A population snapshot just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics clearly illustrates how Australia is getting older…fast.

The fresh analysis from the 2016 Census published in October 2017 shows that one in six Australians are now aged over 65 years, up from one in seven in 2011.

In fact, the ageing population trend has been underway for more than a century – starting at 1911, when just one in twenty-five people were aged over 65!

What’s more, between 2011 and 2016, the number of people aged 65 years and over increased by 664,500.

To get some perspective on this, this figure represents more people than the entire population of the Australian Capital Territory (397,400) or Tasmania (510,000).

With this increasingly ageing population, comes a need for additional specialist housing.

Fortunately, the State of NSW has a little-known planning policy which has been in place for well over three decades to cater for the housing needs of seniors.

Importantly, as this recent article illustrates, dwellings delivered via this policy are expected to be a growing source of new listing opportunities for local real estate agents in coming years.

So, what is the policy – and how does it work?

Way back in 1982, the NSW Government introduced what was then known as State Environmental Planning Policy Number 5 (SEPP 5) to allow developers to construct villa-style dwellings in areas where only detached homes would normally be allowed.

The idea then, as it is now, was to encourage the construction of ready-made accommodation specifically catering for people aged over 55 and those with a disability.

Over time, the policy has been renamed as the Housing for Seniors and People with Disability State Environmental Planning Policy (rather than SEPP 5).

It has also been extended in its scope, so that it now also provides planning incentives to build seniors ‘vertical villages’ – that is apartment buildings.

There has been growing enthusiasm for these types of developments from registered clubs, who can use the policy to rezone existing club land to construct seniors units.

In addition, the policy has also been expanded – and not without some opposition from local communities – to allow seniors housing on formerly agricultural land adjacent to urban land. This aspect of the policy has attracted some political heat in urban fringe areas in Sydney’s north and north-west, along with on the NSW south and north coasts.

The only difference to a regular property is that a property approved under this State planning policy will carry a restriction on the title. This restriction is required to state that the property can only be used by seniors or people who have a disability or “people who live within the same household with seniors or people who have a disability”.

The definition of a senior is someone who is aged 55 or more years, or is a resident at a facility at which residential care is provided, or who has been assessed as being eligible to occupy housing for aged persons provided by a social housing provider.

Apart from this age or disability based occupancy requirement, these dwellings have exactly the same land title arrangements as other residential houses or units (such as Torrens or strata title) offering security of ownership and consequently making them very attractive to downsizers and investors alike.

In contrast to this, many retirement village units are sold on a long term leasehold basis or a loan and licence arrangement, with a wide variety of legal title types, occupancy rights and contractual provisions applying from village to village under specialist legislation. This is generally reflected in discounted sale prices compared to surrounding freehold residential properties but it is important for prospective residents to obtain legal advice and fully understand that they may not be buying legal “ownership” rights in the same way as they would with other types of residential property. However they may also benefit from access to lifestyle facilities and support services offered through village management which may not be provided in smaller freehold title developments.

While residents of retirement villages are now permitted by law to sell their apartment privately or with a real estate agent of their choosing, it’s common for the village operator to manage the re-sale process when needed. However, more of these traditional retirement village listings are being sold through real estate agents, in a growing market sector.

For the most part, real estate agents will market a retirement property as an “over 55s development” and encourage prospective buyers to obtain legal advice and make their own legal title enquiries. But it’s worth understanding the differences in legal title and occupancy rights between these different categories of retirement property, and how this impacts on the range of potential buyers applicable in each case.

Real estate agents looking for more listings should be aware of the zoning incentives offered by the Housing for Seniors and People With Disability State Environment Planning Policy. Local developers taking advantage of these incentives to build higher density dwellings than would otherwise be permitted in suburban areas of NSW will appreciate your understanding of the differences between these properties and traditional retirement village units. Most importantly, you will be equipped to target a wider audience of potential qualified buyers, including investors who may be planning to lease the property to eligible tenants.

In addition, when marketing these specialist properties for sale or lease, it pays for local agents to use specifically targeted websites such as Downsizing.com.au and SeniorsHousingOnline.com.au to attract the seniors who are eligible to occupy the dwelling.

Amanda Graham is the Co-CEO of Downsizing.com.au and SeniorsHousingOnline.com.au, Australia’s dedicated real estate listings websites for seniors and downsizing-friendly properties.