Have you ever looked at a really nice Class A senior care housing property and wondered why it is getting such bad reviews or stagnant move-ins? Sometimes, an investor will acquire a new senior care property and senior living investment, find out that the care product being delivered is subpar, or problems with the building are resulting in lower revenues and lower net operating income. There are a few simple things that you can do such as cleaning and implementing an activities program to improve your current care delivery and raise value. Since the operating business as well as the real estate (85/15) are the drivers for the total present senior housing asset value in most cases, it is important to constantly improve the care delivery.
Cleanliness is Key
When I was raised in an amazing senior home environment in the 1980’s, one thing that was always talked about from a business perspective was the importance of how the house smells in the morning and throughout the day. A common thread in most underperforming care facilities is the fact that a guest walks in and finds poor cleanliness, a foul or strong urine smell and gets completely turned off from moving their loved one into your care environment. Unlike some of us who may get normalized to some of these regular scents or messes of the business, if it is not something you’re used to daily it will be very off-putting. You may relate this to having a friend with an infant who soils their diaper right next to you. It needs to be taken care of promptly, not only for the well-being of the resident but for the ambience of your facility. Make sure that your care staff promptly respond to soiled clothing, chair pads, or incontinence mishaps of other varieties. You can use products like OdoBan temporarily, or various other commercially available odor-killers, however it is better to not let odors get out of control to begin with.
A couple things that you can do upon taking over or turning around a senior care housing property is start (just like you would in a commercial kitchen) by cleaning the facility from the top down. That means inside cabinets, rooms, flooring, mopping, steam cleaning, cleaning the tile grout, especially kitchens and bathrooms. If it needs paint, paint it. These are the same items that people look at in residential real estate, so they tend to weigh them high in their mind during decision-making here as well. You want your community to be “showtime” ready – as my father Mike would say. When an adult child or potential senior resident tours your facility, it is important that they immediately feel at home. They need to be welcomed with smiling faces and people that are happy to see them. Nothing makes a senior housing environment feel more like home than a clean place to kick your legs up. You may find that people will pay more for a place that is kept in good order and feels comfortable.
Food. Food. Did I mention Food?
What’s for dinner tonight? Hopefully not a terrible ‘dollar-a-plate’ meatloaf recipe. All too often we see the constraints of the food budgets in Senior Care housing. From an accounting perspective it may be looked at as an easy place to cut back on. If you cut your food and service budgets you will quickly find people will not be happy with what they’re being served. Quality and fresh ingredients are key in your food service, cafes, and ‘bistro’ restaurants. Toward the end of our lives one thing that we do very regularly is eat – and let’s just be clear, it better be good. Fix your food problem and value will be added.
On another note, when someone tours your senior housing you want it to feel like home. To take it up a notch from there, you want it to feel better than the home they’re leaving. You will find some of the better senior facilities (many times residential) will have chocolate chip cookies baking, cinnamon rolls, and other easy bakables since that gives a lasting ‘like home’ impression throughout the facility. They will then share these with guests, family members, and especially share them during tours. Geez, now I want a fresh-baked cinnamon roll. Find something that will work well for your community, and try to keep tours during a set time of day.
There is a lot of science today showing the benefits of offering the right diet specifically when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s. That doesn’t mean that we want to feed our seniors a super restrictive diet, but we do want to make sure that they are getting the nutrition they need to live out their final years as healthy and happy as possible. When a resident and their family tour your facility, let them sample the goods. Make sure that your nutrition program meets high standards and you will likely have many move-ins every month. In our homes, we let our seniors have their cake and eat it too.
Staff Advanced Weekly Training
Would you believe that people open a business, make a few hires – and then they absolutely do not train their staff? We see it all the time. Further imagine that people open a healthcare business and do not really train their staff. For people like myself who grew up treating seniors as my own family, it is very difficult to find any reason why you would not want to guide the way that seniors are cared for under your management.
Most companies will simply send an untrained new hire to caregiver school, and give no other formal training outside of the mechanics of basic caregiving. With all the tools available today it is relatively easy to put together a video-based training or LMS (learning management) system with a quiz at the end. Many of us understand the current struggles with the labor market, but it is more important than ever to create an engaging environment for your staff. Sometimes human resource managers get in a funk because of high turnover, and start to skip over some very important parts of onboarding. Please try to go through all the steps and keep retention high.
