Senior Living Providers Seek Cure for “Someday Syndrome”

Senior living providers are seeking ways to counteract the double-edged sword of revenue loss that happens when seniors put off a move into a community—upping the average incoming age of residents while decreasing the average length of stay—and some are using their existing residents to help. 

As many as 80% of seniors looking into a CCRC put off a decision to move until later, says Susie Vosdoganes, marketing director at Friendship Village of Tempe, a CCRC in Tempe, Arizona.

Much of the delay trend is driven by the economic recession and housing market crash, both of which affected not just the industry but also consumer psyche, says Bill Warne, principal at consulting firm CCRC Sales Vitality. 

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Consumers sometimes amplify isolated incidents—such as a handful of bankruptcies among CCRCs leasing up during the worst of the economic recession—and are further spurred by the attitude that moving into a CCRC or other senior living community is the biggest decision they’ll ever make, he says. 

“It’s on the back burner, because they think there’s no rush,” says Warne, adding that the financial impact of “someday syndrome” can be significant to both residents and providers. 

The average age of new residents moving into a CCRC with an entrance fee has risen two to three years to about 81 as of 2010, according to LeadingAge, while the average incoming age for the senior living industry in general has reached about 85 up from 78 or 79.

At Friendship Village, the age creep trend has been bucked after a concerted effort to reverse it.

“We’re seeing more and more planners, and with them, we see a tremendous amount of due diligence where they are doing a lot of questioning,” says Cole Marvin. “They’ll come to the community, spend time with our residents to get to know them, and talk to them about [their satisfaction level].”

The best marketing tool Friendship Village has is the testimony of its own residents.
 
“One thing [current residents] say is that moving in was the best decision they ever made—and they wish they had done so five years sooner,” says Marvin. 

Seniors who put off the move into a CCRC typically experience more of a negative impact compared to the provider, says Vosdoganes, because they’re more likely to undergo a change in health conditions in the interim that may limit the options they had when they were younger and healthier.

That’s not to say providers’ bottom lines don’t feel the impact as well. 

“People are moving in older, and they’re dying faster,” says David Ferguson, CEO of ABHOW (American Baptist Homes of the West). “There’s high turnover.”

That leaves more units open for longer periods of times, and each open unit correlates with a loss of potential revenue for a provider. Average occupancy for the senior living industry hovered at 89.0% as of the second quarter of 2013, according to the National Investment Center (NIC) for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry, unchanged from the previous quarter.

Independent living’s occupancy averaged 89.1% as of the second quarter, while assisted living occupancy stood at 88.7%.

For a 100-unit assisted living community with occupancy in line with the national average, that translates to monthly potential revenue losses of nearly $38,000: 11 empty units multiplied by the national median monthly rate for assisted living of $3,450, according to the Genworth 2013 Cost of Care survey

It’s difficult to assess potential losses in revenue for entry fee model CCRCs, says Warne. Media-induced red flags might deter as much as 20% of the normal lead inquiry flow, he estimates, resulting in a reduction in initial lead inquiries.

On top of that, it takes much more time and money post-recession to close a sale compared to pre-2008, according to Kristin Kutac Ward, president of marketing firm Retiring By Design, from about 20-25 ‘touches’ per sale to about 40-45. 

More providers are offering autonomy and taking an individualized approach, says Warne, who is noticing office spaces being made available to residents along with multiple dining options, including variations on cafes, bars, and grills.

“They’re changing the message from ‘Come to our CCRC and become one of us’ to ‘Come to our CCRC and maintain your identity,'” he says. “CCRCs need to take a more proactive approach in the vein of confidence and wanting to equip consumers with the logic and the protections and layers of remedies that are in place that other businesses don’t have.” 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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