Medical care the clincher for Evergreen lifestyle retirees – Renier Swart

It’s a global phenomenon that people are living longer and longer. And while the demand for retirement villages is growing, the supply is not growing at the same pace. To help fill the gap in this market, the multi-award-winning Val de Vie luxury estate between Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands has added to its multigenerational lifestyle offering a luxury retirement village on 34 hectares of land right in the middle of the estate. With the estates top-notch healthcare facilities and rich wildlife, Director of the Evergreen-Val de Vie joint venture Renier Swart tells BizNews editor-in-chief Alec Hogg that he believes it to be the safest, best retirement village in the country. Click here for more information. – Editor

I’m with Renier Swart, the director of the Evergreen/Val de Vie joint venture. I was talking a little earlier with your business partner – Ryk Neethling – about this new project that you’ve launched. He was explaining that it is now ready to go into the second phase. Where did the whole idea of partnering with Evergreen come from?

We had this pocket of land right in the centre of the estate – 34 hectares – and is ideal for retirees. In the long run, this is definitely in my opinion going to be the best retirement village in South Africa. This is most likely the only village that on entering, you don’t need to go through security, as it’s located in the centre of the estate so your access is from one of the other five main entrances, making it very safe and secure. My mom is in the retirement village and very happy. 

That’s quite an endorsement, did you have to do much selling to her?

She’s been there for three months now. She’s close to us and close to the grandchildren, which is another benefit. There’s a lot of Val de Vie residents whose parents move in making it an ideal location. Evergreen and one of our biggest shareholders Amdec, partnered with PSG to form The Evergreen Company and they’ve got a long-term strategy focusing on the luxury retirement market. They’ve got a few villages up and running in the southern suburbs, one in Johannesburg and one they’re busy on the Natal north coast. 

It’s a luxury retirement village?


What size are they generally? 

Renier Swart is Sales Director of the Val de Vie Group of Companies.
Renier Swart

We’ve put 400 freestanding homes on the market and we will also do 200 apartments, including the best medical care facilities for retirees. You’ll have assisted living in your own home, there’ll be a step down facility for operative care, frail care and mental care facilities. If you look around in South Africa, good health care is limited for retired people, especially in the mental and frail care space. Recently a friend of mine whose father lived in Pretoria had to move to a frail care facility and we really struggled to find something for him as all the good facilities are full. The bottom line is you go on to a waiting list. As you know it’s a global phenomenon that people are living longer and longer. The retirement village market is growing but the offering is not growing at the same pace.

When you look at Val de Vie, it’s a wine farm, it’s a polo field and it’s now got the golf course with Pearl Valley. It doesn’t strike one as a place where retirees from other parts of the country would be drawn to?

Last year, I went to London and we were voted the best multigenerational estate in the world. There is a preschool on the estate for families with young children and now we’ve got the retirement village. We have offices as well, so in that sense it’s multigenerational. The community-based living is ideal for retirees as they also have access to the estate of almost 2000 hectares. They have already been active in setting up a wine club. The average age of people who have bought into the estate is 70, it’s a young 70.  When I grew up in the 80s our parents used to retire at 50, but people have more active lifestyles, so 70 is the new 50 and maybe 90 is the new 70.

What are the economics?

In phase 1 we have 81 freestanding homes, of which only five are left. The last of the homes will be ready for completion by year end. We’ve already started construction on the second phase – 57 homes – and we are launching the first five homes in phase 2. They start off  from R3.35m and up to R6.9m.

What’s the difference?

It’s size and location. The most expensive homes are positioned on our greenbelt which is a more than 100 metre wide protected fynbos corridor. This also serves as a protected area of movement for the wildlife moving from the mountains down to the river. Indigenous animals such as your Cape grysbok, jackals, porcupines and otters can be seen. We’ve also found a lynx here and seen a Cape leopard. This is where the bigger homes of 233 square meters are situated as opposed to the smaller homes of 147 square meters. Despite the residential property market globally being in a recession, the top end luxury market is still very vibrant. We have clients looking for bigger and better homes in the retirement village.

What is the entry age?

The average entry age is 70, a young 70. Our entry age is 60.

What happens to the bequeathment, do you own the property?

