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That is why prospective residents should take their time and get independent legal advice before signing anything, retirement village overseer Troy Churton says.
Some companies did not pay out the unit's capital to the family until the unit was relicensed, taking months in some areas, and demanded weekly fees be paid during that time.
These and other financial fish-hooks of retirement villages will be the subject of a free public seminar by Mr Churton in Queenstown on Friday evening.
He is the national manager of retirement villages for independent government agency the Commission for Financial Capability.
His visit to the Wakatipu is timely, where two large-scale villages have been under development for the past two years.
Queenstown Country Club, built by the Sanderson Group beside the Frankton-Ladies Mile highway, was sold to publicly listed company Arvida Group earlier this month.
The first residents moved into the Arrowtown Lifestyle Retirement Village, in McDonnell Rd, last October.
Mr Churton said more and more of the people coming to his seminars said they were attracted by the ''continuum of care'' most retirement villages were offering.
They hoped for a smooth transition from independent living to rest-home-type care facilities on the same site over time.
However, few people understood the independent living part of a village and the care facility operated under different regulatory regimes and different cost structures.
''A person who buys a licence to occupy in an independent living unit in a village may think they can move easily into the care facility on site should they need to, but that's not necessarily the case.''
The process could be complex, and the resident could face extra charges.
''We believe retirement village operators are not explaining this clearly enough ... to intending residents.''
That was not helped by the ''confusing'' contracts presented to prospective residents and their families, with a licence to occupy agreement consisting of four inter-related documents and a vast amount of information.
''Arguably, the whole thing could be simplified and codified by a complete legislative review, but that's not going to happen for another year or two - at least given current ministerial priorities.''
In the meantime, his latest monitoring report recommended changes to the Retirement Village Code of Practice to require operators to provide greater clarity for prospective residents, and to simplify the jargon that could confuse prospective residents and their lawyers.
He had sent his report to the new minister responsible for retirement villages, Kris Faafoi, he said.
-Retirement villages seminar, St Margaret's Presbyterian Church, Frankton, Friday, 6pm-7.30pm. Registration essential - call the Commission for Financial Capability on 0800 268-269.