What Senior Living Communities Get Wrong About Renovations

Competition is on the rise in the senior housing industry, with even the country’s most massive providers feeling the heat. The pressure older senior housing communities feel to stand out in this growing crowd is palpable, and for good reason.

As newer, flashier senior housing begins opening in various markets across the United States, older communities are “scrambling” to position themselves as the better local option, according to Dean Maddalena, president of Austin, Texas-based senior living interior design firm studioSIX5.

“New communities are opening up and taking residents away from the existing communities,” Maddalena explains to Senior Housing News. These older communities have realized they need to step up their game to successfully compete for occupancy—and fast.

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One of the best ways for senior housing communities to remain relevant is to undergo extensive renovations or even to expand, Maddalena says.

“We’re starting to get those calls now,” Maddalena says of communities looking to freshen up.

Unfortunately, some communities begin to consider sprucing things up only after their residents have been lured away by a new building across town. But that’s too little, too late.

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Instead, older communities should be completing their renovations at the same time the newer community opens to the public, if not before.

“The reality is that as soon as you know new product is coming online, you want to make sure that your new product is coming online at the same time,”  Maddalena says. In other words, it’s vital to plan ahead.

If that’s impossible—and it may be difficult—older communities should create flashy marketing materials to show current and prospective residents what’s coming, say, a year or two from now, Maddalena suggests.

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Going all-in

It’s one thing to decide to hastily renovate a community—it’s another to go all-in and do it right.

In other words, communities should make sure that the new product they’re bringing to market meets or exceeds the standards set by any newer communities popping up nearby. That’s not something that can be done in a hurry, Maddalena says.

“You have to really look at what the new competition has that you don’t have, or what it is that your market wants to have,” he explains. “Really look at the community as a whole.”

To start, communities should create an overall master plan that depicts the new look for the entire community, Maddalena says. Then, communities should perform a financial analysis on the master plan, and divide it up into phases, or annual budgets, that can be completed over a period of 2 to 5 years.

“Start with high-priority areas and work your way down to the least priority areas,” Maddalena advises. “At the end of the project, when everything’s complete, it will read as a whole.”

It’s important that communities leave no stones unturned when envisioning the building’s new feel. That means communities shouldn’t focus their attention only on the most visible parts of the building.

“To me, unsuccessful repositionings are when they say ‘let’s spruce up our lobby, everything that people see,’ and they don’t take a holistic look at it,” Maddalena says.

Still, a community might not have the budget to do a complete revamp in a short amount of time. In these situations, communities should resort to focusing on smaller renovation projects that can have a big impact.

“One thing you can do to perk up the space is just increase the lighting,” Maddalena says. In one instance, when studioSIX5 made lighting changes in a senior housing community, “people were just blown away by the difference that it made,” he says.

While lobby makeovers shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of renovations, they are a smart place to focus initial efforts, Maddalena says. That’s because lobbies are the “most critical” spaces within a community when it comes to attracting future residents.

One way to spruce up that space is to add a bistro bar nearby, setting your community apart from older communities that only have one large dining venue.

“It’s important to bring that energy, that activity, closer to the front of the building,” Maddalena says.

Whatever changes a community ultimately chooses to make, it’s necessary that current residents feel included in the decision-making process. Otherwise, the lure of the newer community across town can still stand.

“You have to really include the residents and get their buy-in,” Maddalena says. “People don’t like change.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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