A major senior housing player is making good on its promise to grow its rental portfolio.
Des Moines, Iowa-based LCS is one of the biggest senior housing operators in the country, as well as the largest third-party manager of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). In January, the company named a new CEO in Joel Nelson, who voiced a desire to expand LCS’ portfolio of rental properties that it both owns and operates.
Chris Bird, executive vice president and director of rental at LCS, was brought on board in February to help accomplish this. So far, despite a tight labor market, the plan has been set in motion.
“We’re off to a good start,” Bird told Senior Housing News.
For LCS’ rental division, the next two years will bring a mix of growth and pruning.
“In 2018 and 2019, you’ll see our rental portfolio have some smaller dispositions that didn’t match,” Bird said. “But you’ll see us grow.”
LCS intends to focus on a pipeline of rental communities that contain three levels of care: independent living, assisted living and memory care.
Additionally, unlike many of its competitors, the provider is seeing occupancy increases at its rental properties.
“Many of the public senior housing companies were reporting occupancy losses last year,” Bird said. “We had, really, a pretty significant occupancy gain in our rental portfolio. Maybe not where we wanted to be, and maybe not where some of our investors thought they would be, but still, the gains are moving in the right direction.”
Bird attributes this occupancy bump to LCS’ “sales-first attitude.”
Specifically, the company works to ensure that every employee—from security guards and front-line workers to executive directors and culinary staff—is aware that their attitude and demeanor can make or break a prospective resident’s opinion of a community.
Competing with the car wash
Despite LCS’ occupancy successes and growth potential, it’s not immune to the staffing issues plaguing the rest of the senior housing industry.
“We’re in a great business and a very difficult environment,” Bird explained. “I’ve been in the business 23 years and never seen this type of low unemployment.”
All the while, the senior housing industry has to compete with jobs that are less physically and emotionally demanding, yet sometimes pay more. A car wash Bird recently visited, for example, was advertising that it pays its employees $19 an hour, plus a free car wash once a week.
Bird believes that the key to attracting workers to senior living communities is to sell the idea of a “second paycheck,” or the emotional fulfillment that comes with a job in senior living. Still, this may be a tough sell to make.
“How do we connect folks to everything that we’re trying to sell in senior housing?” he asked.
Written by Mary Kate Nelson