Over the last few years, the senior living industry has focused on meeting the middle market, and for good reason. But at the other end of the spectrum lies another evolving market niche: luxurious communities with services and prices geared toward the affluent.
For residents, these communities come with cream-of-the-crop services — and monthly rates up to more than $20,000, as illustrated in this recent market analysis of the most expensive senior living communities in the U.S. by LivingPath, a data-as-a-service platform that provides transparent pricing for senior housing communities.
Although many of these communities exist in luxury hotspots such as New York City and Los Angeles, a recent data release and analysis from LivingPath show that others have opened in recent years in markets that might be more surprising as locations for the most expensive communities nationally, such as Scottsdale, Arizona and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Though the gulf between the highest of the high-end communities and the ones that cater to the middle market is wide, both product types exemplify a senior living ecosystem that is becoming more complex over time, with more options for prospective residents to choose from.
That is the opinion of Bob Kramer, founder and fellow of aging services think tank Nexus Insights. Kramer — who also co-founded the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) and now serves as the organization’s strategic advisor — believes that the senior living industry is evolving in the same way the hotel industry did in the past.
For Kramer, the existence of ultra high-end communities shows that the industry has matured beyond its more “monochromatic” roots — and that these trends will last as the baby boomers enter the senior housing market.
“There are going to be people that are well-to-do who are going to want a concierge-driven, amenity-rich lifestyle,” Kramer told Senior Housing News. “They have the money and they’re willing to pay for it, and I don’t think that group is going to go away.”
View from the top
The LivingPath data casts light on some of the most expensive communities in the U.S. LivingPath co-founders Jonathan Woodrow and Isabelle Woodrow compiled the data using its market intelligence service, which is a client-driven reporting platform.
“We aggregate — on a national scale, at this point — rate, occupancy and concession data,” Jonathan Woodrow told Senior Housing News. “And we provide that at the property level, along with as up-to-date collateral as possible.”
Woodrow compiled rental rates by acuity offering and care types, and arrived at a list of some of the most expensive communities in the U.S.
At the high end of LivingPath’s analysis was The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights, a $330 million senior housing highrise in New York City with maximum rates listed at $22,295 for a two-bedroom assisted living apartment. Another NYC senior living highrise, Sunrise at East 56th, followed closely behind with maximum rates listed at $20,000 for a one-bedroom assisted living apartment.
Other communities that made the list included Leisure Care’s Murano of First Hill in Seattle, which was listed on LivingPath as carrying maximum rates of $17,700 for a two-bedroom independent living apartment; Belmont Westwood, a community in Los Angeles listed as having one-bedroom rates of $11,200 — although the community’s two-bedroom units can run up to $15,000; and Brandywine at Livingston, a community in Livingston, New Jersey, with maximum assisted living companion suite rates listed at more than $8,700, according to LivingPath.
For memory care communities — which are often costlier than communities with other levels of care — Kensington Senior Living’s Kensington at Redondo Beach was the priciest for shared and studio/private units, with recorded maximum rates of $11,200 and just under $16,000, respectively.
Woodrow said the Chicago-based company compiled its list in part as a way to give “our clients and other people in the industry takeaways … that they would find of interest.”
Most of the communities lie in a “semi-circle around the coastal parts of the country,” he added. The list also includes a few “one-off” markets, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, where multifamily rental prices are not typically as high as other markets; and Scottsdale, Arizona, “which doesn’t even crack the top 100 U.S. cities for cost of living,” Woodrow wrote.
Select a state, then right click and select drill down to see which cities have the priciest communities
Another market on the list is Houston, home to a high-end community called Village of Southampton. Situated near Rice University in the city’s “West University” neighborhood, the community solicits rates ranging from about $3,650 for a small one-bedroom independent living unit to about $9,300 per month for a two-bedroom penthouse suite.
For owner Bridgewood Property and its in-house operating arm, Retirement Center Management (RCM), the 18-story property is the culmination of many years of research into affluent neighborhoods and sub-markets like Rice Village and nearby West University, according to vice president Alex Pichon. Bridgewood is based in Houston.
