Membership Models Bring Flexibility to Senior Living Pricing, Expand Consumer Base

As senior living providers work to recover from the pandemic, some are adopting new approaches to operations — and in some cases, that demands new approaches to pricing.

Senior living communities typically will charge residents a set rate for rent and a bundle or tier of services. But new membership models are emerging that change that approach, and providers that are adopting these models argue that they are better-suited for the aging generationational cohort known as the baby boomers.

Senior living companies blazing new trails include Appanage, which places older adults in high-end multifamily apartments and provides activities and services on a membership basis; the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living (SFCJL), which is aiming to reinvigorate its membership services after the Covid-19 pandemic; and LifeStar Living, which is opening a membership-style senior living community in Florida.


But these companies are not alone. Large operators such as Watermark Retirement are also moving toward membership-based pricing, and industry consultants are also observing the trend. The need to provide baby boomers with more choice is driving the rise of the membership senior living model, according to Hoppy Sell, president of senior living marketing, sales, research and engagement firm Spectrum Consultants.

“The entire shift is coming from the consumer. They want to have choices, they want to have flexibility,” Sell told Senior Housing News. “The operators just have to figure out how to package that up in a financial structure that is palatable to them.”

Rise of membership models

Although operators with membership models are united in their belief that the pricing structure best caters to baby boomers, there are a few different approaches being tested.


From his vantage point at Spectrum, Sell sees two distinct categories of membership-based senior living: those that offer membership-based plans to residents living in their community, and those that offer them to residents who do not live in their communities.

There are already numerous examples of the first category at work. The pricing structure resembles continuing care retirement community (CCRC) entrance fees, but membership fees sometimes are less expensive and are leveraged to support greater resident choice.

For example, at Watermark Retirement Communities’ Elan and Elite communities — which charge new residents one-time membership fees ranging from $30,000 to $70,000 — residents get monthly “spend-downs” of between $500 and $650 to use on any of the community’s amenities and services at a 20% discount. Residents are on the hook for meals or services that exceed that amount — and doing it that way has transformed some of the company’s cost centers, such as dining, into “revenue centers,” Watermark Chairman David Freshwater told SHN in May.

At Isakson Living’s Peachtree Hills Place community in the Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead, residents must sign up to become members of the company’s private club and pay a one-time fee of $100,000, plus monthly payments after that.

“The club takes care of the amenities … and there is some income that comes our way that helps us manage it,” Isakson told SHN earlier this year.

It’s the second category — offering services and amenities to residents who don’t currently live in a provider’s community — that isn’t as common. But it’s a model that Sell thinks could blossom in the months and years ahead, and the pandemic is a big reason why.

“There is going to be a percentage of the senior living age cohort that will choose to stay in their home for as long as they can because they … fear restrictions being put in place or that they wouldn’t be able to visit with family members,” Sell said.

Assuming that holds true well into the post-pandemic recovery, a decentralized membership model might appeal to residents who are reluctant to move into a senior living community, but desire access to some of the services they provide.

“They can stay in their home, they can stay in these senior housing apartments, and the benefit of the services comes to them,” Sell said. “So, the membership model will continue to grow.”

Appanage: Multifamily units with membership perks

Appanage is a senior living company based in New York City — but it is unique in that it does not own or even manage any communities.

Instead, Appanage operates on a membership-based model that places customers in a curated portfolio of upscale apartment buildings that are suitable for older adults, then provides these residents with some of the services they might normally receive in senior living, such as laundry and housekeeping.

Should members need health care, Appanage can find and arrange that for residents with home-based service providers it has relationships with, much as a concierge would.

Rates for members vary from property to property, but typically start at around $5,000 a month. Residents live in apartments with full kitchens, meaning they can do their own cooking. But Appanage does provide its members meal plans and custom-tailored dietary guidance.

Appanage members also get help and guidance from dedicated wellness experts, and have access to personalized wellness and social programming in their local area.

So far, Appanage has developed relationships with about eight different properties in the metro New York City area, representing about 140 units. But the ultimate goal is to expand the membership-based model to all of the major cities across the country, with the goal of letting residents move from one city to another on a whim, according to Appanage CEO and co-founder Daniel Stern.

“The move into a 55+, 140-unit senior community achieves one thing: There’s excitement on day one … but at some point, that unit becomes old,” Stern told SHN. “You can spend $20,000 a month for the Upper East Side Park Avenue unit, or you can spend $5,000 a month to live in Queens … but you can go to Florida.”

While Appanage doesn’t currently offer memberships that don’t include a housing component, Stern said there are plans for that in the future.

“Ultimately, we want to have people who are not part of the residential piece participating,” Stern said. “We’re going to have different participation tiers, if you will, for people who want to participate in the programming, even down to one program … but we’re still finalizing that piece.”

And Appanage designed its wellness expert service and programs to account for the potential growth of a membership model that doesn’t include revenue from housing, Stern said.

“It allows us to budget for the wellness programming services with a careful focus on the adoption of both membership types,” he added. “We are intent on being nimble in our residential acquisitions so that our residential offerings are concomitant with membership demand.”

The LifeStar model

Another operator going big on the membership model of senior living in 2021 is LifeStar, which was founded by a sports “super agent” and led by senior living veteran Joel Anderson. The company is opening a flagship senior living community called The Manhattan in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The nine-story, $125 million community is planned to have more than 80 condo-style homes with amenities such as indoor and outdoor dining venues, an outdoor pool, nature paths, fitness center and a spa.

Concept photo via LifeStar Living

LifeStar is still hammering out the particulars for the membership model at The Manhattan. But the model will likely end up pricing access to services in a tiered structure, according to Jessica Kraft, executive vice president of marketing and sales.

“We are anticipating maybe a few different tiers, and with those would come different levels of membership and … health care benefits,” Kraft told SHN. “If you think about going to a country club, you can have the pool membership, you can have the golf membership … and with those come different benefits.”

Unlike Appanage, LifeStar has no immediate plans to offer the membership to people who live outside of the communities it operates.

“I can’t say that might not be a future plan and consideration, but at least initially, those would be member-only benefits for those individuals living there,” Kraft said.

The Byer Square model

Not every company exploring a membership model is new to the space.

SFCJL — which is among the largest nonprofit skilled nursing facilities in the state of California with more than 375 beds — endeavoured to launch a membership senior living model right before the pandemic. At the center of those plans was a $140 million expansion and redevelopment project called Frank Residences and Byer Square..

Byer Square has a performance center, a fitness center, warm water therapeutic pool, pilates studio, salon and spa, a cafe and coffee bar, and outdoor spaces. The expansion also included a 190-unit assisted living and memory care community called Frank Residences.

Rendering of San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living Rendering of Frank Residences, courtesy SFCJL

While the name Byer Square refers to a physical space with amenities, it also refers to any of the services that are available to everyone who lives in the Frank Residences — or, ultimately, to anyone who pays for a membership.

A full membership includes access to all the community’s activities and amenities along with access to social programming. There is also a “social membership,” which eschews health and wellness services for older adults who are only interested in the activities side.

While the pandemic disrupted the original planned opening and launch of Byer Square in September 2020, the assisted living and memory care building is filling up. And SFCJL President and CEO Daniel Ruth believes that, when pandemic restrictions are finally fully lifted in his area — hopefully in the fall — the provider will be able to start offering memberships to older adults who do not live in the community.

“What the pandemic has done is revealed groups of people who are at severe risk, but some of the core issues haven’t changed: seniors, in greater numbers, are choosing to age in place,” Ruth told SHN. “Having a membership model that supports their ability to come and enjoy different kinds of programming … is assisting and supporting them to remain in their own home.”

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