Senior housing investors can elevate standards for today’s senior communities
If you mentioned “senior housing” a few decades ago, you’d likely be met with a depressing groan. Many of us grew up associating senior housing with drab and dreary nursing homes — homes we would never want to live in ourselves when the time comes. But as the economic push of today’s aging Boomers continues to strengthen, a new standard in wellness and care is developing. Today’s senior housing investors would be smart to meet it.
Boomers Push for Personal Comforts
A massive wave of aging Boomers is heightening the demand for senior housing, and our aging community has made it clear: a nice building with day-to-day support is not enough. Boomers want a community that feels familiar and comfortable. In fact, research from AARP shows up to 90 percent of aging would prefer to stay in their own homes, or “age in place.” Thus, while residents might be living in an assisted living community, they definitely do not want it to feel like one. They want:
· Proximity to their local community, with transportation options that allow for independent days or nights out.
· Good, healthy meals — not “hospital food” or cafeteria options. This is a generation for whom homemade food was the norm.
· Fun — with access to fitness centers, animal therapy and pets, salons, restaurants, yoga, and other amenities.
· Personal and social space — room to live, space to socialize, and space to welcome friends and family whenever they want to.
In short — they want what we all want: a quality life. They want communities that feel like home. Which is why investors should be doing their best to find and fund them.
How Investors Can Help
The best way for investors to elevate the senior housing industry is to invest in communities that focus on the holistic health and wellness of residents, as noted above. Whether you’re focusing on private-pay, nonprofit, or government-sponsored low-cost housing, I believe investors can collectively encourage these standards across the board. After all, if we all choose to invest in quality establishments, there will be no market for low-quality ones.
So, how do you know if you’re investing into a quality community?
1) Know your operator. I’ve said it before: the operator is the most important element in determining the success of your senior housing investment. Look at their past communities, including not just amenities but overall resident satisfaction. i.e. Are residents happy? Is it relatively easy for them to get out into the community or spend time with friends and family? Are they active, with plenty to do and experience? If the operator can’t provide statistics on resident satisfaction — or a plan for building and strengthening it — they might not be the best partner to invest in.
2) Know your community. Is the operator local to the area or region? Do they understand the unique needs and wants of residents in the area? After all, most residents will be coming from nearby towns where they may have lived their entire lives. They’ll want to continue experiencing the same things they’ve always been able to, whether that means attending their local church or seeing the local fireworks show every Fourth of July. Make sure the operator understands the local culture and lifestyle.
3) Dig beneath the amenities list. Yes, potential residents may be lured by a fancy building with lots of creature comforts. But as an investor, it’s important to look beyond that list, understanding the real services residents will experience day-to-day. For instance, research shows depression is a big problem in our aging population. Is there proper access to ongoing mental health support? Will there be enough staff to give residents the attention they want or need? Have they considered how to prevent bullying, another common problem in assisted living communities?
Asking these questions of the operator will go a long way in determining the quality of your senior housing investment.
Choosing to Invest in Better
This is an important era in senior housing development. The demand for housing will only continue to grow as our Boomers continue to age. At Senior Living Fund, we seek to fund those communities where the building is secondary to the care of the community itself. After all, without that kind of care, the building itself will likely go empty. The market shows Boomers simply won’t have it.
Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, technology, mental health and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Changing Aging, The Mighty and Next Avenue. She is passionate about impact investing and the greater concept of “equitable equity” — spreading wealth to all levels of our society. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.