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Blog: Making Room—Managing the Senior Living Boom

10,000 per day. That’s how many Baby Boomers are estimated to be retiring now and over the next two decades. Historically, this generation has had a profound influence on the housing market. Now, as Boomers hit their senior years, the housing industry is bracing itself to meet their needs again.

In many cases, Boomers are downsizing from the expansive single-family homes that once served them well and instead opting to live in communities and facilities tailored to the needs of older adults. The result, of course, is an explosion in managed senior living.

Property management companies across the nation are springing into action, constructing new facilities and converting existing ones to meet the demand. While this sector indeed can be lucrative, it should not be entered without careful forethought.

Let’s take a look at some factors a property manager should take into account before committing to senior housing.

Is senior living management the right choice?

The first question when determining whether senior living management is right for you is whether it is still an economically smart move in your area. While many markets are still wide open for opportunity, there is evidence that other markets have reached saturation.

Even if the coast is clear in your area, be prepared for future competition—including competition from nonprofits offering low-cost senior housing. To make yourself attractive to potential residents, consider the wants and needs of this particular market.

Seniors today are looking for convenience, independence and the opportunity to maintain their active social connections with friends and family. The more you can cater to these preferences, the more competitive you are likely to be. You may also consider appealing to a niche within the senior market: golf enthusiasts, for instance, or pet lovers.

Resident care is a critical factor

One aspect of the senior living sector that requires very special attention is resident care. Providing care can trip up even the most seasoned developers from other areas.

“Those that would eventually like to be in the senior living space must remember that these are not widgets they will be dealing with, but very frail individuals at a very emotional time in their lives and in the lives of their family and friends,” says Roy Barker, director of special projects at senior-living consulting firm Moore Diversified Services.

“Developers and operators must be prepared to provide the very best of care and treat each resident as a treasure,” he adds. “While senior living can be a profitable venture, the decision to enter this industry must be from the heart in order to be truly successful.”

Barker recommends being honest with yourself about the level of care you are prepared and willing to provide. Assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing each require specialized expertise and facilities.

Licensing and regulatory requirements also abound. Assisted living facilities must meet Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act standards on top of standard fire and safety regulations. Additional requirements vary by state and can be numerous.

Even if you are managing an independent living facility, expect to offer at least minimal services. Your staff should be prepared to engage and interact with residents and also provide opportunities for them to interact with each other.

Most successful independent living operations offer entertainment, learning and teaching opportunities, and opportunities for residents to stay connected with the outside world. Meals are also very important to most residents as a social activity that they look forward to, so regardless of which level of care you offer, it’s important to have a good dietary program.

Above all, the quality of your staff will make or break your operation. Modern senior care is moving away from the old nursing home model and embracing a mindset of family and community.

“Being a direct care worker is a very difficult although rewarding job. Operators must take care of their staff because staff turnover is very costly for the organization and hard on the residents due to the inconsistency,” says Barker, who adds that a good staff attitude toward the residents is critical.

“It is important to remember each resident is an individual and must be treated as such…. The resident should not be defined by their current affliction. Residents have had a very rich and diverse life full of experiences before they entered senior living. That is who they are. They deserve more dignity than to be labeled the ‘incontinent person in room 12.’”

Regardless of which level of care you offer, Carol Marak, editor of SeniorCare.com, stresses the importance of careful screening to be sure a potential resident will be a good match for what you offer. “Before renting to an older adult, make sure that person meets any independence requirements you may have. In addition to doing a credit check, consider asking a few questions about their health and find out how mobile the person is.”

Some other things to consider include:

- Can they drive and are they able to do their own shopping and meal planning?
- Can they walk/get around easily without the need of a walker or wheelchair?
- Can they bathe themselves and use the toilet on their own?
- Can they manage their own medications?

Planning for changing needs

While more straightforward than resident care, the physical facility is also a very important component of senior care. This is true not only of intensive care facilities but of any building that may potentially house senior residents.

“My advice to property managers is to advertise the universal design features that these homes provide,” says Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., a wheelchair user and co-owner of Universal Design Living Laboratory.

Many seniors are looking for homes that will adapt to their changing needs as they age. Independent living facilities that incorporate these features can help them stay in their new homes as long as possible. Some of the features Rossetti and others recommend include:

- At least one entrance that is wheelchair accessible
- A full bathroom on the first floor with ample room to maneuver in a wheelchair or walker
Doors throughout the home with at least 32 inches of clearance—36-inch-wide doors are the best option
- A first-floor, on-site laundry room
Curbless showers and/or walk-in bathtubs with grab bars on the walls
Handheld shower nozzles for easy bathing
- Easy-to-open, lever-style doorknobs
Motorized or automated blinds

In all areas of the facility, each component should be evaluated by residents for safety and ease of use.

The power of curb appeal

Finally, don’t neglect aesthetics when seeking to attract Baby Boomers to your rental, starting with the exterior of the property.

“Never underestimate the power of curb appeal,” says Trent Zachmann, COO of property management company Renters Warehouse. “We receive more inquiries about lawn and landscaping of our properties from Baby Boomers than any other age demographic. Baby Boomers appreciate and prefer a very well maintained yard, more so than other generations. Likewise, in the winter, assure that a proper snow removal system is in place for their property."

Inside the home or facility, your property should also be impeccable. In addition to fresh flooring and paint, it’s important to be sure all areas are well lit. A person’s eyes actually admit less light as they age, so seniors appreciate good lighting.

Also be sure to include fully functioning and easily operated windows and door locks.

“As these items become more dated, they tend to stick and can be hard to open and close. This can undoubtedly become an issue, especially for Baby Boomers suffering from chronic pain or arthritis,” Zachmann says.

One more thing to consider

Whether or not you decide to go into senior living management as a dedicated enterprise, keep in mind that even conventional housing is likely to become senior housing at some point. Many seniors integrate very well into conventional housing communities.

Some tenants may not be senior citizens when they start renting from you but become so as they age. Many families these days are opting for intergenerational living arrangements, where older family members live with or very near younger ones.

Many features recommended for seniors are often appreciated by other residents as well. Regardless of the type of property you manage, being aware of the needs of seniors and providing for these needs to the extent that you are able can make your property more attractive to all potential tenants—and raise your ROI as a result.


Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer with expertise in areas including construction, small business management and sustainability (www.thegreeninkwell.com).

Be sure to join the Lowe’s ProServices LinkedIn Group to read additional content and interact with other Construction/Trade and MRO professionals.

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