Memory Care is the newest product type in senior living, and due to its specialized care and higher potential yield, it quickly grabbed the attention of many senior living investors. And, with the inflated rent per square foot, stand-alone memory care development quickly began booming across the United States. However, upon talking to various developers, investors, and lenders, I quickly realized there was a lot of misconception about the risks and operational volatility associated to stand-alone memory care. So, in this two-part series, I’ll summarize the history of memory care, discuss some of the benefits and amenities, and analyze some of the potential risks and volatility concerns inherent in this type of product.
The memory care product was born in the mid-to-late 1990s, as the second generation of assisted living product was quickly booming across the United States. Owners, operators, and families quickly realized that the resident’s care was beyond the scope of traditional assisted living (primarily due a residents unsafe wandering), but did not want to move their family member into a secured wing of an older skilled nursing facility. Therefore, the memory care product was born. Assisted living communities began ‘securing’ one of their wings as a ‘dementia unit’ and added specialized nursing staff to help with the increased care. These units had a separate pricing model, as they required a different level of care.
Securing against resident wandering was a necessary first step, but communities quickly realized that other amenities and programming could be added to enhance the overall quality of life and attract new residents. To help keep the unit pricing down, the majority of the offered memory care units were semi-private or companion suites and were located within a secured first floor wing of an assisted living community. Other memory care amenities were quickly added including a central lounge, activity center, serving kitchen, specialized dining room, separate nurses’ station, and enclosed courtyard / walking path. Specialized staffing and programming was focused on cognition improvement, and ‘memory stations’ (vintage photographs, clothing, buttons, tools, etc.) were added around the secured unit to help maintain and improve memory function.
With the increased knowledge of the new memory care product, families quickly began moving residents into these secured units, and memory care occupancy increased across the United States. With the greater number of semi-private units, developers quickly realized a full memory care unit (two semi-private beds combined), could receive $9,000 – $12,000 in rent versus the traditional assisted living of $3,000 – $6,000. Additionally, the net income per constructed square foot was much higher due to the minimal amount of common area. Although nursing care and operating expenses are higher in the memory care units, the potential yield on construction cost was extremely attractive to many developers. Thus, the creation of the stand-alone memory care community was born. The stand-alone memory care community began massive development across the United States in the mid-2000’s. The design could be standardized and generally consisted of 40-60 beds (primarily semi-private units) around a central courtyard. The same design could be replicated in many markets — saving the developer in timely and expensive architecture and design costs.
Although the potential yield is much higher than other senior living product types, is stand-alone memory care a good investment? What are some of the benefits, along with some of the risks in underwriting and investing in stand-alone memory care? Do the current cap rates reflect this risk? Is there anything that an owner/operator can do to help mitigate the risks? In my next segment, I’ll answer these questions, along with some others, as I dive deeper in things to consider before investing in stand-alone memory care.
Scott McCorvie leverages 20 years of senior living real estate investment, development, and operations experience to improve a rapidly growing and changing market.