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From Retirement Living to Strata Communities, a Village Managers Story

Maria Wheate has been a Village Manager since August 2009 and now is the Village Manager at Retirement Living Services’ Windsor Country Village in Vineyard, 50km northwest of Sydney’s CBD.

Windsor Country Village consists of 104 Strata-titled one and two-bedroom villas, each with private courtyards. The heart of the community, like most, is its Community Centre and tranquil garden setting.

In this exclusive interview, Maria shares her journey, insights, and advice for aspiring village managers, addressing the nuances of strata-titled communities and retirement villages.

Maria’s Journey: From Taree Gardens to Windsor Country Village

Maria embarked on her career in August 2009 at Taree Gardens, owned by ING (now Ingenia). From the outset, the rental community had an occupancy rate of just 48%. Through hard work and dedication, Maria and her team transformed it into a thriving community with a remarkable 98% occupancy rate by February 2013.

Her journey then led her to become Ingenia’s first Village and Sales Manager of Land Lease at The Grange in Morisset, Lake Macquarie. In September 2017, she joined Aveo as a Sales Coordinator, seeking to broaden her knowledge in a different facet of retirement living.

During her tenure at Aveo Newcastle, Maria faced challenges, including the fallout from the “ABC Four Corners” incident. Despite adversity, the community’s resilience and the power of referrals showcased the strength of putting the residents first with these bonds carrying through word of mouth into the wider community.

Reluctantly, but for family reasons, Maria returned to Sydney, where she took on the role of Village Manager at Aveo Bella Vista. This position, owing to her New Development experience, allowed her to make a significant impact. She embraced the challenge, and by the time she left in May, the village had only two vacant units out of 64.

Now, as the Village Manager at Windsor Country Village (pictured below), Maria reflects on her journey, stating that she is thoroughly enjoying every minute of her work.

Differences Between Retirement Villages and Over 55s Strata Titled Facilities

When asked about the differences between managing retirement villages and strata-titled facilities, Maria emphasised that, for a Village Manager, the core responsibilities remain largely the same.

Maria noted from her experience this includes maintaining gardens, overseeing communal property maintenance, and providing responsive service to residents – across all contract types she has managed.

The key difference is in the budgets and financial matters because of meeting the different legislative requirements in place with Strata Living. As a result, Maria highlights the importance of meticulous budget planning, always keeping an eye on both the current and future financial needs of the community.

She also acknowledges the important part having support from Strata Managers and Operations Managers play in navigating the nuances of strata-titled communities compared to traditional retirement living.

“Seniors are seniors”

Maria’s experience has taught her that “seniors are seniors”.

“They [residents] have their same challenges, in life, regardless of the contract. They just want to enjoy their retirement years. My job, be it Bella Vista, The Grange, or Windsor Country Village, is to assist them in enjoying their lives.”

In essence, the key to success in village management lies in empathy, understanding, and a commitment to creating vibrant, inclusive communities where residents can thrive.

Advice for Aspiring Village Managers

For those considering a career in village management, Maria offers valuable advice.

“Don’t go into a job like this, thinking you know everything. I have enjoyed this role for a number of years now, and I am still learning every day, I think that is what I love about it.”

Maria’s best piece of career advice? “Don’t respond based on emotions; stop and think before providing an answer or decision.” This thoughtful approach has served her well in her career.

As she reflects on her career, Maria feels privileged to be a part of this industry, having formed lasting friendships and cherished memories along the way. Her dedication and passion continue to make a difference in the lives of seniors in retirement communities across Australia.

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