Our COVID-19 Village Manager survey: what you told us

Over the last fortnight, nearly 300 village professionals have shared with us your honest sentiments on the impact that COVID-19 is having on your communities.

I am thrilled to inform you that the survey indicated strong levels of positivity.

It also highlighted the dedication and hard work you and your operators around the country have been doing to support your residents, staff and community, so far with the pandemic.

In short, the survey showed:

village teams were feeling well-supported and confident that your organisation could successfully navigate the pandemic
nearly 3/4 of village teams have been given the opportunity for flexible work arrangements during this time
on the whole, village teams have an overwhelming confidence in supporting residents and the community, during the crisis
The immediate concerns you raised focused around:

the decrease in sales inquiry and buyer commitment
concern for your residents in social isolation
fear for the health and safety of your residents and your teams
your ability to complete maintenance or refurbishments in a timely manner
the impact of compliance obligations
Other concerns raised included:

access to PPE if required
loss of ‘community’
reduced resident confidence
and job security for you and your team
Looking at the bigger picture, you also talked about:

the long-term implications of the pandemic
concerns around sales taking a long time to rebound
the financial viability of operators
the financial impact on residents
and the unknown.
The survey also showed you are thinking about:

resident health and engagement being a concern
what would be the impact if an outbreak occurs in your village, or a village nearby?
the media still confusing aged care and retirement villages
and the implication of compliance measures, such as buybacks
Thanks again for your participation in the survey and we hope this feedback shows you are not alone in your thinking.

Going forward we will do more surveys to hear your messages from the field – please join in.

Latest industry developments

Operators see costs going up and residents see services going down – what do the lawyers say about monthly fee conversations?

Since the Government’s forced closure of pubs, clubs and community centres on March 23, both operators and residents have shared concerns with us about the impact COVID-19 may have on monthly resident fees and annual village expenditure.

In some villages, residents have requested monthly fee reductions, due to the closure of common facilities.

In others, managers have shared concerns about unexpected costs for infection control; and potential changes to service delivery.

What are the obligations of operators and residents in relation to monthly service fees?

It was a relief last week when Tammy Berghofer – from leading industry law firm, MinterEllison – gave us some legal insights on this front.

First up, there is no obligation to reduce monthly resident fees because of temporary closures ‘in compliance with legal directions’.

Tammy said:

“There is no legislative requirement for recurrent (non-optional) services charges (variously described as general services charges, recurrent charges or maintenance charges) to be reduced due to the temporary closure of facilities or cessation of activities within a retirement village in compliance with legal directions”.

She says these fees are not your normal consumer ‘fees for service’. They are the resident’s ‘contribution’ to running the village.

“These types of recurrent services charges in retirement villages are fundamentally different from many other fees or charges for common consumer services.

“As a general rule, these recurrent services charges are:

a resident’s individual contribution to the overall ongoing costs of operating the village (similar to strata levies or council rates) – they are not a ‘fee for service’;
‘cost recovery’ only, with all charges applied to paying the costs of operating the village; and
levied under a budget set at the beginning of the financial year, which may not be able to be changed under relevant retirement villages legislation until the next year.”
She also talked about the possible impact of COVID-19 on the overall costs of the village over 12 months, which residents will need to take into account.

“The closure of facilities will not necessarily mean there is an overall reduction in operating costs.”

“The reduced operation of some facilities may result in lower costs being incurred throughout the year (such as certain maintenance or energy costs). However, other village costs may be increasing at the same time as a result of COVID-19 (such as additional costs of management, administration, and staff and resident communications to comply with government rules and safety guidelines)”.

“It may not be until the end of the current financial year that the ultimate cost impact can be determined with any certainty”.

Tammy also highlighted the importance of checking in with your industry legal partner early if you need clarification or support. She has made herself available to her clients – often times, at little or no expense.


COVID-19 sales advice: protect and nurture your existing sales funnel and database

There are understandable concerns about village sales, especially the refundable deposits and longer-term potential buyers who may think to pull out as they try to sell their homes. Have you got a plan?

I had the opportunity this week to interview Alison Abel. She is Sales Director at the leading marketing agency Marketability, but also the on the ground Sales Manager at the new village The Gracewood, at Kellyville in Sydney, a BaptistCare village.

I’ve always admired Allison for being a “doer”, a relationship builder, a fellow customer-experience junkie, and a lover of “all things retirement living”. But even more so now that I have uncovered her “WHY”.

Alison’s “why” is simply, “to provide the best customer journey to her clients that is possible”.

Long before COVID-19, Alison and her team focused on relationships, education and customer experience as a key part of her sales solution.

This included hosting information days and education sessions for potential clients; individualising client experiences (e.g. by hand-writing name cards for designated car parking spaces); and welcoming clients to The Gracewood.

In fact, Alison and her team typically have five touchpoints with clients – before they arrive for their first onsite inspection.

These strategies have allowed Alison to begin her “coping during a pandemic” journey, with an engaged database built on trusted relationships.

Coping with COVID

As soon as COVID-19 hit, Alison and her team decided to up her focus on supporting The Gracewood’s 100 incoming residents. They set out to deepen their existing relationships with prospective clients on their database.

Allison immediately instigated:

a weekly EDM to her depositors and database, to continue engagement
Zoom interviews with incoming residents to uncover their real-life stories, which were then shared with others
Five-minute videos with guest speakers around topics of interest to her prospects, which she then shared with her prospects
All of these activities have served to build on her existing relationships and are ensuring that communication channels remain open.
They also further develop the trust that has been established in The Gracewood and BaptistCare since day one.

So far, the feedback on these initiatives – from prospects, depositors and families – has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have enjoyed the opportunity to share their own stories.

Check out this example of one incoming resident, Helen, HERE.

Remember, it is a lot harder to find new buyers compared to the real buyers who already know and trust you.