While Maxwell Group President Ben Thompson sees plenty of demand for active adult communities, he doesn’t think the product type adequately meets it.
Specifically, he believes too many communities position themselves as senior housing communities when they are really just age-restricted apartments at heart — and that it waters down the supposed value of the product.
“There is a group of people who are grateful, but most folks don’t want that,” he told Senior Housing News.
At the same time, he sees residents clamoring for living spaces more akin to single-family homes. That trend is exemplified by the popularity of cottages at the company’s 15 communities, 12 of which are continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).
So, Thompson and Maxwell Group — the parent company and operator behind Senior Living Communities and other brands — are forging ahead with a new concept to capture that demand called Weller Life Communities.
The new concept differs from more traditional active adult communities in that residents will live in 80 to 120 single-family homes on sprawling 18- to 25-acre sites, not congregate buildings in a compact footprint. Instead of receiving care provided by in-house caregivers, residents will have access to Maxwell’s private-duty home care company, Live Long Well Care.
“It’s almost like a hybrid between what folks call active adult today, and what we do in independent living,” Thompson told Senior Housing News.
Although Thompson said the plans were still coming together, he anticipates the company will announce a site in Charlotte, North Carolina, for its first Weller Life community by the end of the year. And beyond that, he envisions Maxwell undertaking three to five such projects each year, with plans to grow initially in markets where the company already has a presence.
“We want the first one to be in our backyard,” he said. “We will get the first one out of the ground — our proof of concept in Charlotte — and then grow.”
The Weller Life model
At the core of the Weller Life model is a belief that many senior living prospects don’t actually want to give up their single-family home life.
“Maybe you can’t quite live at home, but you don’t want to move into senior housing,” Thompson said of the type of resident the concept is geared toward.
Although the model is primarily rental, Thompson said there will likely be a way for residents to have ownership over their homes.
While Weller Life residents won’t live in traditional senior living communities, they will as part of their rental rates receive a “light layer” of services and have the option of buying more services, such as housekeeping, on an a la carte basis.
Residents will have the option to purchase home-based services through Live Long Well Care, including in 30-minute increments, “which a lot of other home health companies can’t do,” Thompson noted. The end goal is to give residents the ability to age in their homes without saddling them with paying for care they don’t need.
“If you need the care, you pay for the care. If you don’t need the care, you don’t,” Thomspon said.
Each Weller Life community will also come with a clubhouse and a slate of amenities similar to what you would find in an active adult community, he added. And Maxwell Group is looking to partner with companies that offer technological solutions that would make residents’ lives easier or more enjoyable.
As for making the model work, Thompson said Maxwell Group already does substantially all of what it would offer in Weller Life communities.
“We’re just stripping some things away,” he added.
Because the communities won’t have much staffing overhead or a dining component, Thompson said Maxwell can offer all of this at rates that are thousands of dollars less than what a resident might otherwise pay to live in an upscale independent living community.
Resident fees will likely range between $3,000 and $4,000, and the company is targeting project costs of about $300,000 to $400,000 per unit, he said.
“We think there is a healthy margin on that business — and that is excluding home health,” he added.
Maxwell Group initially began talking about the Weller Life concept a number of years ago. The company has seen the rise of active adult as a hot product type in recent years, and was looking to build a product that would capture that demand.
At the same time, Thompson and the company’s other leaders have seen how popular the company’s cottage offerings are with residents.
“If we look up and down our portfolio, we’re sold out in cottages,” Thompson said. “There is overwhelming demand for the product type.”
Based on that popularity, it was clear to Thompson that a decent number of residents would choose to live in a freestanding home over a larger senior living community. He used his own parents as an example of what the company’s typical resident might desire out of senior living.
“My parents will never live in an apartment or condo,” he said. “They may consider it, but no one wants communal living in that sense.”
Although relatively few models like Weller Life exist in the senior living industry, there are some that are similar.
Perhaps the closest example is what active adult operator Treplus is doing in its communities, which consist of single-story, ranch-style rental homes outfitted with universal design principles with access to a clubhouse and amenities
Some operators are also experimenting with pocket neighborhood concepts, which are typically made up of single-family homes clustered around green spaces.
And beyond that, the pure ownership single-family home market is popular, with age-restricted master-planned neighborhoods — including some focused on lifestyle offerings, like Latitude Margaritaville — cropping up across the country.
“Every home builder in America now builds 55-plus communities, and all they’re doing is age-restricting it and setting up the HOA to cover the landscaping,” Thompson said.
Demand for Maxwell Group’s forthcoming Weller Life model is similarly high, and he said multiple private equity groups have expressed interest in backing it.
“We’re really focused on single family homes because there’s a huge demand and desirability for that,” Thompson said.