For years, the senior living industry has prepared to meet the needs of the incoming boomers en masse — and yet, the generation’s exact preferences and desires have seemed stubbornly opaque.
But a new report released last month by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) and conducted by the ProMatura Group offered a clear window into boomers’ desired services, amenities and lifestyle options.
In the years to come, many of the approximately 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964 may consider a move into a senior living community. Similar to a previous analysis of the active adult market from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), the new ASHA report gives senior living companies data to inform their decisions in the coming years and beyond.
Operators that can attract even a small portion of the boomers stand to capitalize on a large and soon-to-be-cresting wave of demand — but the opposite is also true for senior living providers that are behind the times. Based on the survey’s findings, the boomers are likely to want something very different from their predecessors — and Priority Life Care CEO Sevy Petras believes the industry is still behind the curve in preparing for them.
“I don’t think we actually have a real product for the boomers,” Petras said. “I believe the industry is selling them something they don’t want.”
Armed with new knowledge from the report and anecdotal experience on the ground, operators including Priority Life Care, Stellar Senior Living and Arrow Senior Living Management are growing and evolving with the boomers in mind. What they do in the coming months and years may very well blaze a new trail for how other operators interact with and attract the crucial age demographic.
“Consumers today are more discerning,” Arrow Senior Living Management CEO Stephanie Harris told SHN. “Our industry is going to have to figure out how to incorporate residents in a more collaborative way within our business model.”
‘You have to know your customer’
Among the top takeaways in the recent report is that there is no magic bullet or single formula for attracting all of them, according to ProMatura Founder and Report Author Margaret Wylde. Operators must take the time to understand the boomers before they’re already at their doorstep.
“You have to know your customer, period, and [operators] should be building for the customers in their market area who are considering a move,” Wylde told Senior Housing News.
The report — which detailed information as granular as home values and average number of grandchildren — revealed that boomers overwhelmingly value their independence and expect to stay active in the future. While a little more than a quarter of those surveyed said they desire communities that can care for them in the future, should they need it, a solid third of the respondents said they neither wanted nor needed help with activities of daily living (ADLs).
Most boomers also said they desire to live in the suburbs — a somewhat expected conclusion given two-thirds of them already reported living there. In terms of amenities and services, boomers said they wanted full kitchens and laundry rooms, with more than three-fourths desiring home maintenance, landscaping and security from the places where they live.
For Stellar Senior Living Partner and Senior Vice President Adam Benton, the report was useful if not revelatory, and he told SHN that it helped “solidify our thoughts of the market and needs of our residents.”
Although Benton said he felt that the senior living customer of tomorrow was already here, “if we can provide a better community with more amenities, services, and community engagement, the market will respond to those positive enhancements.”
Among the report’s findings was that boomers reported they were more likely to move into a senior living community if they had friends or family living at a community prior to moving. To Harris, that is among the most compelling data points in the report.
“I think the fact that we’re seeing positive trends toward increased interest just because someone knows someone living in senior living, that’s a long-term positive for us,” Harris told SHN.
The majority of respondents said they wished to own their residence in the future. And Harris said the fact that residents were “thinking differently” about ownership of a senior living residence was evidence that residents want a greater stake in the community they choose to live in.
Petras also took note of the fact that boomers desire ownership. And she believes the industry must be prepared to cater to those preferences, even if it means substantially changing the business model in some ways.
“Over the next 10 to 20 years we are going to need to get creative about a product that will have some type of ownership component,” Petras added.
Although logic dictates that a resident preference for ownership could be a challenge for operators — most of which make money through monthly rates — that desire for ownership might also extend to a community’s decision-making.To Harris, that is also an opportunity for more collaboration between residents and a community’s executive staff.
Operators are making a mistake in trying to fit older adults into existing, cookie-cutter communities without listening to their wants and needs.
Sometimes, it is a small fact that can make a big difference. More than 60% of all respondents in the report said they use stairs to enter their homes. Although that may not seem all that important to a layman, whether a resident had stairs is actually sometimes a key indicator of whether a resident will move in. In fact, that has been the case at a recently opened Arrow community in the Cleveland market, according to Harris.
“We get so caught up in how to differentiate ourselves among other communities we forget that 90% of all seniors are living at home,” Harris said. “We need to be clear in differentiating the benefits of someone staying home and it may be as simple as offering a stair-free environment.”
Harris added that “simple messages,” like the point on a stair-free environment “get lost in all the amenities” offered by communities.
And it appears even older adults are feeling overwhelmed with the swath of amenities advertised by operators, with some respondents noting that they did not feel the need for large, communal dining or transportation services.
Harris added that she felt the report could be used as a future guidepost in gauging public sentiment for senior living only if this year’s results were compared to additional reports using similar parameters.
“We’re learning things that are validating our existing understanding of what consumers want, but until we understand trends and changes as a result of shifts in mindset, I am not sure there was much of a breakthrough in its detail,” she said.
Even so, Harris said that the report could be “foundational into future insights” and still serve as a “nice baseline” for operators in the industry to digest.
Building on the boomer report
For Stellar, Benton said the report could help guide future service and operations modifications with the boomers in mind.
“We will compare this report with our internal surveys of existing residents and their family members to determine gaps in our offerings,” Benton said.
This comes as Stellar is planning expansion of multiple communities, including a partnership with Bridge Investment Group. As part of the partnership, Stellar Senior Living is slated to take on the management of two communities in the Denver metro area.
Petras said Priority Life Care is already cross-referencing data and sharing insights with the company’s marketing teams to give new perspectives when conducting outreach to prospective residents and their families.
“We need to start paying attention to how we’re crafting our marketing and how we’re positioning our programming because they are telling us exactly what they want,” Petras said.
For example, Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Priority Life Care is focused on ensuring community offerings and resident expectations are aligned, and that the company is properly articulating the benefits of senior living.
Harris said Arrow Senior Living is reviewing the report’s insights on amenities and design elements. She added that Arrow’s lead generation and inquiries were at all-time highs, an indicator of the industry’s steady march towards recovery.
“That could mean that late 2023 or 2024 being some of the best years we’ve experienced in the last five years,” Harris said.
Wylde said ProMatura was well underway expanding on the most recent report with more research in the pipeline to follow. Through funding from ASHA, ProMatura is now surveying residents living in active adult and other age-restricted communities to glean information on their location and current residences along with their opinions and desires for active adult. To-date, over 675 surveys have been completed.
“There’s not one formula for attracting boomers,” Wylde said. “ There’s really nothing here that I saw that stood out as being contrary to what we’ve been seeing, and they are part of many different customer groups.”