The consideration of a new development raises a lot of questions. How successful will a proposed property be in its initial lease-up period and will it be able to capture some of the existing demand as well as a portion of the current and projected growth? What is the optimal combination of care types? How about the mix of unit prices and floor plans; how many one- or two-bedroom units should be planned?
Increasingly, operators of seniors housing and care properties are reporting labor shortages in all occupations across their operating platforms, ranging from care managers to executive directors. More broadly, U.S. employers in April advertised the most job openings in 16 years, yet hiring fell and fewer people quit work. Indeed, job openings rose 4.5% in April to more than 6 million, the most since December 2000, while hiring fell 4.8% to just over 5 million. Moreover, with the national unemployment rate falling to a 10-year low of 4.3% in May 2017, the challenge of recruiting and retaining employees is expected to only grow.
Investment returns for seniors housing historically have outpaced the overall NCREIF (National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries) Property Index (NPI), a property-level index that tracks investment return performance for commercial real estate. But while seniors housing returns outperformed the NPI in the first quarter of 2017, the total annual return for this sector has been slowly trending down since mid-2014.
Its Local, local, local. Seniors housing market fundamentals are not the same for all markets as local development and demand situations shape conditions. In the first quarter of 2017, pronounced differences in occupancy rates could be seen by both property type and geography. By property type at the national level, there was a 370 basis point difference between majority assisted living and majority independent living occupancy rates (87.2% versus 90.9%)—the largest differential in the two data series since NIC began collecting the data in 2005. By geography, the differences were even wider. For assisted living, occupancy rates ranged from nearly 93% in San Jose to less than 72% in San Antonio. For independent living, the gap between best and worst market was narrower, with Houston ranking lowest at 83% and San Jose maintaining its rank as strongest with a 96% occupancy rate in the first quarter. The balance of this blog post will look at these differences in more depth.