Is Senior Living Even Real Estate?
I laugh sometimes when I talk with different investment groups trying to enter the industry. They rattle off all types of ad-hoc numbers and calculations from complex spreadsheets, and quote different terms and sophisticated verbiage from varying market studies. Now, I’m not saying that accurate investment proforma models and thoughtful market studies are not valuable tools, but I wouldn’t go “all-in” just because the investment model returns look good, or the calculated supply / demand analysis shows unmet beds.
In fact, I sometimes question if senior living is even real estate? Sure, location is key, and building design, construction quality, and offered amenities are all very helpful, but to have a successful senior living community, you need to think far beyond typical commercial real estate metrics. I know some developers new to the industry think, we’ll just add any manager you want at 5%, and we’ll lease it up in 12 months. Voila! Sure, this manager mentality may work for office, industrial, retail, multifamily, and even hospitality, but senior living is in a whole different class.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked on successful senior living projects, and not-so-successful senior living investment projects. The single most important variable came down to one thing – the operator. The operator is so crucial for the overall success of any senior living investment. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve changed operators on senior living investments without ever touching the real estate, and experienced almost immediate and dramatic financial results. This would not be the case for any of the other commercial real estate classes.
One very successful regional operator once told me during a property tour, “Scott, I wouldn’t let the real estate get in the way of a successful community.” And, this is so true! It’s way more than just ‘sticks and bricks,’ but it’s really about the resident care, programming, and overall reputation that drives a community’s success. Strong word-of-mouth referrals are still the best and largest marketing source, and this does not cost one cent in the marketing budget. Overall, investment groups need to think beyond the real estate, and focus on successful operator partnerships that continually improve quality of care, create engaging programming, and cater to the overall resident satisfaction.
Scott McCorvie leverages 20 years of senior living real estate investment, development, and operations experience to help improve a rapidly growing and changing market.