Future Perfect Living Blog

>> Innovation and Affordability in Senior Housing

Housing and community products for the older adult customer have changed very little over the last 40 years. Many multi-family and mixed-use developers entering this large and growing market have taken their lead from traditional senior living operators resulting in more iteration than innovation. Partnering with the senior living industry in the development of new housing products for today’s older adults is akin to partnering with IBM for a new mobile tech platform.

The traditional senior living model is unaffordable to most and a questionable value proposition to many others. The industry understands this and would like to find a way to attract the largest segment of their market, middle income older adults. A significant barrier in the quest for more affordability is the current operation model.  Senior living communities typically provide a full range of services including meals, activities, transportation, and supportive care.  This requires a large staff and numerous amenity spaces which together result in the high monthly fees. While a la carte services are now being explored, and are more in line with today’s market preferences, this will require a revamping of operational systems to bring about lower monthly fees.

Those interested in developing more affordable housing products for the older adult customer may want to take the lead from Co-living companies who are innovating with multi-family housing linked to technology and creating affordable community housing options for their millennial cohort. Could a housing and community product designed for millennials be adapted for active older adults? There are actually many similarities between millennial and boomer lifestyle preferences, particularly in the active older adult (55 to 75) segment of the market. 


>> Senior Living in Transition: What's Next?

 In all industries, change in the market over time is inevitable. Thriving as change occurs requires having a clear vision of the future and taking action to reposition, reimagine or redesign products and services to meet new market demands.

Senior living is an industry that has been experiencing significant changes over the last decade resulting from shifting demographics, new technology and the ACA’s transformation of the health care delivery system. The senior living market, which has been evolving during this time, has now reached a tipping point and is poised for disruption.

Disruption often comes from outside an industry; from those who see opportunity in a changing market and are not wedded to the status quo. They will initiate a product development process that includes market research to test assumptions, clarify customer values, identify unmet needs and determine the new features and benefits that will generate demand.


>> Lifestyle Trends for a New Generation of Older Adults

A new generation of older adults has arrived and started to turn previous images of aging into stereotypes from a bygone era.  Gloria Steinem (78), Jane Fonda (75) Paul McCartney (69) and Mick Jagger (68) are all vibrant, engaged and pretty hip folks. They are also members of the “Silent Generation” that started a cultural revolution later embraced and made mainstream by the larger Baby Boom generation.  Now that both these groups have entered older adulthood we are poised for another cultural revolution.  Once again they are bringing new attitudes, interests, values and expectations to the lifestyle they aspire to in the next stage of their lives; a stage that is now likely to last some 25 to 30 years. This time their slogan might be, “don’t trust anyone under 50”.

Here are some emerging lifestyle trends that provide clues to the environments and services that will attract this new generation of older adults as well as future generations to come.

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>> Aging in this Place?

I must say that I was excited to see the results of the recent The Hartford/MIT AgeLab survey on Boomers’ future housing preferences.   According to the results released in June, 50% of adults 45 – 65 have expressed an interest in moving from their current homes for the next stage of their lives.  This is a significant change from the AARP survey results released just last year that found only 25% considering a move from their current home.  Why is this exciting? It’s not that moving out of ones home is necessarily the optimum choice for everyone as they age. What’s exciting is that a larger number of older adults have begun to think more realistically about whether or not their current home will meet their future needs and desires. It seems that Boomers may be slowly moving out of their initial stage of denial regarding the housing related changes that will be required to have an active, socially engaged and financially secure old age.  According to this survey they are thinking about their future housing needs but still don’t have a plan in place as to how this transition will actually unfold.  

 For the Boomers’ parents, “aging in place” often meant living in their current home as long as possible.  By the time they reached 80+ the family home was often the only option available outside of traditional independent and assisted living communities.  Perhaps the Boomers are taking a lesson from their parents and the fact that they will likely experience even greater longevity.  Hopefully they are learning that “aging in place” is really about living in a home and community that will support a positive aging experience for the next stage of their lives.  That may be their current home or maybe not, but the sooner they figure it out the better.

One of the keys to a successful aging in place experience is to be proactive and ask: “Can I age well in this place”?  In asking that question many factors should be considered.  These include lifestyle preferences, relationships, health status, work and financial circumstances, current home design and location. It’s not surprising that few Boomers have taken the steps to plan for this next stage of life.  After all, it’s challenging to think about life transitions and aging in particular.  It gets even more complicated when planning involves reconciling differences between couples.  In my experience this can be one of the most significant stumbling blocks of all.   Recognizing these challenges, The Hartford/MIT AgeLab partnership has put together an excellent Guide to support the planning process. It’s sure to be a useful tool for many as they begin to consider how aging friendly their current living environment really is. 


>> 55+ Housing Trends: Doing the Math

I attended the PCBC (Pacific Coast Building Conference)  last week which is a conference sponsored by the California Building Industry Association.  The conference included a one day 50+ Housing Forum which is right up my alley. 

 The keynote speaker, Joseph Coughlin, didn’t disappoint.  He’s the Director of the MIT AgeLab which applies innovative ideas and technologies to products and services that will positively impact the aging experience. His presentation titled, “Aging Baby Boomers, Business and Future Innovations in Housing” was great.  I was particular struck by the concept he referred to as “Smart Income”.  Evidently being smart about how you spend your money is a new value in the 55+ marketplace.  It’s not that Boomers are cheap; they’re willing to buy a fancy car, luxury vacation or five star dinner.  They definitely want high quality but at a really good price.  

Applying the “Smart Income” concept to the 55+ housing market, it would seem unlikely that Boomers would be willing to pay for something today that they don’t need or want, even if they may need or want it down the road.  That’s just not going to make them feel smart.  Many of today’s senior housing communities have packaged fee structures that provide a predetermined set of services and amenities for a fixed monthly fee. Pre-paid packaged services is something that may need to be revisited if senior housing operators want to attract the next generation of older adults.  In the future, a community’s monthly fees may be measured against “Smart Income” standards.  They’re likely to want access to a wide variety of high quality services, on a pay as you go basis, at a price that can’t be beat on the open market.  Now that is smart.  What do you think?