The clear issue for most facilities is when to find the time to train your staff while the care machine is still running. This can be done by timing your training program around a shift change or during a time when there are little needs in the community. You may even consider virtual live training if it makes it easier for staff to attend. Make sure that your training happens in a setting that is not distracting and implement a method for ‘on the floor’ staff rotations. You can guide your caregivers in some very basic skills in human relations.
Fun & Inexpensive Activities
Since many care properties are dealing with the staffing crisis from 2020 through 2021 it is always tough to think (especially for smaller facilities) about activities. However, we need to keep our seniors happy and in great spirits with positive morale by keeping involved in small groups and sharing projects together. When you are adding value to a senior care property, some low-hanging fruit is to improve the activities programs. There are many quick and easy activities that can be put together in just a couple hours, and with the right planning can be carried out over a few weeks throughout the month. There is a really neat website called the Oriental Trading Company that you can find some crafting kits that are bought by the dozen that are easy for caregivers to do with seniors. One cool tip is to start your activities just after a light meal so that everyone is already up, out and at a table. I know some facilities have separate activities areas or crafting areas, but think about what makes the most sense for the design of your care property and ease to carry out by your care staff.
I did some video marketing and website revamp years ago for a senior care home in Mesa Arizona, and the home had a really beautiful garden in the backyard. I was wowed, and that doesn’t happen much with my ultra-high expectations. They had placed several faux animals throughout the garden that had such a realistic look, such as deer, birds, and bunnies that the seniors could sit out there and simply relax while enjoying nature with very minimal risk. It also reminded me of how in my own grandmother Reva’s care home, that she would place chirping and singing birds to bring joy to the seniors in her care. If you have residents that are needing Memory Care Services sometimes this can also be a great asset for them to enjoy as well. Many of our seniors grew up on ranches and farms and really enjoy doing activities with animals or even faux animals. And by the way, did I mention that a nice new garden paired with some good landscaping around it will add extra value to your care property.
One great thing that I have always liked while doing activities with seniors is that you can end up with a lot of inexpensive yet amazing photos which can become marketing materials that you can post on your social media platforms such as Instagram (and maybe now even Tik-Tok if you’re so inclined). You can create a real sense of community and keep the friends and families of your seniors informed on all of the fun things that are happening around your community. You can also use hashtags that will get other people searching social media to be able to see your care facility and get other exposure as well. Let’s be honest, with all the news media lately – watching some seniors doing fun and beautiful crafts will be very welcomed to most people.
Simple Marketing Upgrades
The consumers of today do their research before they do much else. Many times people will go to Google search, look at the map’s local 3-pack and type in keywords such as ‘Assisted Living Scottsdale’ or ‘Senior Care Housing’. Believe it or not, many care facilities do not even have a current website, or don’t have a phone number visible or even a simple location address linking to directions. They also sometimes do not list their management staff (possibly because they are scared that somebody might actually call them). Please make yourselves available to people through technology and remember this is a care business, so show you care. The saying goes, “the more you make yourself available, the less people will need you.”
Start by looking at your branding guide, the logo, and how people perceive the business before coming to tour. Make sure all of your marketing materials are consistent. In certain markets you may want to evaluate the benefits of sharing your entry-level pricing in your marketing collateral. Sometimes it might be nice to show your levels of care with the inclusions on your website. This earns trust through transparency. There are many WordPress developers that you can source on freelance platforms relatively quickly to revamp your web presence. You can put a good marketing website together for around 3 to $5,000 USD. If you find somebody for a few hundred dollars don’t expect too much, but something is better than nothing when it comes to a web search. If that’s out of your budget, you can always find a website builder and do it yourself.
I’m a firm believer that no one makes a better tour guide than a caregiver or salesperson with care experience and the proper training. Then when it comes to the money portion, it should never be discussed until sitting down at the closing table. If there are any negotiations or concessions, those should be approved only by senior staff or per standard procedure, and please never give the appearance you are haggling. Move-ins want to see some flexibility, but just be creative.
Hopefully you found some good tidbits in this article. I am certain that if you take even three out of five of these and apply it to your currently operating senior housing facility (or one that you acquisition) you will instantly see an uptick in perceived value which can translate quickly to cash in the bank.
About the Author
Brandon M. Jones has a lifetime of senior living and care experience, and grew up in an Arizona residential senior care home where the loving seniors were his inspiration. Brandon is a third-generation senior caregiver, as well as a senior care housing investor and senior advocate. Brandon fights daily for seniors’ interests and well-being, while protecting senior’s financial and housing security in the United States.