How Active Adult Communities Can Attract Boomers Sooner

While active adult isn’t a property type every senior living provider considers for new development, it’s one the baby boomers are increasingly interested in.

That’s partly because the age cohort looks at senior housing not just as real estate, but also as a platform to access wellness and lifestyle offerings, according to Dana Wollschlager, a partner with Plante Moran Living Forward. And, they’re not as interested in senior housing as a peace-of-mind option — rather, boomers want a place to live where they can continue to thrive and grow in their later years.

“We need a fundamental mindset shift in development regarding what it is that baby boomers are going to want,” Wollschlager said during Senior Housing News’ recent BUILD event in Chicago. “[Boomers] are not going to be motivated by fear, they’re going to be motivated by living and wellness and health.”

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What boomers want

Much of the discussion in senior living these days revolves around baby boomers. In particular, industry stakeholders are trying to determine what mix of services, amenities and price points can best suit the aging demographic.

One upcoming active adult design trend is building communities around purposeful “town centers” as a focal point instead of clubhouses, according to Dean Maddalena, president and co-founder of senior living design firm StudioSIX5

“The newer sub-cities like Margaritaville focus on town centers, which is nice because it creates a soul for the community,” Maddalena said during a discussion at BUILD. “It can develop over time like any town does.”

Dean Maddalena at BUILD

Boomers are also attracted to owning their own space within a community as opposed to simply renting it, according to Wollschlager. This fits into the active adult model, which in the past has included large, walkable master-planned communities of age-restricted housing organized around shared amenities.

“This idea of actually owning all the real estate has been a really important part to them,” Wollschlager said. “I think that it’s okay for the resident to own the real estate and you play the role of a homeowners association and then wrap around the service component.”

Part of the appeal in ownership lies in the fact that boomers can come and go as they please without feeling like they’re leaving anything behind or wasting money.

“The ultimate travel experience is … you can lock the door, and leave, and know that everything is taken care of,” Maddalena said.

Having a staffer to coordinate wellness and care for residents is another good idea.

“Most of our residents and our family members really don’t understand the complexities tied to the health care industry,” Wollschlager noted. “So, providing them with someone to help coordinate some of that care is the greatest resource.”

A tremendous opportunity

Senior living providers and investors are increasingly responding to the demand for active adult, and some see it as an attractive option given current industry headwinds. But there are risks involved and, above all else, senior living owners and investors should closely study the property type and their local market before diving in head-first.

“I do think those organizations that are very intentional about getting into the active adult space really are poised to be pioneers in this sector, and I think they’ll do well,”  Wollschlager said. “But being disciplined and intentional around that is going to be key.”

The active adult property type has grown in popularity with investors, partly because it doesn’t have the care component found in more traditional senior living communities. While names such as Del Webb and The Villages dominated the active adult discussion just a few years ago, the success of ventures like the Latitude Margaritaville brand provide evidence that boomers are ready to embrace a new kind of active adult product.

And while there are some considerations that must be weighed in the model, active adult communities may help meet some of the demands of younger seniors while eschewing some of the operational risks and complications that other traditional senior housing operators could face. For example, active adult communities generally have fewer staffers than an independent or assisted living community, meaning labor expenses may be lower.

“Some of the challenges that senior living providers are faced with right now are exactly some of the reasons I would get into active adult,” Wollschlager said. “I think it’s a solution to solving some of the staffing crisis in addition to the fact that it’s a product and a service that boomers want.”

While the property type has long been dominated by for-profit companies, the trend has room for nonprofits, too — but only if they act fast, Wollschlager added.

“I really think this is a tremendous opportunity for the not-for-profits to think entirely differently in service to older adults, move upstream and hit that younger older adult,” she explained. “If they wait until the wave is already happening, the for-profits are already going to be in this space.”

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