Sinceri Senior Living has its sights set on “double-digit occupancy growth” next year in a bid to widen margins further into 2024 — and CEO Chris Belford is feeling optimistic.
Vancouver, Washington-based Sinceri has already surpassed pre-Covid levels in occupancy and all operating metrics are trending positive, Belford told SHN during a recent interview at the 2023 NIC Fall Conference. Compared to this time last year, occupancy across Sinceri’s portfolio has increased by 12%, with rate growth around 6% in that time frame, he told SHN.
“It’s been a good 10 to 11 months of positive operating metrics moving forward,” Belford added. “We’re going from good to being a superior operator.”
Expenses have moderated for the provider with expenses increasing year-over-year by two basis points, Belford said, attributing the reduction to less agency staffing and lowered food costs. With the reduction in agency, base wage rates increased between 4% and 5% this year, and that increase hasn’t hurt the bottom line, Belford added.
“Now it’s just about getting everything on all cylinders and we’re moving ahead,” Belford said.
Sinceri Senior LIving operates 73 communities across 19 states, with Sinceri owning and managing a quarter of those properties. In the future, Belford said he would like that percentage of sole-ownership and management to be 50%, but that aspiration is dependent on macroeconomic pressures easing, Belford noted.
A year focused on margins
Sinceri has spent the year fine-tuning operations with greater margins in mind, which harkens back to the company’s goal for 2024 with a focus on occupancy and margin growth.
The company’s communities that were acquired in 2021 from Healthpeak Properties Inc. (NYSE: PEAK) are stabilized with occupancy fully recovered within the portfolio. Another way the company has helped spur bottom line improvement is through installing leadership in key positions. Earlier this year, Sinceri appointed April Young as COO.
Belford credited the company’s reduction in agency, coupled with strong performance across its portfolio, for achieving a strong recovery position. On the operations side, he noted that expenses were moderating in another boost to the company’s overall recovery and normalization.
“I think we’ve seen better discipline on expenses,” Belford said. “Now that everything is clicking together and all cylinders are running, it’s a lot of fun.”
The company recently pivoted its staffing model towards a focus on the level of care structure that builds staff around acuity of Sinceri properties, which has improved efficiency in staffing, Belford said.
With a recruiting team, Sinceri is able to remain in close contact with all new employees over the first 90 days of their work in a community. That threshold is a common window in which people quickly exit senior living careers, Belford added.
“The recruiters are our secret sauce behind our success and it’s helped us reduce turnover because what we do now is that there’s not such a need for the volume of staff,” Belford said. “The challenge is now training them and making sure they are satisfied.”
Growth opportunities ahead
On the growth front, Sinceri acquired two properties this year with future growth potentially consisting of potential joint venture partners and future acquisitions via third-party management.
“I know there’s some debt that’s expiring that people are going to have to do something with and we’re looking at those types of opportunities,” Belford said. “We’re continuing to look at a couple of portfolios right now and some of that will be joint venture ideas and third-party management.”
Opportunities could also come in the form of new third-party management agreements in the year ahead. Belford raised the prospect of further alignment between capital and real estate partners in the operating cycle, which was a common refrain during this year’s Fall NIC Conference as tight financing markets force operators to more closely consider who they are joining forces with.
By not aligning with groups seeking to exit the industry for a quick return over a short period of time, Belford said Sinceri is able to identify which ideologically-aligned groups could be potential suitors going forward.
“I want to be a long-term player and it’s all about relationship building,” he added.
To help increase that alignment, Belford said it was “all about conversation” and fostering strong communication between organizations.
“If you’re not communicating, you’re short-changing them and you’re short-changing yourself,” Belford said. “We want to continually inspire each other and develop relationships and continue down the road to meet these challenges together.”
That could take the form of a third-party management company offering collaborative solutions on operations to improve a specific community.
“They may have an idea we didn’t think of or we had an idea that they didn’t think of and that’s really what I think we excel at,” Belford said.
With regard to future equity partners, Belford said organizations could be attracted to Sinceri due to the company putting in its own equity to make a deal pencil out.
Belford added that Sinceri was taking an “exploratory” approach to what the next 12 months could look like from a growth perspective, while being cognizant of the opportunities across the space. He added that expenses could continue to moderate depending on inflation and action by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
“We believe that our operating metrics will continue to improve through 2024,” Belford said. “We’re looking at expansion and not only from an assets perspective, but also looking at other potential verticals that we can take advantage of based on the situation we’re in.”
What that could look like remains to be seen, but Belford noted that Sinceri was looking at opportunities “other than being an operating company.”
When it comes to operations, Belford said there was significant upside in using data to improve operations, specifically when it comes to predictive analytics to track resident health and overall care.
On growth in the near-term, Belford said he envisions “great opportunity” in the first half of 2024 as expenses could remain steady and supply costs could moderate. With strong demand fundamentals at hand, Belford added that it’s incumbent upon operators to widen their market penetration.
“I want us to continue to fan the flames of operations,” Belford said.