“This is really an evolution of how Bridgewood has viewed our development thesis in the last few years, which for us, is urban infill sites near … wealthy, established, mature neighborhoods,” Pichon told SHN.
Residents of the community get a slate of upscale services and amenities that include seminars and lectures, transportation in luxury vehicles and high-end dining venues with chef-led meals and wine tastings. Helping guide those experiences at RCM is Spencer Lane, who came aboard with the operator in September as vice president of hospitality after spending time with other major luxury hotel brands such as Hilton and Relais & Chateaux.
“It’s how you’re greeted, it’s how you’re treated, it’s the service request — it’s a different-caliber experience,” Pichon said. “The fresh flowers, the snacks, fruit or whatever it might be, I think it’s just a little more than what we’d be able to offer in a more middle-priced market.”
Catering to the high end of the market in Houston has paid off for Bridgewood and RCM. Though the community opened last summer amid the pandemic, demand has held up, according to Pichon.
As of late April 2021, 60% of the community’s independent living units had filled up, and about 40% of the community was occupied.
“We’ve been very happy, given this past year and the rates that we’re achieving,” Pichon said.
Another community on the list is Belmont Village Senior Living Westwood, a community in Los Angeles with max rates of about $15,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and starting rates of about $8,500 for independent living.
The community isn’t competing as much with other senior living communities in the area as it is competing with prospects choosing to age in place with home-based caregivers, according to Susan Berger, director of sales and marketing at Belmont Village Westwood.
“[The choice is] staying at home in a beautiful home with a staff, versus moving to Belmont Village, a luxurious community with a trained team to assist,” Berger told SHN.
Some other communities on the LivingPath list carry a high price tag, but not necessarily because they’re catering to a luxury-focused clientele.
For example, Kensington Senior Living’s Kensington at Redondo Beach community offers assisted living and memory care with monthly rates ranging from more than $5,000 to nearly $16,000, but the provider doesn’t necessarily think of the community as luxury-focused. Instead, the community is more of “a care-focused model with a lot of amenities and services,” according to Tiffany Tomasso, co-founder and partner at Kensington Senior Living.
For one, the community is located next to the beach in an area already known for high real estate prices. And, memory care and assisted living also lie on the pricier end of the senior living care continuum.
“In this particular building, we have three RNs on staff — our director of nursing and then two other full time RNs — and that’s unique,” Tomasso told SHN. “It’s a beautiful building, it’s in a beautiful location, it has great finishes and dining options, but what families are looking for is care.”
While Kramer expects senior living offerings to become more diverse over time as the industry matures, he also believes that will raise the bar on what high-end senior living providers must offer their residents.
As was the case at Belmont Village Westwood, luxury communities are often competing with home-based care, as affluent older adults usually have the funds to pay for costly at-home services that are out of reach for others. Meanwhile, new technology is helping older adults stay connected, even as they stay home.
What that means for these luxury communities is that they will be pressured to market themselves in a way that goes beyond simply touting best-in-class care, Kramer noted.
“What’s your compelling value proposition to move? It better go beyond care,” Kramer said. “If it doesn’t, you won’t be competitive in the future.”
In the past, senior living providers had differentiated more on “bells and whistles” than core offerings — but that will be different in the future as the industry starts to serve a more diverse group of incomes, from the super high-end to the middle-market.
“We’re going to have much more diverse offerings in terms of price points, and therefore what you get at different price points,” Kramer said. “We’re going to serve a much broader income range.”
At the same time, high-end communities could have reputational hurdles to overcome in the eyes of some consumers who might see them as too lavish during a time when the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer. And no doubt, some providers may also be reluctant to be seen as having communities that are among the country’s most expensive for older adults at a time when care is becoming harder to afford.
Bridgewood’s Pichon sees it another way. Like Kramer, he believes luxury senior living communities are just another entry into the market catering to a specific clientele.
“You can go buy a $500 road bike, or you could go buy a $12,000 road bike,” Pichon said. “They both do the same thing, but sometimes people … want to be buying the best that they possibly can because they feel like that’s the best use of their money.”