- change ups
Area retirement communities nearing full occupancy
Being on a waiting list has its advantages, however, allowing time for planning a move.
When looking into retirement communities, most people likely are looking at the last move they’ll ever make.
Because of this, it’s hard to put a number on the average length of stay for a resident, according to several senior home community officials.
The Business Journal found that while downtown apartments have an average tenant stay of about two years, retirement community stays are likely to be considerably longer, according to Chad Tuttle, CEO of Sunset Retirement Communities & Services.
“In independent living, our average stay is seven years,” Tuttle said. “The difference is, in downtown living it is frequently a stepping stone to something else, or more temporary in nature. Many of our folks intend for this to be their last move, which is why they prefer communities where there is a continuum of care.
“While the average stay is seven years, we have had many live here 20-plus years.”
Despite the longer stays, it’s unlikely that a retirement community is ever 100 percent full, Tuttle said. Nationally, retirement community census numbers run about 90 percent occupancy, which Tuttle would consider to be “full.”
Still, some of West Michigan’s many retirement communities see their occupancy numbers hover near 100 percent.
“It’s next to impossible to hit 100 percent as there is always someone in the process of moving in or out,” Tuttle said, noting that despite not having 100 percent occupancy, Sunset does have a waiting list.
“Consumers who see a census north of 90 percent should consider that a ‘full’ community,” he said.
Despite having waiting lists, senior communities can’t just cram in more residents, as health code regulations and building licenses dictate how many residents can safely live in a room and a building. Many communities don’t have more than two or four residents in skilled nursing rooms, for example.
In independent living apartments, it’s mostly left to residents’ discretion; those who have roommates usually are married couples or, occasionally, siblings.
Most retirement communities see having a full property with a waiting list as a positive, because it assures the facility is making money.
Bayberry Farms Village Manager Shake Broukian said full occupancy and a waiting list means the community can take better care of residents and provide them with better activities.
“You’d be surprised at how just one or two vacancies really affect a property,” Broukian said.
Broukian said she attempted to pitch an expansion, but it didn’t go through. The retirement community has turned its guest suites into efficiency suites, so if a waiting list member sells their home or needs to move into the community more quickly for whatever reason, they will have a roof over their head.
Unlike downtown apartments where a person may need to move in right away as their old lease is ending, a resident who is planning to move to a senior community can use the waiting list to their advantage.
“The moves rarely happen immediately,” Tuttle said. “Usually there are weeks or months of planning on the resident’s part.”
Large or small, a community’s occupancy rate ultimately may hinge on the quality of care provided to its residents, Broukian said.
“I’ve seen places that have only six to 10 units and (residents) are not taken care of,” Broukian said. “I don’t think size matters: You either care about the residents and property you’re working for or you don’t, and it shows.”