Hey Senior Living Pros: Boomers Don’t Want Your Old, Tired Communities

Sara Gerber, Ph.D. (author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers) reminds everyone that Seniors can and want to continue partying.

Eccentric senior man with cocktail
Partying needed at any age GETTY

The Senior living industry needs to wake up and understand that Baby Boomers just don’t want what their parents and grandparents were offered. No matter how fancy the furniture, how many lakes and golf courses they install on the property, and how large the gym and swimming pool are, baby boomers want an entirely different experience. 

Right now, the large senior living companies (Brookdale, Holiday, Sunrise, Atria, and many others) are at a turning point.  Statistics reveal some of the lowest occupancy rates in 50 years. Senior living developers and operators are trying to figure out how to best survive and recover from the pandemic. This could be the incentive they need to pay attention to what’s working, listen to their future residents, and act boldly. 

Recently, the media publishing website, Senior Living Foresight, sponsored a conference on ‘life enrichment’ for seniors. The focus was on innovative ways to provide enticing activities for residents of traditional senior living communities. There were sessions on strength training, spa experiences, spiritual connections, and enhanced physical activities. These are good first steps in fulfilling the desire boomers have for a healthy and meaningful life as older adults, but the industry has to go further in is efforts to meet the needs and desires of the baby boom generation. 

If we include “Active Adult” projects in the definition of senior living (and I think we should) the best current example of a developer who was bold, recognized a market and went after it is Minto Communities.  They developed “Latitude Margaritaville” in partnership with Margaritaville Holdings. The name refers to entertainer Jimmy Buffett’s iconic song, “Margaritaville.” I defy you to find a Boomer who doesn’t know at least some of the popular lyrics: 

Nibblin’ on sponge cake

Watchin’ the sun bake…

There’s booze in the blender

And soon it will render

That frozen concoction that helps me hang on…  

Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville

Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt…

The reason we should include the Active Adult strata of the senior living spectrum is because once someone has taken that difficult first step of moving out of their long-time family home, they have loosened the tethers to “place” and have ventured into a new territory we might call intentional living. In other words, at the point of moving away from attachment to the stuff of life and toward a wayof life. 

It may not seem fair to compare an active adult community, with its emphasis on lifestyle and fun, with an independent living or continuing care retirement community (CCRC), which emphasizes care, security, activities, and, in the case of CCRCs, assisted living when necessary – but maybe we should. If we tossed a health care center and a skilled nursing facility onto the grounds of a Latitude community, would fewer people buy or rent homes there?  I don’t think so. 

Why doesn’t conventional senior living hold the allure that Latitude Margaritaville does? It’s really pretty simple. Latitude communities offer boomers a specific lifestyle. Granted, it’s not for everyone. Certainly not all boomers want their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s to be lazy and sun-soaked, but prior to the pandemic, Latitude communities were selling out as fast as they were being built. They were ranked as the nation’s most popular active adult community of 2018 by 55Places.com and 2019’s Best 55+ Community of the Year by the national Association of Home builders. Today 350,000 prospective buyers are Paradise Club members and receive regular updates on the three existing Latitude Margaritaville communities in Panama City, FL, Daytona Beach, FL, and Hilton Head, SC. 

Dedicated senior woman joining local eco initiative
Older woman taking care of the environment and cleaning litter in the local park GETTY

Putting the boozy, sun-soaked idea aside, what else might the senior living industry build? How about communities for older musicians and music lovers? What about communities for college emeriti and other retired educators? How about communities for aging writers and journalists? How about a community for lifelong athletes? What about a community for those who spent their lives in medicine or science or those who want to make and show their art? What about a community of builders and woodworkers?

Once the focus is set, it becomes easier to imagine appropriate locations and enticing amenities that create unique selling propositions for each kind of community. Do you think an onsite orchestra might entice a music lover? What about the opportunity to build a world-class library or tutoring center? Locating senior communities adjacent to college campuses remains popular because the allure of being close to all the cultural activities that colleges and universities have to offer is quite high. 

Volunteers tutoring students in classroom
older man helping a student GETTY

The one example we can look at for this sort of affinity community is the MPTF senior community in Woodland Hills, CA. MPTF stands for Motion Picture & Television Fund. The organization will celebrate their 100thbirthday this year, and the residential community is a significant piece of the services they provide to seniors. They offer all levels of care, from independent living to skilled nursing and dementia support to eligible members of the entertainment community on the basis of financial and medical need. All MPTF services are funded through donations and industry-related fund-raising events.   

People are most comfortable living among members of their tribe. When prospects tour a community, they want to see more than an attractive dining room, a movie theater, and available units. They want to see “PLUs” (people like us) doing things they like to do and going places they like to go. The need to be around PLUs is an important part of our psyche. No one wants to live among people with whom they have nothing in common. That’s why communities of people with similar interests and backgrounds will hold greater allure than fancy amenities and may finally make the senior living continuum palatable to a much greater swath of boomers. 

The answer to the ubiquitous tour question “where are all the residents today?” should not be “it’s not meal time so they are in their rooms,” it should be a version of “some are volunteering at a child care center nearby, some are on a beach trip, and quite a few others are at a matinee of the local theater production; you’ll see others in the gym, workshops, and media rooms; a few are at the nearby college, teaching or auditing classes; and some are out riding their bikes.”

Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers by Sara Gerber

Essential retirement Planning for Solo Agers

A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adult

1 Best Seller in Aging, Gerontology, and Volunteer Work.

Wall Street Journal Best Books of 2018 on Aging Well ─ Over Fifty, Retiring and Childless?

Are you among the fifteen million Americans over fifty and childless? Solo aging gracefully and a happy retirement can be yours!

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