A True Retirement Lifestyle

Baldwin Care Group

The retirement and aged care sector as a whole is poised for growth, as increasing demand spurs the need for new organisations and facilities. Yet it is quality that truly counts in this field, and this is where Baldwin Group continues to shine…

Paul Burkett is Chief Executive of this Sydney-based organisation that looks after elderly people in retirement villages mainly in Sydney and Hobart. He says the group has been around for more than 30 years and remains family-owned, both of which factors play heavily in its favour when it comes to experience in managing properties to the benefit of residents and staying flexible and proactive when dealing with changes in demand.

The company was founded by the late Tony Baldwin, who passed away in 2009. The family then engaged Paul and a team of similarly qualified and experienced senior managers to run the company for them.

Over the last couple of years, Baldwin Group has invested strongly into reviewing its business model and prospects and examining where it wants to go. Most of its sites have been extensively upgraded and there have also been upgrades of all software and hardware systems (as well as installing sprinkler systems in its New South Wales properties to meet incoming standards more than two years ahead of schedule). “We have made the group more efficient and more presentable to the marketplace,” says Paul. Baldwin is actually beginning to conduct its own acquisitions. As Paul says, “Our primary focus is to double the size of the group.”

In the early days, Baldwin constructed everything in key locations in the Tasmanian capital and in Sydney. Construction work largely finished four or five years ago and the focus since then has been on service provision to residents, running the facilities and ensuring maintenance or upgrades are carried out smoothly and with minimal disturbance to residents.

Paul agrees that the aged care sector in general is growing at a serious rate and will continue to do so given the well-known demographic numbers referring to Australia’s ageing population. “Clearly there is growth given that ageing population, but where that growth occurs is an interesting extra dimension,” he points out. Baldwin’s sites are quite close to city centres. “We are seeing considerable growth in the areas where people want to live, as opposed to regional areas.”

There are good reasons for this, Paul explains. People are retiring later; commonly, one partner in a marriage passes away and the surviving spouse prefers to be close to family – often back in the city. In addition, there are the specialist services – medical and others – that are much more readily available in cities. In the case of Tasmania, many of Baldwin’s customers are people originally from the island who are returning after many years on the mainland and coming back to their roots with enough equity following the sale of a property on the mainland to live in comfort in Hobart. “It’s a very pretty spot, a good place to retire to,” says Paul.

There has been much talk, indeed thinly veiled threats from the ‘razor gang’ in Canberra, of increasing the pension age to 70 or even beyond. How might this affect the business of Baldwin and similar aged care providers? Paul says there would not be any significant impact as the age profile of people coming into their facilities is rising too. Typically, average residents 25 years ago would enter Baldwin homes in their mid-60s; now the entrance age is mid-70s. “So in fact, any increase in the pension age would be reflecting what the market has been doing for a while,” explains Paul. “People are working later, and taking longer to retire and sell down the family home.” He believes a pension age rise will not have a negative effect.

The group runs villages for independent retirement living at Seabeach Gardens at Mona Vale, Lane Cove Gardens at Lane Cover and Maroubra Gardens at Maroubra, all situated in New South Wales, as well as Vaucluse Gardens in South Hobart. This is Baldwin’s largest facility with 119 one to three bedroom homes and one bedroom apartments. There is also a relatively recent acquisition and a toe in the Queensland water at Baldwin Living Northside, in Taigum. In Sydney, the group also runs an ageing in place facility, Ashley House in Roseville. Facilities are very much geared to the expected personal needs of residents – more personal care, housekeeping, flexible dining arrangements, emergency call systems. “It is all very much about ageing in place.”

Low-care and high-care requirements are taken care of; Paul notes the need to address the growing demand for dementia care too and Baldwin is reviewing what it should do in this sector. At present, the distinction that has existed between high and low care is being phased out, which Paul welcomes because it means operators can have a greater degree of flexibility about their facilities. It is also a boon for residents and offers a greater degree of security for those who, perhaps inevitably, will move from low to high – now without having to move from one room to another.

Baldwin makes the most of subcontracting services such as cleaning and maintenance of grounds to specialists, rendering the operation much more flexible and cost-effective. In addition, he shares, “we are very lucky to have a number of people who are trained in or come from a hospital background, who appreciate the regular hours afforded by our environment as opposed to the shift-work of a hospital environment.”

Paul admits access to land – especially given the group would prefer to retain its metropolitan emphasis – is a challenge and one which will likely only get more serious. “We are competing against developers of residential and commercial [projects] and its highest and best use is reflected in the price of that land. A lot of retirement operators are finding it harder to get prime, highly desirable locations.” So how does the company plan to expand? “We are looking at widening the circle as far as our existing properties are concerned, but we have recently purchased in Brisbane. First, we see opportunities in the Queensland market and secondly, we see value for money for us as an operation.”

Paul believes the property market in Queensland is set to continue for the next three to four years whereas in Sydney and Melbourne “we are not sure the markets can continue at the same rate. We are looking for opportunities all up the east coast; Melbourne is the next obvious place for us to invest in. It has a large suitable land mass, a very good public transport system, much of the land is generally flat, so there are many opportunities in Victoria, especially around Melbourne itself.

He comments, however, that the welter of differing regulations (in retirement living, as opposed to aged care which is administered federally) from one state to another inhibits many aged care operators from becoming properly national in their operations, or at least benefiting from real economies of scale – effectively preventing the industry from consolidating. “Until you have a common playing field the savings are not always easily translated.”

Of course, a far greater land mass lies to the northwest of Australia itself in the form of Asia, and Baldwin is in advanced talks in several countries about the provision of Australia-style, Australia-quality retirement living to nationals of, for example, Malaysia, Indonesia or China. These and other Asian nations have a fast-emerging middle class of some affluence, with many well-educated family members either working abroad or having lived away for some time, yet with an enduring strong family ethic. Their parents are requiring more retirement and aged care services to support or replace local traditions.

This is fertile territory for more offerings of quality retirement living and while there are already many operators setting up facilities in these countries, Baldwin Group has begun to provide consultancy services. Paul believes there is excellent potential for “starting to provide operational services to many Asian countries. We see a big market there in the next five years and we could be looking at a joint venture with an overseas operator.” Australia’s reputation in such areas as service and standards is highly regarded throughout the region; Baldwin may have struck a rich vein of future potential.

For more information about Baldwin Care Group, please visit http://www.baldwincaregroup.com.au.

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December 19, 2018, 5:31 PM AEDT