It’s a life right. On termination of the contract, your estate will get back 90% of what you’ve put in. If you have a family trust, the money can be lent to you to buy the life right. At the end of the contract, the  90% capital will be returned to the trust.

So you get to use the property but not enjoy any appreciation in the asset value?

Yes that’s correct. On the other hand the developer – the Val de Vie Evergreen joint venture in this instance – owns and takes care of the property. For the residents it is a lock-up and go situation while the property is being cared for in their absence. This is a long-term investment for us. As part of our long-term commitment to you, we put the best medical care facilities in place and we will maintain the facilities. Few of us really want to think in terms of retirement but suddenly something crops up which triggers the retirement discussion and into looking for something – you’ve got to scale down – and have to move into a retirement village. And then – because you’ve never done your homework – you find out there is nothing available. I’ve done a lot of research in Pretoria and I’ve seen that developers come in to build a retirement village with a medical facility but that’s the first thing that the body corporate or the homeowners association cut, they just don’t want to carry the cost. I think up until the stage that you need the care, it’s like a grudge payment that you don’t want to incur. That’s a big benefit of life right. In the developed world – North America and in Europe – 90% of retirement is the life right model.

And when you say life right, is that for both partners?


Talking to the other guys at Val de Vie, there seems to almost be – underlying the whole project – a community aspect to it. Do you have it in the retirement section?

Definitely. I can see they are starting clubs, they’re active. You’ll see them walking, you’ll see them at the gym, you’ll see them at the restaurant and you’ll see the golfers playing golf. So I think the whole essence about the Evergreen lifestyle retirement, is a sense of community and a sense of belonging. 

Give me a profile of the kind of person who’s buying? 

We’ve got some family members of some of the wealthiest South African families, right down to my mom – I bought for my mom, so we don’t fall in that category. Even a well known real estate agent from the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, she and her sister bought and moved in recently. She worked with Pam Golding in the beginning and went her own way and now she’s retired. She lived her whole life in the Southern Suburbs and she moved here. The underlying biggest selling point for this estate still remains safety and security. We’re regarded as the safest estate in Africa,  even more so because they’re in the centre of the estate. That for any buyer – whether you’re young or old – is your number one priority.

You get the safety and security right, you have a community, if you’ve lived that long, you are going to put wellness at the centre of your life?

Yes. The medical care of the whole Evergreen retirement village concept, sets it apart from the competition.

Who runs the medical facility?

The Evergreen company bought into a medical care company – a medical care provider – about two years ago, so they basically acquired the best expertise in that field. It’s run as a separate business unit and the Val de Vie management company – that runs the estate on behalf of the home owners – are not managing the Evergreen village. They’ve got their own specialised management company running that. The gentleman running Val de Vie Evergreen, is Attie and he’s from the hospitality industry, he is a super guy. Their office is open all day and you can see the residents going in and out there all the time. The way that they manage that village and how they interact with the residents is really top notch. With interaction like that it’s more related to the hospitality industry than like a normal homeowner management company.

Are there restaurants close by?

We’ve got the Rubens cafe, got a 50 meter Olympic style swimming pool (one of my colleagues may have something to do with this), they’ve got the best gym… Ryk’s been all over the world to the biggest and best gyms and he’s assured me that our Crossfit gym at the yard is right up there with the best. There is a barber shop, a dry cleaning business, it’s like having a little centre that is popular and it’s literally right next to the retirement village.

What about pets?

We are very pet-friendly and pet-orientated. We’ve got dog parks that are very close. If you go there late afternoons, you will see dozens of dogs and the owners. It’s quite big and we’re planning to expand it. We are going to build another two on the estate because of the popularity.

It sounds like you’ve done a lot of research into what was decided there. But why a retirement section in the first place?

When I get to that stage of my life – I live on the estate – I don’t want to move. I want to retire here. Having said that, we do a lot of research – global, international research of the best estate in the world – and put it all together in Val de Vie. There’s a great demand because people live longer and because of the shortage in South Africa, especially in the luxury segment. The other reason is that all of us want to retire. We don’t want to leave the estate. That’s another thing that sets us apart. Every member of our management company – five of us – live here with our families. So we are not just developers who develop something and then run off. It gives all residents peace of mind that the developer, and his family, has got a long-term vested interest here.