By 2020, nearly 56 million Americans will be age 65 or older and many of those older adults will be moving into senior housing and care.
“The population is also physically aging more slowly, so many older adults will be able to stay more active later in life than past generations,” says A Place for Mom’s data scientist Ben Hanowell. “Across the spectrum of care needs, older adults will have a major impact on housing development over the next two decades. As a society, we need to start paying more attention to their behavior and preferences.”
To better understand these preferences, APFM surveyed nearly 1,000 consumers who were looking for private pay independent living, assisted living, or senior apartments during the first quarter of 2017.
For most independent and assisted living customers, provider quality was their top priority. 61% of independent living and 68% of assisted living customers ranked community quality above both affordability and neighborhood.
Senior apartment customers, however ranked affordability as their top priority, with 50% of them ranking it higher than quality and neighborhood.
When asked questions about their community preferences, almost all customers – above 90% for all care types – prefer comfort over elegance. Most also prefer a quiet and serene community over one bustling with activity, with senior apartment, independent living, and assisted living customers preferring quiet and serene 72%, 64%, and 64% of the time, respectively. And finally, most assisted living and independent living customers want a community to support their future care needs.
We asked senior living customers to rank a number of community characteristics. Not surprisingly, cleanliness, friendly staff, affordability and care quality had the highest number of customers rate them as “very important” or “must have”. Amenities like modern décor, activities and wellness features ranked lower, which tells us that communities must get the basics of a clean, affordable and friendly community of quality if they hope to capitalize on additional amenities.
Although neighborhood was ranked as the top priority less often than others, our survey found it is still important to consumers. Survey respondents overwhelmingly stated that a community in a neighborhood with a low crime rate was “very important” or “must have”. This characteristic was followed by a neighborhood that is close to family, and close to hospitals.
Even though it was not a top preference, the walkability of a neighborhood is still surprisingly important to many customers, with 26% of assisted living, 38% of independent living, and 53% of senior apartment customers saying some type of walkability is “very important” or “must have” to them.
As expected, younger senior living customers showed more of a preference for walkable neighborhoods, with over half of customers under 70 reporting walkability as “very important” or “must have” compared to 32% of those over 70 years old.
The popular belief is that only millennials care about walkable neighborhoods, but this study shows walkability is important to many seniors as well. The results point to a trend that developers should be aware of as they design new senior living offerings.
William Pettit, President of R.D. Merrill Co., parent company of Merrill Gardens has long understood the importance of dense areas close to shops, restaurants, and other services. “This survey confirms one of our core development strategies,” says Pettit. “Our residents deserve freedom and flexibility to do everything that they enjoy in life. Walkability and access to good public transportation lets them live life on their terms, which is more fulfilling and fun.”
As senior living construction and competition heat up, consumers will continue to have more choices in where they want to live. Yes, seniors want a quality community they can afford, but many also want to live in interesting and thriving neighborhoods. But what if you don’t already have a strong footprint in walkable neighborhoods? Ben has some thoughts to leave you with:
-Become involved in walkability and transportation planning in your neighborhood. Since walkable neighborhoods promote autonomy among folks who need assisted living, you can help advocate for the well-being of your residents.
-Walkability does not have to mean urban. It is more about the diversity of amenities a neighborhood has available within walking distance. Many suburban areas have walkable centers just like the big cities we think of. Suburban areas with walkability can be an ideal place for senior living communities as most seniors have a preference to live in the suburbs, and they can allow for more affordable living.
For more detail on the results of this survey, please click here.