Online Shopping Site for Senior Living Takes Page from Consumer Reports

| January 8, 2013

A recently-launched website for consumers shopping for senior living communities is taking a page from other industry playbooks by providing third-party information, including pricing.

Tal Ziv, the co-founder of Silver Living, was inspired to create the website after going through the process of finding a senior living community for his grandmother.

“There was [no information] available online,” he told SHN. “For research, you can only find what the community publishes for themselves. It’s not sufficient. I was trying to figure out, ‘How much do these [communities] cost?’ It was a big black box that no one really wanted to open up for us.”

As Consumer Reports is for product prices and information, Ziv hopes Silver Living will be for senior living pricing.

“For high-ticket purchases, it makes a lot of sense. And this is absolutely a huge-ticket purchase,” he says. “The average cost for an assisted living community is about $8,700 a month, but you can’t find that information online. People in our generation look for stuff online, like I did. If you call, you can’t get pricing information for most of these communities. They try to throw up hurdles to get you in the door.”

The experience prompted Ziv to start pulling information together, and he thinks it could bring about a revolution in consumer shopping for senior living.

“We’re trying to make these communities a lot more honest about their marketing,” he says.

So far, there’s been a range of reaction among communities the start-up has approached for partnership. “Some education has to happen,” Ziv says. “We’re coming at it from a totally different perspective than anyone else. It’s a long-term discussion we have with them. This transparency is going to happen, whether we do it or someone else does.”

Some recognize the value in taking a page from what’s standard in other industries’ playbooks.

“Our best partners have been ones whose marketing departments have seen this [sort of model] in other industries, such as multi-family or real estate,” he says. “They see [this information] is available in other industries and how it’s helpful in terms of conversion rates and getting the word out, and recognize it will also happen in senior care.”

Silver Living gets information from a variety of sources: the community itself, residents of communities, and mystery shoppers, though information provided by the community is generally verified by mystery shoppers. It currently has agreements with three major senior living chains, including Sunrise Senior Living and Holiday Retirement, and has been in communication with others, including Brookdale and Atria.

The website officially launched in December, but Silver Living has been collecting information on communities for months. The start-up takes its own photographs of the communities it tours, and it “doesn’t glamour anything up” or bring in special lighting.”

“Some communities look more dated than others,” says Ziv. “The point is, you still have to go tour these communities. But ideally, you tour a smaller amount—maybe three to four, as opposed to 10-15. People don’t have to go to ones that don’t make sense for them, because it’s either not the right feel, or they can’t actually afford it.”

Silver Living also calls residents at each community to get their feedback on what they do and don’t like. In each state, Ziv’s company will also get state inspection reports and complaint reports on each community and check out the infractions they’ve gotten over time, and for what, in addition to sending mystery shoppers.

“It gives a good feel for the community we can’t get through photographs—how does it smell, how were the marketing and sales people, what was the mood of the residents there, etc.,” he says.

The more information that’s out there, the more people can make comparisons that are “apples to apples,” says Ziv. “If you want to compare Community A to Community B, you have to go through the whole process to find out how much it actually costs. We want to open that up so you know the care level in Community A and the price. Regardless of how different providers qualify their care levels, we want to standardize it. Hopefully that’s something the industry moves toward.”

The site currently only covers the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut regions. “We’re here, so it’s easier to make those relationships, and also it’s [one of] the largest demographics [for seniors],” Ziv says. “There’s huge demand, and huge supply for the niche we cover, of independent living, assisted living, and assisted living with memory care. Now we’re working on adding coverage in Los Angeles and 15 other cities.”

When Silver Living began forging relationships with senior living chains, talks included expanded coverage as the company grows. “With the companies we work with now, we can do about 1,000-plus communities across the nation,” says Ziv.

Consumers aren’t charged for using Silver Living to find a community, but once move into one, Ziv’s company receives a fee. He hopes the company’s revenues can be driven by high move-in volume, and emphasized that the site isn’t so much about generating leads, but about developing high-quality leads with higher conversion rates.

Right now, assisted living communities see about half their leads coming in the door through walk-ins or referrals, Ziv estimates. The other half are coming through online sources, a number that has grown, according to him, by about 90% in the past year. “It’s huge growth. People are spending time online looking for these communities, and the more time they spend online looking, they’re going to want substantive information. For many communities, that doesn’t exist.”

