How property managers can attract senior renters

Rand Owens
Rand Owens | 6 min. read

Published on March 28, 2014

Millions of seniors are flooding the rental market. (Flickr/Carl Nenzén Lovén)
Millions of seniors are flooding the rental market. (Flickr/Carl Nenzén Lovén)

The need for senior rentals is increasing as the U.S. population ages, and many seniors prefer to sustain their independent living status. The Census Bureau estimates the number of Americans 65 and over will climb from the current 40 million to more to 88.5 million within the next several decades. The fact that senior renters are characteristically very good long-term tenants creates a great opportunity for property managers.

American housing trends are starting to resemble the European trend.  According to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, more people are moving away from home ownership and toward renting, and the number of senior citizens renting is predicted to rise as the average population age rises.

Though seniors are more likely to own a home at present, there were roughly 5.5 million renters over the age of 65 in 2011. The senior renting demographic is estimated to expand by 2.2 million during the next 10 years as Baby Boomers get older, which will become responsible for over half of rental household growth.

The transition from independent living to a new way of life — assisted living or otherwise — can be a difficult process for an older individual. Attentive property managers must acknowledge and accommodate the needs of this demographic. These include significant emotional and financial departures from traditional home ownership.

The following guidelines will provide some tips and advice for property managers renting to senior citizens.

Emphasize the Marketing Value of Sustainability

Baby Boomer senior residents appreciate sustainability and care about how their living situation affects their surroundings. However, research indicates seniors’ selection of planned housing communities is not contingent on LEED (green building) certification. Whether certified or not, sustainably structured senior living units should highlight the health and interior environmental advantages along with the beneficial impact on utility costs, even if residents will not be paying for utilities.

Offer Supplementary Services

Other than memory care, senior living associations are attaching innovative services to accommodate certain needs without the appearance of purposely producing additional income streams. Temporary rehabilitation is one of these services. At present, many senior assisted living communities provide the facilities and personnel necessary to supply this type of care. Therefore, attaching rehabilitation units is a natural step forward. These units are either separate or conjoined to the standard housing format, depending on the design and needs of the community.

Specialists forecast that temporary rehabilitation facilities will experience an increase due to federal healthcare reform. The Affordable Care Act assesses penalties for hospitals that re-admit patients for identical or associated conditions. Additional income from senior living properties can stem from an increase in the size and scope of the rehab area. Services provided therein can be broadened to include both residents and non-residents alike.

Assimilate Seniors into the Larger Community

Senior housing developers are integrating seniors into nearby communities by opening senior housing amenities to the general public. Careful attention to access control alleviates security concerns and promotes community activities among residents and non-residents. An interior design strategy with a focus on mobility and multi-functionality will create opportunities for residents to meet and socialize with neighbors from nearby communities. For example, senior living facilities close to college areas can host cultural events, lectures, on-site courses, and even physical fitness classes.

Permit Seniors to Remain as They Age

Seniors prefer to remain in their own residence for as long as it is feasible. Now that people are living longer, healthier, and more active lifestyles well beyond 65, there’s an ambiguous phase that may last for a number of years during which seniors live semi-independently. The percentage of units exclusive to assisted living will decline as assistance is offered with ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) in independent living facilities.

To accommodate the trend towards “aging in place,” living quarters are being constructed with bigger bathrooms to grant attendants more spacious facilities to assist residents with their ADLs. For example, windows must be uncomplicated for arthritis sufferers to maneuver. A strategy that anticipates and provides for these and other needs will be beneficial for any prospective investors in planned senior housing communities. If the current bathroom sizes are not adequate enough and can’t be expanded, it may not be appropriate for modern senior living regardless of the price/square foot.

Have a More Positive Attitude towards Senior Living

There is significant societal stigma attached to the notion of traditional senior housing. This image sticks in the mind of many when they think about senior living, especially assisted living. For some seniors, the thought of having to share valuable personal space with unfamiliar people at a vulnerable time in their lives is a genuine fear. As with nursing homes, today’s assisting living units supply residents with ADLs such as preparing meals, dressing, and bathing. But they are fundamentally different from nursing homes since they offer more comfort, cohesion, and privacy.

Décor plays a large part in improving common misconceptions of the modern senior living community. Conveying a more congenial ambiance through more vibrant design can make a sizeable difference to prospective residents. In addition, residents must feel that the space has been designed to meet the demands of an active, outward-thinking and intellectual population. For example, a public area on a floor near to residential units can be cross-functionally utilized for yoga classes, performing arts, or continuing education.

Offer Exclusive or Distinctive Amenities

Property managers would be wise not to underestimate the cutthroat nature of the senior housing market. Attracting residents to new or refurbished assisted or independent senior living units is difficult. Standard occupancy rates in senior living facilities have been hovering around 90% to 93% during the last several years, but property managers would prefer to see those percentages increase. The more successful a senior living development is, the probability of attracting competitors increases, which is why the inclusion of exclusive and distinct amenities should be a priority. In these instances, adding multi-use indoor and outdoor living spaces is key to a successful community.

Are Multigenerational Communities the Answer?

Though the senior-housing niche is growing, an additional choice is quickly budding: multigenerational communities. These types of communities serve a conglomeration of people from younger generations to Baby Boomers. They incorporate several buildings with one specifically designated for seniors. A meeting area with recreation rooms, a dining area, trails, a pool, and a sitting area permit residents to mix together.

Read more on Resident Management
Rand Owens

Rand Owens works for Happy Inspector in San Francisco.

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