Storylines is not the first senior living-at-sea concept to be floated over the years. But there is one thing separating it from those other concepts that sank, Storylines Co-CEO, founder and Chairman Alister Punton said May 8 during Senior Housing News’ BUILD event in Chicago.
“The fundamental difference is we’ve got the ship,” he said.
Storylines is retrofitting a cruise ship, whereas past projects involved building new ships. This allows for both speed to market and for Storylines to refine the concept to meet what Punton believes is untapped demand for a new avenue in senior living.
“The market is ready for it, especially the cruise market,” he said. “When you add the element of senior housing, it [becomes] a whole new market segment.”
The Storylines ship will have 630 units available for purchase at prices ranging from $299,000 to $3.2 million, with monthly fees starting around $1,900.
His one-on-one conversation on the BUILD stage centered on interest in Storylines from providers, providing the necessary medical staffing for a floating senior living community, how purchasing units on the ship works, and the legal and regulatory issues with having senior living in international waters.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What has the response to Storylines been from providers? What ideas have they proposed to you, and you to them, about their involvement?
The fundamental thing they see out of this is a potential for a differentiating factor. You have Development A and Development B and they are exactly the same. You don’t want to race to the bottom on price, so you can value-add to the end users.
That can be in the sense of two to three months on board the ship every year, or they might want to come live on the ship for a year before they move into a land-based independent living space.
There was also an idea of offering this as a perk to staff?
Absolutely. Independent living staff can’t work remotely like a lot of other industries. So this could be offered as a perk, not only in this sector, but across the board.
Right now, this ship is the No. 1 focus.Storylines Co-CEO, founder and chairman Alister Punton
Have providers committed to purchasing cabins, and has there been any interest from other providers about how purchasing works? Can they buy a single cabin? A complete deck?
It’s been very well received by providers across the senior living space. They can purchase blocks. They can purchase decks. One [non-senior living] group has already purchased a deck. The ideal for a smaller operator would be to purchase 10-12 cabins, which would have an influence on their land-based operations, as well as offer it as perks for their staff.
What are some of the concerns providers have raised to you about Storylines?
The medical [component] has been a big issue. In addition to the medical facilities and staff we’re planning to have on board, if someone wanted to buy a whole deck, we could add more medical facilities.
We can accommodate that on a ship this size. A cruise ship of this size is capable of holding over 1,200 passengers. We expect around 900 passengers onboard at any one time. If we needed to add more of those auxiliary services, there is room to do that.
Can you talk a little more about the amenities and lifestyle onboard? We hear the phrase thrown around that senior living is like a cruise ship on land, and a lot of people have a negative reaction to that. They say senior living should be about engagement and how residents want to feel a sense of purpose.
We’re about enriching experiences. Everything we’ve designed is to enable the residents to be involved. Storylines sets the ideas in motion. It’s up to the residents to take that and evolve it to suit their wants and needs.
Here’s an example: there is a microbrewery onboard. A lot of people like to brew their own beer in their garages. They don’t have to lose the ability to do that. You can get involved with the brewmaster in making the beer, as well as meet friends who share the same interest.
That carries on to the wine bar, which will be stocked with residents’ personal selections. We also have a library where residents have the opportunity to bring their own books on board. It curates engagement.
We’ve used that same principle across every amenity on board the ship. It’s an active environment.
What would the resale process involve?
It’s exactly like a land-based property. You can sell [a unit], you can rent it. There are limits to who can come aboard and how long. The shortest length if you’re a friend of the family is three months. That maintains the quality of the people on board.
By having that limit in place, it ensures you’re only bringing people on board who are committed to living the lifestyle being cultivated. It’s a lifestyle opportunity.
Can cabin owners put their units into a rental pool?
Absolutely. If someone purchases a unit but wants to rent it out for a length of time, we can rent it out for you and there’s a rental return on that. It’s a nice, cash-positive position to be in.
How does the adult child visit the resident? Is there a cost just to board?
Friends and family can come on board. There will be a small cost, of course. We expect to touch on the multigenerational component [of senior living]. We expect a small portion of kids on board at any one time.
Are there legal issues with having a floating senior living community in international waters? Have regulatory concerns come up at all?
It’s a legal minefield. You’ve got the ship flagged in one state. You have residents coming from another jurisdiction. At the end of the day, it comes down to the flag state [when in port]. When you move into territorial waters, it changes. But it is something that needs to be discussed one-on-one with the consumers.
How would [health] insurance coverage work for residents in international waters?
We’re working with a number of major underwriters to provide a solution for them, which would provide the same coverage they would expect if they were land-based.
Do you see the floating condo appreciating or depreciating in value over time?
What we have in place right now is the ability for anyone who purchases now who at the end of the useful life of this ship — which is 21 years — would get to roll over into a future ship. From their perspective, it’s more of a perpetuity-type arrangement. Rollover effect will mitigate [depreciation].
There’s only been one other example of this, and I’ve seen that appreciate over the last 7-10 years.
Logistically, what is the timeline for getting this ship into the water? And are there plans for other ships?
Right now, this ship is the No. 1 focus. We’ve spent four months developing the product specific to this ship, and it went out to the market a month ago.
We should have this in the water by June or July of next year.