Moorings Park_Ext Full_Copyright Chris Cooper

Made-to-Order CCRC Units Redefine Senior Living

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are more than just real estate — they’re lifestyle choices. But until recently, the physical apartments haven’t quite reflected residents’ hobbies, interests or preferences on an individual basis, some say. A new model is changing that.

The “lifestyle apartment” model seeks to mirror residents’ lifestyles by basing the design and functionality of the units on residents’ daily activities. During the design process, residents’ assets and income, which define square footage capacity, are assessed, and then they complete a survey, from which a “life activity” plan is generated. This plan is similar to a general floor plan, and it can be tweaked to fit exactly what the resident wants and needs.

For example, survey questions for cooking preferences might ask, “How often do you cook?” “Do you collect wine?” or “Do you need to cook for the holidays?”

If a resident answers that she cooks often, collects wine and cooks for the holidays, she might want a gourmet kitchen and a larger entertainment space, but be willing to sacrifice a larger master bedroom for those features. Using the lifestyle model, these features would be built into the apartment based on her preferences.

“If we ask the question ‘What’s your lifestyle?’ it starts to really open up a lot of doors,” says Perkins Eastman Principal and Director Dan Cinelli. “The whole idea was to understand: Why do we have a one-bedroom apartment that looks the same [in every unit] and the only thing people can make choices on is the countertop color and the color of their cabinets?”

“Mass Customization” Gives CCRC Operators a Leg Up

Perkins Eastman introduced the lifestyle apartment model in2010 and Cinelli worked with Naples, Florida-based Moorings Park to implement it. Moorings Park, rated A+ by Standard & Poor’s, is a nonprofit CCRC that has 74 assisted living units, 106 skilled nursing units and 384 total independent living units, including 29 lifestyle apartments.

“The overwhelming lesson, which I think we all know intuitively, for us was that the next generation that’s going to be moving into retirement communities is the baby boomers and choice and flexibility and customization — we like to call it ‘mass customization’ — [are key],” says Moorings Park CEO Dan Lavender. “More and more people who are moving into these communities want to customize their own experience, and that includes customizing the unit that they live in.”

The CCRC built three buildings — the O, P and Q buildings, collectively known as “Waterside Residences” — to accommodate its lifestyle apartments, which all opened for occupancy by early 2013 and are currently 100% occupied. The cost for the project expansion, which included the Waterside Residences, a 37,000-square-foot Center for Healthy Living, a parking garage and a restaurant, totaled about $63 million.

Residents began pre-leasing the apartments in early 2010 and were consulted later that year by architects to design their spaces.

The buildings were framed — with plumbing, load-bearing walls and columns in place — but beyond that, during the design and development phase with the early contractors, Moorings Park sat down with residents to determine where the walls were going to be.

“We would have the plumbing runs, columns and general outlines, and then there would be a series of meetings with the residents to customize it,” Lavender says. “Eventually there would be a drawing of the unit that would be signed off. Once they signed off on it, the drawings were finalized and we moved forward.”

After the drawings were finalized, there was a 12- to 14-month construction process to complete the units.

No residents have moved out since the opening of the buildings, but when they do, those units will be gutted and flipped to meet the preferences of the next resident, Lavender says.

Long-term Flexibility Outweighs Short-term Costs

Though to some it may seem counterintuitive to regularly rebuild units when residents vacate, Lavender says this model is a CCRC’s best bet to remain up-to-date and flexible in the coming years.

“By designing a building this way, you’re extending the life of the building. You’re thinking ahead of time about where the columns are going to be and you’re trying to minimize them to give them this flexibility,” he says. “The idea that your units will be outdated in the future [isn’t a problem], because you’ve thought of this ahead of time. To recustomize in the future will be much easier because you’ve given yourself flexibility and have extended the life of the building.”

Moorings Park’s lifestyle apartments average 2,800 square feet with an average entrance fee just north of $1 million, but the sizes and fees vary significantly. They range from roughly 1,700 square feet to 5,500 square feet, with entrance fees increasing with square footage from $800,000 to more than $2 million.

