Finding your happy place.

Words by: Conor Patton


Just this year, the first ever in-depth research to analyze the global wellness real estate and communities sector was released in a landmark report entitled ‘Build Well to Live Well.’ It’s comprehensive, some 170 pages, and put together by the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the leading global research and educational resource for the global wellness industry. 

The term ‘wellness’ may still sound a little amorphous to many, but there are clearly those who in one way, shape or form are on the spectrum – be they mildly curious or fervent advocates, as we are talking about a $3.7 (USD) trillion industry, and growing (faster than the global economy no less). 

It’s well publicized that us Kiwis have a passion (some would say fixation) with property, be it our own homes or as a vehicle for investment and prosperity. However if we choose to broaden that view of prosperity, the effects would be significant. Recent research shows that genetics may account for just 10-15% of our health outcomes, while the rest is determined by external and environmental factors. Since our homes, communities and surrounding environment directly affect our daily behaviors and lifestyles, and our homes are typically our most important personal investment and expenditure, it would seem logical that they should also be an investment in our health and wellbeing. 

Not to confuse things, but the GWI differentiate between ‘wellness real estate’ and ‘wellness communities’. There is certainly a link between the two, however it’s not automatic. Wellness real estate is defined as homes that are proactively designed and built to support the holistic health of their residents. This encompasses movements that have been growing for years around design, technology, sustainability and efficiency, and many more. The power of wellness real estate lies in its potential to foster wellness communities…

These are defined as “a group of people living in close proximity who share common goals, interests and experiences in proactively pursuing wellness across its many dimensions. It can be rooted in a purpose-built physical space, or can be cultivated around shared culture or social networks without purpose-built structures.” 

Now I know that sounds a bit ‘bookish’, but clear definitions prevent confusion or a cheapening of the goal by re-branding every new real estate development with a juice-bar in it a ‘wellness community.’ 

What it’s talking about is a life where you don’t have to drive for every errand, your work is close to home (or in fact, at home), eating healthy becomes the norm and staying active seems effortless, and your neighbours and your community become a genuine source of entertainment and support rather than people to avoid or just keep a spare key with. It may sound utopian, but the truth is it’s happening. Over the last 5 years it has mushroomed from a handful of projects to at least 740 (as of November 2017) either completed or in development across 34 countries (though according to the report, New Zealand is not yet one of them).

This rapid growth is underpinned by a strong business case, as well as the ideals one. Wellness real estate was estimated to be a $134 billion global industry last year, for comparison that is only about 1.5% of the total annual global construction market, and about half the size of the approximately $260 billion global green building industry, yet it has grown 6.4% annually since 2015. 

“Collectively, we must shake up our thinking: healthy homes are as important as immunizations; parks, paths, and plants are as beneficial as prescriptions; and our friends and neighbors are far more important than fitbits”.

Demand is outstripping supply, and worldwide there’s an increasingly long and varied (be it age, or income) list of people desiring these types of developments. The supply side too is inching from niche to mainstream. No longer are they just ‘passion projects’ for certain individuals, but large professional development companies are seeing the value, literally. After reviewing more than 220 academic, peer-reviewed, and independent studies, GWI has solid evidence that globally, wellness lifestyle real estate developments average 10-25% price premiums over comparable properties in their regions which do not offer these additional, holistic attributes.

It’s a bit like going down the rabbit hole, but once we see wellness as a market differentiator, that’s just the beginning. There is enormous potential for differentiation, based on the target market, or the unique characteristics of the building site and its surroundings. Whether the particular focus was on sustainability, outdoor activity, medical/technical/research facilities, not to mention public-private partnerships for social housing…

The options seem aplenty and the benefits seem compelling, and the first, seemingly small step is to simply allow our minds to curiously wander with the question, ‘how can we do things differently?’ Katherine Johnston, GWI Senior Research Fellow and co-author of the report put it beautifully; “Collectively, we must shake up our thinking: healthy homes are as important as immunizations; parks, paths, and plants are as beneficial as prescriptions; and our friends and neighbors are far more important than Fitbits”.

Here in New Zealand we pride ourselves on being a country of innovators, of status-quo challengers, and a place where there is ample opportunity to live ‘the good life’. Yet whilst housing has been in the media constantly for a number of years, the emphasis seems to be more on how many we build and where, rather than how we do it. 

Fortunately however, there are groups asking these questions. The New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) for one. This not-for-profit organization aims to move the needle toward healthy and efficient buildings that New Zealanders can live, work and play in, in a sustainable environment, by up-skilling businesses in the property and construction sector, and motivating and rewarding those doing well through their star rating systems. One of its sponsors, and big advocates, is Bayleys Real Estate. Director of the Commercial and Industrial team in Auckland, Lloyd Budd, says “Bayleys recognize the importance and the value of the work that the NZGBC do, and are proud to be leading the industry in this space by continuing to work with developers and businesses to raise these standards.” 

Further Reading:

For the full ‘Build Well to Live Well’ report, go to

For a fascinating read on urban planning and design, try Happy City by Charles Montgomery.