3 Lessons for Senior Living from Top US Homebuilder Lennar’s Move to ‘Future-Proof the Home’

2018 was a landmark year of growth for senior living smart home potential. 2019 is shaping up as the year the promise is delivered. And senior living providers looking for models of execution can look at their peers, as well as the largest homebuilder in the United States.

Most recently, Atlanta-based Thrive Senior Living on Thursday announced plans to “integrate conversational artificial intelligence” across its entire portfolio — 24 communities — in 2019. It will do so through a partnership with Los Angeles-based startup Aiva, whose platform is the first to solve the issue of HIPAA compliance with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in a scalable fashion.

Last month, Carlsbad, California-based Kisco Senior Living announced that it has launched a fully voice-enabled community at The Cardinal at North Hills, a CCRC in Raleigh, North Carolina. Kisco is working with senior-centric tech company K4Connect, also of Raleigh, a partnership that dates back to 2015.

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In November 2018, Patrick Sampsell of CCRC operator Masonic Villages of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, told Senior Housing News about its 2019 expansion of its “IQ Homes” smart dwellings program; Masonic has one such unit now, will add 24 IQ townhomes and 10 IQ cottages in June, followed by 24 more IQ townhomes in January 2020.

(For a complete, previously unpublished blueprint of Masonic’s IQ Homes, please see our new report, “The Senior Living Smart Home Revolution.”)

Many other communities enter 2019 at some stage of smart home implementation, often through voice technology pilots, and subsequent expansion. This is no surprise: smart technology has the potential to become the foundation for every aspect of senior living’s value proposition and mission by helping deliver improved lifestyle, safety and health care to residents while assisting caregivers and other staff in the performance of their duties.

Outcomes and data are still trickling out, however. In the meantime, senior living operators who want to learn more about smart homes should look to Lennar Corporation. The Miami-based company does not build senior housing and is exclusively an all-ages, market-rate builder. But it is relevant to senior living because it is the largest homebuilder in the United States, and in 2017 it made history with the first full home environment to receive Wi-Fi certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, a nonprofit that serves as the stamp of approval of smart devices in the U.S.

Working with Amazon, Lennar now plans to go fully Wi-Fi Certified with its entire portfolio, approximately 250,000 home sites and 1,300 residential communities in 49 markets across 21 states.

Senior living operators can learn these three lessons from Lennar, which they can apply to their own pursuit of smart homes.

Lesson 1: Smart homes in senior living benefit today’s resident, but they are for tomorrow’s

The notion that today’s seniors are uninterested in smart technology is as antiquated as rotary phones.

Despite a lag behind younger generations, today’s senior is growing increasingly comfortable with this technology. Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of people 65 and up who own smartphones quadrupled from 2011 to 2016, while the percentage of 65+ adults using the internet grew five times from 2000 to 2016.

The senior living Alexa pilot programs and other use cases popping up nationwide are proving successful. In November of 2017, for instance, Kisco announced that 79% of residents at The Cardinal were engaging with the K4Connect dashboard.

But the key reason that senior living operators are pivoting to smart homes today is for the competitive advantage it gives them with tomorrow’s resident. These future seniors will be accustomed to smart homes by the time they reach senior living. The 2018 Global Smart Home Forecast from Strategy Analytics lists the entire smart home market at $93 billion in 2018, with potential growth to $143 billion in 2023.

By that time, 14% of houses worldwide are expected to have at least one type of smart system. The cycle will continue: the more prevalent the tech, the more demand from those who don’t yet have it. Already today, nearly 80% of home buyers express an interest in smart technology.

“Ostensibly, what we are doing is future-proofing the home — that is what’s important,” says Danielle Tocco, vice president of communications for Lennar Corporation.

Lesson 2: Ensure total Wi-Fi connectivity with no dead spots

Lennar achieved Wi-Fi certification with two simple steps, either or both of which senior living operators can accomplish. First, they partnered with Ruckus Networks, (now part of Arris Group of Sunnyvale, California) to set Wi-Fi access points with no dead spots. They confirmed the absence of dead spots by creating a heat map of the house to test connectivity at every point.

This total connectivity gives Lennar’s homes the technological infrastructure that both enables all of today’s smart technology, and facilitates tomorrow’s home smart tech devices, even ones not yet known.

Lesson 3: Partner with a tech company to stock your community full of smart devices that work together

One of the major challenges that senior living operators face in moving to smart homes is management of the devices. Managing one smart device is easy. Managing one smart apartment, or even a smart house, is too. But managing a full smart community of 100 to 200 individual users is a dynamic challenge, and an even more troubling one if the users are using products from a range of companies.

Providers attempting to do so can face massive synchronization and management challenges, since each company has an app and a system tied to it — most notably Amazon Echo, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings Hub and Apple HomeKit. Scaling that synchronization across 100+ units can cause a massive strain on a provider’s IT department — if the tech is ready to be scaled at all.

“Part of what people are struggling with in smart apartments is that it’s not enterprise-ready,” Ginna Baik, strategic business development manager for senior care at CDW-Healthcare, told Senior Housing News. “A lot of organizations focus on consumer devices, and then they take those devices and try to use them for a large-scale community. … It’s a little different trying to scale a ‘unique personal experience’ to 100 residents.”

Obviously Lennar’s situation is different from senior living, since single-family homes don’t have to sync with other single-family homes. Regardless, Lennar’s approach to creating its smart homes offers a key lesson for senior living, which is the value of zeroing in on specific tech companies to work with.

In Lennar’s case, that company is Amazon, which Lennar used to “bring the home to life,” Tocco said. This was the second step they took to reach Wi-Fi certification. Lennar’s homes use Alexa to power a full range of smart devices from top brands, including Ring doorbells, Sonos speakers, Lutron shades and Honeywell thermostats, all controlled by the Samsung SmartThings Hub. The home also comes with key Amazon smart features, such as Amazon Fire TV, with Amazon offering new homebuyers 90 days of free tech support.

In an email to Senior Housing News, Amazon’s Experts General Manager Sarah Zenz noted that level of collaboration and communication between senior living and Big Tech as crucial to success.

“Real customer feedback and pain points would be the most valuable input,” Zenz wrote about how senior living can help tech companies deliver for residents. “Senior living operators can be the voice and advocates for their customers.”

Lennar’s Wi-Fi certified home design is the cornerstone of its “Everything’s Included” home package, which aims to simplify the home buying process. And while a Wi-Fi certified home is not yet in senior living, Lennar’s offering provides a glimpse of what the smart senior living community of the future will look like.

This article draws from the new report, “The Senior Living Smart Home Revolution.” Click here to access the complete report, which digs deep into the smart home innovations and innovators changing senior living this year and beyond.

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