By: Lonny Blessing, Development Consultant, Spectrum Consultants, Inc.
Consumer needs are constantly changing, and as senior housing and service providers reach out to a younger population to expand their market reach, they are finding a new focus on design and function in living spaces. While smaller efficiency and studio apartments in older buildings are becoming harder to sell, consumers are saying it’s not just about size, but more about the way spaces are laid-out and how they can be used. Providers are often left with the question of what to do with older buildings and apartment designs that are no longer attractive to today’s consumer.
When it comes to design, open floor plans are becoming more desirable. Consumers like bright, open-space kitchens and living rooms. Closed-in, galley kitchens are a thing of the past. One-bedroom buyers are asking for a den, or at minimum, a defined space to be used as an office area where they can use work on a computer, place their printer and have some filing area. And, storage space is always issue. When space for larger closets is not available, closet systems can help maximize storage capability.
Mid-sized residences with a full bathroom plus a half-bath or second bathroom remain popular. Recently, a prospective resident who was considering a one-bedroom apartment with only one bath told me she has 26 grandchildren and she wants them to continue to visit her when she moves to the retirement community. While she is comfortable living in the smaller size apartment, the addition of a half-bath will make hosting guests a much more pleasant experience for everyone.
Finding the right residence mix in older buildings is challenging. Many communities are combining efficiency and studio apartments with other small or mid-sized apartments to make larger-sized homes. However, the original two apartments need to be next to each other in order for this to work, so the timing can be challenging. While renovations can be costly, there are now a wide ranges of design items at reasonable prices that can keep prices down.
When combining apartments is not an option, renovating smaller apartments, even under 700 square feet can provide attractive and functional living spaces. An open kitchen with stainless steel appliances and solid-surface countertops, an attractively renovated bathroom, new flooring and updated lighting, can transform a dingy, older residence into a highly desirable living space. Some communities find that older buyers are sometime willing to live in homes under 500 square feet, but they may be more attracted to a rental contract than entrance fee options.
Communities can also address the residency mix by considering new products. With extra land for an expansion, or older cottages or buildings that are ready to be demolished, “hybrid homes” or “villa-style apartments” can attract a new market niche. These homes come with under-building parking, access to the outdoors and windows on three sides. Ceiling heights can be higher and they can be built in small quantities, ranging from 8-16 in one building. The hybrid homes are not connected to the community hub, so residents feel a heightened sense of independence while still having access to the full continuum of community services.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to the right residence mix. Spectrum enjoys partnering with their clients by looking at the pricing challenge of entrance fees, monthly fees, rental options, etc. in addition to renovation of existing inventory and new building options.