase consumer awareness of the platform. She is also planning to include a consulting service.