While it’s hard to say how long it will take for the senior living industry to move toward greater transparency in marketing, it’s “pretty inevitable” that it will happen, says Ziv.

“The power of the Internet is amazing, crowd-sourced information is amazing. It exists out there, but it’s how you consolidate it,” he says. “Whether we do it, by verifying feedback and making sure it’s accurate, or whether it’s just comments left by disgruntled Yelp users—it’s going to happen.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace


Category: Management & Operations, Senior Housing, Technology

Comments (9)

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  1. Chris_Foley says:

    Great idea. Makes one wonder whether this model is similar to Angie's List (and maybe also see the kind of investment from private equity and subsequent IPO. http://investor.angieslist.com/

    Chris Foley
    Sr. VP
    Equity Seniors Housing Advisors
    cfoley@Equity.net

    • Shelley Reig says:

      Chris, there are alot of internet companies. There also are very personalized companies that meet with the family and the elder and not only have access to pricing but also know specials that are going on. Today I found a wonderful place for an 82 yr. old which is all inclusive for $2000 a month. Great facility too and I have toured all facilities in the area, 300 to be exact. I personally find out their cultural background, what there likes and dislikes are, whether they prefer a residential care, a independent facility with private care, a small assisted living, a high end facility. If they qualify for VA benefits which can mean around $2,000 for a couple, where they prefer to live, what their medical needs are, what the limit is on there finances to pay, and then personally arrange three to four tours that meet their needs. I make the arrangements for the tours, arrange a lunch so they see what the food is like and those staying at the facility, and ask questions they may not know to ask. There is no substitute for the one on one experience with someone that knows the ins and outs of the senior care communities.

  2. intersesting; however I would wonder how objective the information is due to the financial relationships with the providers.

    Bruce Rosenblatt
    Owner
    BR Consulting Group
    Senior Housing Placement Services
    Bruce@BRConsultgroup.com

  3. Donna Burrell says:

    Excellent idea, if it goes far enough. I'd also like to see these websites address the "for profit, or not?" issue. It's well known that for-profit places exist to serve their shareholders, not their residents, in the long run, and will cut costs to the bone to add to their returns. I would want to be able to screen these places out.

  4. Denise Graab says:

    In research Caring.com did in May-June 2012, half of family caregivers reported searching online for senior care service providers, and a combined 94% said online consumer reviews are trustworthy and helpful to their search for a senior care provider. Demonstrating the growing impact of this online word-of-mouth in the senior care industry, and to support families and seniors in their search for the best local care providers, last year we launched the Caring Stars program recognizing service excellence at assisted living communities across the country, based on consumer ratings and reviews. Tomorrow we'll announce this year's winners, to be featured here (and expanded this year to also include Alzheimer's care communities): http://www.caring.com/bestseniorcare The Caring Stars of 2013 (and 2012) are also made prominent in our assisted living and Alzheimer's care directories, covering the entire nation and including tens of thousands of reviews from family caregivers, senior residents and eldercare experts: http://www.caring.com/local/assisted-living-facil… and http://www.caring.com/local/alzheimers-care-facil

    • bettyb says:

      The problem with Caring.com and other sites like this is that anyone can give a review – disgruntled employees, former employees, and another growing group who have figured out the "review" system, PAID reviewers. Not saying that's the case but it's happening. Not all reviews are given by family members or residents themselves and thus may be misleading to those seeking placement..

  5. Shelley Reig says:

    Hi Bruce, I guess that is the integrity of the company. But I would ask what is the difference with the internet companies? They are paid by the facility also and they may not even have toured the facility. With internet companies at least some once they get the name of the elder they fax it to all facilities in the area as they want to be the first to get the name in as they will get paid on the facility that is chosen. Internet companies are paid by the facilities.

  6. Deborah Smith says:

    As someone who comes from the hospitality industry, I would strongly agree that there needs to be greater transparency on all accounts in the senior living/care industry.

  7. Nathan Darby says:

    I guess it's only fair that there be an online product catalog for seniors as well. Even they have their needs and many are still strong and healthy enough to do a bit of online shopping.