‘Trends Have Changed’: Senior Living Operators Reposition Communities for the Boomer Generation 

The high cost of new development and lack of financing for big projects has pushed some operators to renovate and reposition older communities.

In 2024, senior living operators and their partners are focusing on adding as much value as possible through renovations and repositioning. But as operators serving the baby boomers can attest, the incoming generation of residents wants something different than their predecessors.

One such company renovating and repositioning communities for the future is Denver, Colorado-based Onelife Senior Living. The company has acquired and repositioned several communities as part of a growth plan laid out in 2023, and most recently expanded into Chicago through an acquisition and rebrand late last year.


Onelife CEO Dan Williams said the company follows a “90-90-90” rule when renovating a property, referencing how a community’s first 90 feet will inform a prospect’s 90 seconds, which impacts the first 90% of their opinion. Much of the company’s effort goes into making a community’s entrance a focal point for new-resident interactions, including by undertaking renovations that highlight a property’s more lifestyle-oriented offerings.

Similarly, Nick Herrick, vice president for LCS Development, said that many of the Des Moines, Iowa-based company’s recent projects have revolved around dining and wellness, with an eye toward the incoming baby boomer generation.

“The trends have changed, the buyer demographics have changed and the actual buyer and what their wants and needs are have changed,” Herrick told Senior Housing New. “So if you’re not reinvesting every 15 to 20 years, you’re behind.”


Anatomy of a repositioning project

In 2024, senior living construction is a tough prospect due to the cost of services and materials. And senior housing construction cost escalation is expected to grow this year in the 3% to 6% range, according to the latest update from construction firm Weitz.

As such, architecture firms are spending more time in 2024 on repositioning projects. For instance, those types of projects represent about half of what Austin, Texas-based architecture firm Pi Architects is undertaking these days, according to president Greg Hunteman.

“The new builds have slowed down quite a bit, the renovations have increased,” Hunteman told Senior Housing News.

Vidhi Anderson, vice president of development for HumanGood, said that while current construction challenges have pushed up the cost of repositioning, doing so is still less costly than a new build. And, it can achieve many of the same goals.

“Preservation is a key to provide a way to continue to provide good, safe, affordable housing, because the need for affordable housing is increasing tenfold,” Anderson said.

Both Herrick and Hunteman said the most important first step to repositioning an outdated community is having a master plan in place.

“The most successful projects we’ve done, [the company] actually came to us during the acquisition side – the due diligence of the existing building – and said, ‘Okay, what are the opportunities we have with this building?’” he explained. “You really have to do your due diligence on the existing building to understand the current state of the building … because you need to make sure that those can work with the renovation, not what you need to update and what those costs are.”

Breaking projects into phases is typically needed to limit disruptions for residents who live in the community, Hunteman said.

“That can lead you to do some things that are kind of atypical, and it could also lead you to some cool things that you might not have thought about just because of some of those interactions,” he said.

Repositioning projects often will adjust the number of units in a building or convert certain kinds of dwellings to another. According to Williams, operators must walk a balance between adding new community features and maintaining the number of units available for residents.

“Looking at taking these units offline is a huge cost. There’s all kinds of implications of bringing the value down in the building,” he said. “But, hopefully you want to strike a balance there. In order to compete, you’re just going to have to have those types of amenities as we go forward.”

Generally, LCS Development will break renovations into three or four phases at a time, though Herrick noted each community is unique and will have different needs.

“It’s something that we would revisit at the end of every phase, and make sure that the next phase is aligned with the priorities of the ownership and board,” he said. “That gives us an opportunity to update the master plan so it also allows us to react to the marketplace.”

In order to meet the demands of a project, LCS Development conducts market and financial feasibility studies to see what the general demands of a market are that takes between three and six months to complete to maximize the revenue of a renovated community. 

HumanGood makes an effort to keep communities fresh through simple changes like new paint and flooring. But the organization must also overhaul major systems to incorporate new technology, which is a big ongoing goal for Duarte, California-based HumanGood.

“It’s very challenging, because for example, if you want to do an elevator upgrade, the system installed in the cab is not compatible with the technology now,” Anderson said. “So you have to really look at the depths of what was and figure out how to best update and upgrade it to … where we are.”

In general, senior living operators have in 2024 woken up to the fact that the baby boomers will mean big changes for their communities and amenities.

“We’ve got to change the paradigm in how we listen to the residents,” Arrow Senior Living CEO Stephanie Harris said during a panel at NIC 2023 Fall Conference. “The industry has historically done a lot of telling people when they can eat and what they can do, and we’re realizing that doesn’t work for today’s consumer.”

As senior living operators seek to reposition communities for a new class of residents, they are often prioritizing projects with dining and wellness in mind, as those are among the two biggest selling points of a community.

The incoming generation of older adults is less drawn to the formal dining spaces than the Silent Generation, according to Herrick. So, LCS typically will break a larger dining space down into multiple more casual venues, with grab-and-go offerings still fairly popular.

That approach was on display at Friendship Village Tempe, a senior living community in Tempe, Arizona. The community – which took the top spot in the dining innovation category of the 2023 Senior Housing News Architecture and Design Awards – has a five phases of renovations planned for the “landlocked” community, with the most recent phase bringing a rooftop restaurant and brewery for residents to enjoy.

Hunteman said more communities are building dining venues that change uses throughout the day, such as a space that becomes a coffee shop in the morning before turning into a happy hour spot later in the day. Additionally, wellness programs are incorporating intergenerational and educational aspects to them, Hunteman said, and has mentioned that social clubs and spaces are now offering ways to give back to the community.

When looking at renovations as a whole, though Hunteman said it is best to get the needs from the residents themselves and allow a community to be tailored to fit what residents are wanting then. A recent example he provided was a renovation done in Delray Beach, Florida, where an underutilized theater was turned into a casino because it’s what the community wanted.

“All of a sudden, now you have the ultimate for the folks that want to do this,” Hunteman said. “It’s a really cool community and it makes a difference there.”

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