Former Sterling Bay, Avamere Execs Launch Senior Living Venture With New Wellness Model

A group of senior living and real estate industry veterans are launching a new company centered on helping seniors live their “next act.”

Boise, Idaho-based Wellness Enhanced Lifestyle Living (WELL) is the brainchild of Ryan Haller, former chief development officer at Avamere and founder of its Ovation venture; Dave Mazurek, founder of Sterling Bay’s senior living platform and former manager of development and construction at Ventas Inc. (NYSE: VTR); and Mandy Serrano, who has spent time with Holiday Retirement and Avamere, and was previously director of marketing for professional services firm Atlas.

The trio is launching a new venture that acts as an “anti-traditional senior living company” through new development, and even potentially as a new senior living operator. But that’s not meant as a dig against the industry as a whole. Instead, it’s meant to illustrate how WELL’s leaders plan to think differently and blaze a new trail to serve the incoming cohort of older adults, the baby boomers.

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“We are not looking to be a stick of dynamite thrown into a fireworks factory,” Haller told Senior Housing News. “But we do believe that [the industry is] several standard deviations away from the reality of what our consumers will want in a post-Covid era.”

Living WELL

WELL’s initial rollout includes four major brands that cater to various subgroups: Aura, which focuses on luxury communities in mixed-use developments; Varcity, which focuses university-based retirement communities; Perennial, which focuses on middle-market communities; and Cogent, which focuses on middle-market active adult and co-living communities.

While all of the brands bring something new to the table, Haller said, the Cogent brand in particular is mainly meant to serve baby boomers looking to downsize but live in a lower-cost setting than even some active adult properties. Rates would likely hover between $900 and $1,200.

In developing Cogent, WELL’s leaders took inspiration from current co-living apartment companies Ollie, Starcity and Common. While those companies are generally aimed at catering to the millennial generation, there is plenty to like for older adults, too.

“The baby boomers are a sharing generation,” Haller said. “So, we’re very bullish on the co-living concept.”

At the heart of WELL is a dedication to wellness — and a belief that the senior living industry must do more with the concept if it wants to attract the baby boomers.

“When people talk about wellness, I think it’s become very much a homogenized term, and 90% of the people who use it are using it for sales and marketing purposes,” Haller said. “Our decisions were not to get in line with every other senior living company and drop the seven dimensions of wellness on folks, but to actually go out and solicit the help of the top companies in the U.S. to help define our wellness program.”

To that end, WELL has developed a slate of 11 “dimensions of wealth” that range from emotional and social wellbeing to environmental, spiritual and even financial wellness. On top of helping older adults live well, the dimensions of wealth are also aimed at helping them navigate post-retirement as though it were a second career.

“We are a vehicle in your third stage of life that takes your natural talents, greatest passions, acquired skills, and natural abilities to catapult you into your next act,” Haller said. “These are the major fundamentals of our brand that make us different.”

The senior living company is collaborating with a to-be-revealed financial planning and investment management firm known for its wellness approach.

“They are being paid by us to come in and to look at wellness, not from a wellness lens, but rather from a wealth lens,” Haller said. “Before we ever build a building or sit down with an architect, we design a building from our wealth program perspective.”

Haller’s thinking regarding wellness is informed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which he views as a “black swan” event necessitating a different approach to senior living. And even if the threat of Covid-19 fades away with a vaccine, growing wealth inequality and changing preferences among older adults will surely complicate demand for the senior living industry in the future.

“The uphill climb for the industry got twice as steep, no matter if we like it or not,” he explained. “Timing is everything, and WELL enters into this business without any liabilities, yet with industry veterans across its executive team and advisory board.”

Already, WELL has some early projects lined up on the development side, and others that are just now starting pre-development. On the Varcity side, WELL is working with a Big 10 university on a new project, and is in discovery with three additional colleges, two of which are in Power Five football conferences. For its Cogent brand, WELL is collaborating with two prominent development companies, with plans for five separate developments in both of its first two hub-and-spoke markets in the Southwest and Mountain West.

Regarding who might operate the communities WELL develops, Haller said that is to be determined.

“At this point of the genesis of the organization and the timing of that, we are leaning more toward starting our own operations business than going with third-party operators,” Haller said. “But if we do go down the third-party operator path, it’s a very small list that’s been pre-vetted through our longstanding history in the industry of knowing people.”

While Haller doesn’t expect any of these projects to come online in 2021, he does think the year will deliver a “proof of concept” for his burgeoning senior living company.

“As investors sign up, and we either start a joint venture with operators or we start our own operating business, and we start turning dirt, that is our proof of concept,” Haller said. “And that’s what 2021 is going to be.”

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