How CCRCs Drive Referrals by Courting Seniors’ Financial Planners

Senior living in the United States isn’t cheap, and average prices have been rising each year. And with with continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in particular having hefty price tags, these senior living providers increasingly may find financial planners to be invaluable referral sources.

The typical entry fee for a CCRC can be a six-digit spend, equating to the purchase of a new home inclusive of community amenities and the guarantee of health care services when the need arises. Logically, seniors interested in these communities save a seat at the table for their financial planners when going through the sales process.

RiverWoods, a life care CCRC in Exeter, New Hampshire, has been seeing more prospective residents bringing their financial planners when visiting the community.

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“Some bring planners with them, or others say they want to contact their financial advisor,” Cathleen Toomey, vice president of marketing at RiverWoods, tells SHN.

A non-profit, RiverWoods was established in 1994 by a grassroots group of residents from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. As a result, residents hold a 20% voting share on the RiverWoods Board of Trustees.

Three campuses make up RiverWoods. The Woods, which is the CCRC’s original campus, features 199 apartments, whereas its second campus, The Ridge, offers 81 apartments and 11 cottages and its third campus, dubbed The Boulders, comprises 76 apartments and 24 cottages.

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The community also offers a number of opportunities for residents to engage in operations planning and decision-making, from determining what food is being prepared and from where ingredients are sourced in the dining program, to more finance-oriented functions.

For example, residents who serve on the CCRC’s financial committee help decide how the community’s budget is run. This entails reviewing the organization’s quarterly numbers and even meeting with the community’s chief financial officer.

“They are very aware of what we’re doing from a budgetary standpoint,” says Toomey.

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But the thirst for financial knowledge extends beyond RiverWoods’ 200 wooded acres. Professionals who are important consultants for seniors also are avid to learn more about how CCRC living is financed and the hallmarks of a fiscally healthy community.

Educating the Advisors

For the past three years, Toomey and RiverWoods President and CEO Justine Vogel, who is also a certified public accountant, have been conducting a series of education seminars for financial planners and elder law attorneys in efforts to help them understand how to assess the financial viability of a CCRC.

“It has exploded,” says Toomey, describing the growing popularity of the seminars over the past few years. “We were asked by a RiverWoods resident’s daughter, who was a financial planner, to speak to her financial study group. Since then we’ve done 30 presentations in the last three years.”

The seminars have been concentrated throughout the Northeast, in places like New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and New Jersey. Already this year, Toomey says there were seminars in Boston and New York City in June.

The program, which is called Insider’s Guide, explains what a CCRC is, including the different types of CCRCs. The seminar also takes financial planners and elder law attorneys through each of the contract types, offering tips on what someone should ask when looking at one of these documents.

“If you’re a financial planner, we also say, ‘Here are ways where you can assess whether a community is financially viable,’” Toomey says. “We’re trying to increase the levels of education among not only potential residents, but also their influencers.”

Many of the conducted programs have been at the request of the National Association of Professional Financial Advisors (NAPFA), which Toomey says gives continuing education credits.

Part of the Process

The interest in these seminars suggests financial advisors are playing an increasingly well-informed role in the decision-making process for seniors contemplating the move into a CCRC.

As a result, these types of senior living communities may have to be more on their game to win referrals from these financial professionals, says Ann Summerson, a certified financial planner with The Wise Investor Group, which is the Reston, Va. branch of Robert W. Baird & Co.

“For seniors that have a relationship with a planner, we’re absolutely part of that process,” she says.

Summerson’s experience with CCRCs is firsthand, as her own parents live at Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va. She also noted a recent client who is moving into a Pennsylvania CCRC, for whom she was “very much involved” in the process leading to that decision.

When sitting down with clients who are thinking about moving into a CCRC, Summerson says the most important areas of discussion are explaining the different contract types, what services they include, and above all: costs and refund policies.

“It’s a question of do they [seniors] have enough equity in their house, or do they have enough funds to meet that buy-in fee plus the monthly, ongoing resident fee?” she says.

For the most part, Summerson describes her clients as “pretty savvy,” in the sense that they already have some idea of what to expect from a CCRC.

“A lot of times they’ve done their initial research and found [CCRCs] that they like,” she says. “It’s not usual that I’m telling them that there are things called CCRCs—they’ve heard of them.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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