Rapid Expansion Drives Senior
Housing Market

July 9, 2007
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With a host of expansion campaigns, new entries to the market and a sluggish housing environment making potential buyers think twice, the local senior residential community market has rapidly become a buyer's market.

"We're looking at considerable growth in our competitors," said Mark McCulloch, vice president of marketing and development for Porter Hills Retirement Community and Services. "Competition is key in the market right now. Business is doing really well; our projects are coming along. But with all these things popping at once, it's grown into a highly competitive market."

Nearly all of the region's major continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) — those that include a continuum of care from independent living to assisted living and finally skilled nursing — are currently in the midst of, or wrapping up, expansions.

Porter Hills is wrapping up its Cook Valley Estates and Porter Hills Village townhouse projects, in addition to its new 48-unit Station Pointe affordable senior housing community currently under development in Caledonia, a Medicaid-funded, all-inclusive care center for the elderly in Muskegon, and an innovative "greenhouse" social-setting, skilled nursing facility still in the planning stage.

Clark Retirement Community is working with an award-winning Wisconsin designer of retirement communities for a planned renovation of its Franklin and KellerLake campuses. Sunset Association and Holland Home both have new campuses under construction. CovenantVillage of the Great Lakes just brought 84 new units to the market in October. Luther Community is remaking itself as MapleCreek.

New entries into the market this year include Tendercare and Sunrise Senior Living. Other projects underway include the Oak Crest Manors of Jenison and the massive reinvention of MichiganChristianHome into 114-unit CCRC Beacon Hill at Eastgate.

"I was a little concerned about Beacon Hill," McCulloch said. "I wasn't sure if the market could support another CCRC, but in talking to them, their research seems to show it will. Maybe some of these projects are seeding more for the future than for what will fit today."

Brian Mack, director of marketing for Beacon Hill and, a year ago, vice president of marketing for CovenantVillage of the Great Lakes, said that the organization's research showed an opportunity for more senior housing in the West Michigan market, despite evidence that the region is already one of the most competitive in the nation.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons' 2006 report "Profile of Long-Term Care and Independent Living," Michigan ranked second in the nation in 2004 for the number of assisted living and residential care facilities with 4,445. Data for the market related independent living or information specific to West Michigan is not readily available, as the organizations that compile the data, including Ziegler Capital and NIC MAP, do not publish data for West Michigan

"We called those guys, and they suggested that, per capita, we are at least as competitive, if not more, than Los Angeles, Sun City, Ariz., New York — pick your major market," Mack said. "But there is still a lot of opportunity. The senior population in Grand Rapids on average is highly sophisticated, and because they are so well served, can really have their choice."

There is also an assurance that the market will grow rapidly in the coming two decades. The MetLife Mature Market Institute reports that while those age 65 and up today make up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, by 2030 the baby boomer bulge will push that up to 20 percent.

Despite the competitive environment, many of the established communities still boast wait lists.

"It actually somewhat baffles me," said Chad Tuttle, executive director of Sunset Manor & Villages. "The rooms that seem to be the hardest for us to fill are the smallest and least expensive. The largest and most expensive rooms maintain a very strong wait list. Some of them are up to five years for people to get into."

After a false start two years ago, Sunset Association is developing its new 84-unit

Waterford Place
campus in GeorgetownTownship. On the other side of town, Holland Home is in the midst of an expansion of its Breton Woods campus: Breton Ridge in the Woods. Sales at both are strong, with
Waterford Place
still needing to sell a number of units to reach the 70 percent required to begin construction. Holland Home has sold half of the 123 units planned for the first phase currently under construction.

Both organizations reported a common concern: a sluggish housing market.

"That's probably the No. 1 excuse we hear," Tuttle said. "We hear it more from people who have not yet put their homes on the market, so I'm not sure if it's always a well-founded concern. Those that have tried to sell have been successful."

Sylvia Simons, Holland Home COO, has heard similar complaints. "The biggest challenge that we hear from perspective residents is that they are trying to sell their home and it's not moving."

While residents generally own their homes outright before considering a move into a senior community, the prospect of making that step before the home can be sold is still frightening, explained Beacon Hill's Mack. It is not a life-and-death decision, as it would be for someone facing two mortgages, but the sale of the home will be the lynchpin of a resident's future asset picture.

"Today, if someone were going to make a decision, there would definitely be anxiety," Mack said. "This market isn't necessarily a mirror reflection of the real estate market, but we certainly follow behind it."

At Oak Crest Manors, where a three-year, phased expansion project is gearing up for 16 acres at the Jenison campus, president and owner Charles Schipper has not encountered many complaints about the housing market.

"But I think it will be one of the challenges in the marketplace," he said. "Even though we have seen a strong interest in our units, people will still be required to sell their current home to move."

Oak Crest expects to have the first set of six new independent living condominiums at the Jenison campus completed in fall 2008.    

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