“Our customers saw value in this kind of a customization. They really felt like the last home they were getting was theirs, that they’re not moving into an institution,” Lavender says. “If a customer is seeing value in it, they are willing to pay a little bit more. The value perception was far greater than the incremental cost of doing it in this manner.”

Aside from the model’s flexibility, the apartments also offset costs in another way: average age of residents.

“We’re getting much younger people in to move into these kinds of communities,” Cinelli says.

Cinelli says the average move-in age of Moorings Park lifestyle apartment residents is 76, six years younger than the industry average of 82.

But the average age is even younger at a new project in the CCRC’s development pipeline.

Expansion of Lifestyle Apartments at Moorings Park

Moorings Park is in the process of another expansion, creating a satellite independent living facility, called Moorings Park at Grey Oaks, that will house 96 lifestyle apartment units 2 miles away from the CCRC’s main campus.

The units will be similar to those at the main campus, based on the lifestyle apartment concept. Instead of a range of unit sizes, though, only two sizes will be offered: one just less than 3,000 square feet and another just more than 3,000 square feet. Residents will also have slightly less design flexibility at the satellite facility, Lavender says.

“We probably gave a little too much flexibility,” Lavender says of the Waterside Residences. “We’re not allowing them to move walls this time, but there is a tremendous amount of customization going into these units.”

So far, 93 of the 96 units have been pre-sold, and the average age of these residents is even lower, at 73. The community will open for occupancy in three phases of 32 units; the first will come around December 2015, the second will occur in late-first quarter 2016 and the final phase will take place in third quarter 2016.

At the new facility, residents will also become social members of the Grey Oaks Country Club. A fourth phase in the development will add an assisted living facility on the site.

In addition, Moorings Park has been applying concepts of the lifestyle apartment model to its existing apartments, some of which were built in the 1980s.

Although no lifestyle units in the Waterside Residences have been flipped for incoming residents, it takes between 75 and 90 days to refurbish and apply the lifestyle model concept to the units in these older buildings.

“We’re doing something very similar on the resales where we’re stripping units down to the columns, redoing the kitchens and giving flexibility on the resale,” Lavender says. “When we take the 1980 building, they’re post-tensioned floors, the columns are set and we’ve determined what is the minimum amount of column you can leave and not do structural [damage]. There are some walls that have to stay, but we’ve gotten very good at identifying everything that can be stripped away.”

Moorings Park has taken measures to ensure that construction does not disturb or interrupt existing residents — letting them know in advance which days would be the noisiest days (tile removal and wall removal), and using sound-dampening techniques when practical.

Lifestyle Apartment Model Spreads to Other CCRCs

Westminster Ingleside Retirement Communities, the parent organization of three CCRCs in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, is in discussions of implementing lifestyle apartments at its communities.

Before rolling out any plans or expansions, the organization is first conducting market research to determine what the preferences are, says Monique Eliezer, marketing strategist at Westminster Ingleside Retirement Communities.

Although results from the research aren’t yet available, Eliezer says the organization sees the advantages of lifestyle apartments.

“In order to fit the population of the next generation, there is a need to be flexible in the cost and to be flexible in fitting their personal needs,” she says. “[That means] giving the prospect more choices not just in the activities, but also in how they want to live and in what kind of housing.”

Westminster at Lake Ridge in Virginia, Ingleside at Rock Creek in D.C. and Ingleside at King Farm in Maryland all boast average occupancies of 100% sold/reserved and 98% occupied, with a wait list for each community. If the organization decides to implement the lifestyle apartment model, it would likely build new facilities to accommodate them, Eliezer says, although no plans have been made to do so.

But for Moorings Park, there’s no question about the benefits of the model.

“I would not design anymore buildings without this level of flexibility,” Lavender says. “Even if you weren’t going to do lifestyle units, you have to be thinking about the future. We may know more 15 years from now — the tastes may change — and your building needs to be adaptable, especially with the generation coming really wanting more choices and control.

Written by Emily Study