“We are going to be an owner, operator, developer and acquirer of active adult communities in the western half of the United States. For now, we will only play in the active adult space.” — a senior living president to Senior Housing News, April 2022
Of the major senior housing investment categories, the one hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic was active adult. Asked to compare both projected national occupancy rates and investment opportunity among six major areas of senior housing, respondents to the 2021 Senior Housing Outlook Report sponsored by Senior Housing News and Lument were unequivocal about the still favorable, yet diminished, place of active adult:
- Ten percent of respondents called active adult “the most attractive category of senior housing in which to invest in 2021.” That was just ahead of CCRC (9%) and down by half from 2020, when 20% of respondents selected it.
- Active adult trailed four other asset classes in predictions for a 2021 occupancy increase. Just 41% of respondents thought active adult occupancy would increase, well behind IL (58%) and memory care (56%).
As results of the next year’s report show, enthusiasm about the product has rebounded, with now 23% calling it the most attractive category and 72% predicting an occupancy increase.
“During COVID, the seniors who were already in senior living communities saw that they were safe, well taken care of, and as far as some of the COVID-type fears, the outbreaks weren’t as prevalent as everyone thought they might be,” says Mike Duehren, project director of employee-owned national general contractor Brinkmann Constructors. “With the want comes the capital and projects getting funded. I think that’s only going to continue for the next couple of years.”
About five years ago, Duehren says, industry leaders were wondering when the need for senior living would tail off. Instead, he says, the largest demographic going into senior living is projected to do so between 2023 and 2024.
“We thought we were building a lot of senior living facilities before, and I think we’re going to continue to build a lot moving forward,” he says.
Here are Brinkmann’s four tips to take advantage of this new active adult boom.
Offer personalized health and amenity plans
While active adult still appeals to the 65+ demographic seeking outdoor activities, community living and reduced maintenance, Brinkmann sees amenity spaces as the key attraction this year and beyond.
“Everyone has all of their needs and wants in the units themselves, so there is a new focus on community-based spaces: theaters, community gardens, bocce ball, pickle ball,” Duehren says. “We’re focusing more and more on that in all these buildings we’re involved with.”
That focus on amenities is one component of the first of Brinkmann’s four tips to operators seeking to take advantage of the new active adult boom: offering personalized plans. The top areas of flexibility for personalization:
- Health plans
- Dining and meal plans
“Everybody (in active adult) is pretty able-bodied and still active for the most part, so the needs and wants are different,” Duehren says. “The focus on being able to get into a facility and pick and choose to get into a meal plan, or have the activities you want, can help entice people and maybe sway someone to one property versus the next.”
Embrace the multi-generational edict
While the term “multi-generational” in senior living often refers to seniors and their children’s families, Duehren sees a different style of multi-generational benefits in active adult: young seniors with older seniors.
“The age at which people are trying to find these facilities has been reduced,” Duehren says. “Multi-generational can be between the 55 and 80-threshold.”
Be aware of increasing costs
Construction cost is on the rise. According to construction firm The Weitz Company, cost for building mid-level assisted living rose about $20-$40 per gross square foot from the winter of 2021 ($200-$255 cost) to the winter of 2022 ($219-$295).
With labor costs rising too, operators who are in the midst of active adult development need to plan rent costs based on projected rises, not the cost at the time of development.
“If you’re basing rental costs now on material costs and labor costs and availability in today’s market, you have to ask what that looks like if material prices continue to go up, or if they go down,” Duehren says. “All of a sudden you’re basing a pro forma on rents that the market no longer supports. You have to be aware and understand the timeline for the project so that you know what the market can, and will, support.”
Primary care needs onsite
Operators and developers think a lot in terms of a resident’s needs versus her wants. During the pandemic, Duehren says, onsite primary care shifted from a want to a need, because seniors were reluctant to seek medical care off campus. And because residents can easily get their medication through mail-order pharmacies, what matters most are wellness checks and other more basic checkups.
“I think the biggest variable with providing primary care on site is space, and what kind of project you’re building,” he says. “The CCRCs can handle a primary care facility much easier than a double-building IL/AL scenario.”
There is another space question, and that is lost revenue.
“It’s not sellable space, so then how do you recover the cost of that?” Duehren says.
The answer, he says, might be development near a medical provider.
“The world has changed, and we have to change along with it,” Duehren says. “But the future is bright for the overall senior living market.”
This article is sponsored by Brinkmann Constructors. To learn more about how Brinkmann can help your new construction plans, visit BrinkmannConstructors.com, or contact Rebecca Randolph at [email protected].