It is no secret that boomers are flooding the senior living market with more than 10,000 individuals hitting the age of 65 each day in the United States only. These boomers are redefining the face of senior living with their improved definition of life after retirement. They want a living experience that is tailored for them, and naturally, there is a great opportunity here for developers.
The style in which boomers want to live their golden years is unlike their predecessors. Baby boomers are moving away from the traditional senior housing and retirement living approach. Instead, many in this generation seem to prefer the urban lifestyle – one that provides accessibility and entertainment. This shift is shaking up the real estate industry and how developers are designing future projects.
It is all about a lifestyle change
Boomers seem to have their own preferences as to where and how they want to age. But, what exactly are those preferences?
Many are looking for a home that offers a more urban experience, access to high-quality health care, a connection to public transportation, neighborhood walkability, and proximity to family. They are looking for comfort and quality in an amenity rich environment designed to provide convenience and a comfortable place to live, offering opportunities for socializing so that they can feel at home even though they are renting.
They don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter environment and they don’t want to be dictated as to where they are going to live. They don’t want to be put in a home, they don’t want their children to tell them where they are going to live, and they don’t want the government to tell them where they are going to live.
They want to have determination over where they are going to spend their retirement age and their final years of life. They also want to have some influence over the character and content of their living environment. They want to have an influence of what is in it and what the configuration of it is.
They want the ability to choose and shape their living environment. Design details matter to these new retirees who are looking for a senior living residence or community — particularly at the mid-to-high price range. Most of these prospective buyers or renters are design-savvy and well educated. They know what they like and what they don’t like in terms of décor, materials, color/pattern, lighting, flooring, and accessories. And many understand the basic principles of senior living design when it comes to contrast/color, slipping/falling, mobility, etc. So, they would actually like to have some choices that make their space their own, unique. They would like to pick their own cabinets, as well as the finishes and features of their new home.
How can developers provide more value to baby boomers?
Focusing on understanding what home means to the emerging boomer senior population and translating that to design is key to a successful development project.
Resort-like communities provide opportunities for developers to accommodate the enhanced lifestyle sought by boomers. These are integrated mixed-use spaces that include live, work and play activities: the mix that boomers want.
Some developers are embracing what has been called the “jewel box” housing approach, consisting of full amenity homes built on a smaller scale and distributed in a single story. These jewel box homes are built in small clusters of no more than two dozen units and sold on a fee-simple basis with a homeowners’ association responsible for common elements like a guard house and gardens as well as exterior maintenance.
Another design concept currently underway in the North Gulf Coast area is a senior co-op community made of small cottages built around a central lodge or country club which serves as a communal dining space as well as a multipurpose center where they can meet with their doctors and family, attend educational events, watch a movie, and what not. It has covered decks, barbecue areas, a fitness center, outdoor gardens and landscaping.
The living units or ‘homes’ are very modest and small, but they have a lot of activities that encourage social interaction, including golfing, skiing, and biking. There are also walking paths for residents to walk from their cottages to these communal areas.
Emerging models also include repurposing older properties that are more centrally located within communities, where senior living is just one component of the greater campus. These places offer events and activities, such as farmers’ markets, festivals, yoga, wine tasting, brew pubs, and specialty shops that not only provide revenue to the owner/developer, but also help bring the community together.
These types of communities allow baby boomers to enjoy a broader living experience and could well shape the senior housing market in the years to come.
Differentiation will be critical for new development projects
It is an exciting time for the senior living industry. Investors are keeping a close watch on the emerging trends, as are baby boomers themselves. They have access to a vast amount of information online, and they are taking advantage of it to acquire the services that they want and need for themselves. Everyone, from seniors to senior housing investors and senior care providers, is paying close attention to see what will develop next.
Developers must take the time to understand this shift in the senior population and the expectations of the “new” end user. Designing the same old senior housing in the same old senior community will result in high vacancy, low absorption and failed financials.
Developers must also watch for opportunities as baby boomers are looking for new places to relocate. The opportunity is there for the live, work, play concept. This is what seems to be selling and working at the present time. A place where baby boomers can live, work and play while they age.