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“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”: Revitalizing Your Senior Living Community–A Step-by-Step Guide

Words "TIME FOR CHANGE" written in the sand close to the waters edge on a beach.
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As Heraclitus noted, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Revitalizing your community’s environment, keeping ahead of trends and making sure you communicate improvements to your client base will provide benefits for your market competitiveness, residents and staff. But what is the process you should undertake to make this revitalization a success?  


Market Competitiveness
With a burgeoning senior age demographic in the US as well as worldwide, it would seem that any senior living community would not have incentive to revitalize their campus environment. The demand for these communities would seemingly outstrip the supply, thus their environmental conditions may not have an impact on capacity levels. In the end, we all know this is a false assumption, and we know that every senior living community must be at the top of their “game” in order to remain competitive. 

Enthusiasm for Living
Market competitiveness is not the only reason, or perhaps not even the main reason, for revitalizing your campus. Maintaining existing residents and keeping their level of enthusiasm for living on your campus is certainly a forceful reason for undertaking this process. A bland, out-of-date environment can often be the impetus for resident choice to move elsewhere. Even in our own homes, we often change wall color, purchase new furniture and remodel kitchens to keep things fresh and even add property value. It is simply a matter of evolving tastes, trends and desire for change that fuels the need for environmental modification. 

Retaining your Workforce
Staff retention is also an excellent reason for revitalization of the built environment of a campus. With a universally shrinking staff pool combined with increasing demand for staff, any opportunity to retain and attract a quality workforce should be examined. The revitalization process should seriously consider how it would affect staffing and operational efficiencies. Providing a comfortable, safe and efficient workplace can not only serve to retain your staff, but can be an attractive recruitment tool for new staff.    


Before a revitalization project is undertaken, there needs to be a careful and thoughtful planning process that examines the necessary environmental modifications and addresses the scheduling, financial and marketing aspects of the project. Retaining experienced designers and consultants is critical to an honest portrayal of this process as well as understanding the ramifications to the campus by undertaking it.

Revitalizing your community requires an experienced collaborative team. There are pit-falls all along the landscape of a revitalization project and retaining the services of team members who have navigated those pit-falls before will not only expedite the project but provide a value that is not achievable with un-experienced professionals. To select that design, marketing and financial team, ask your colleagues who have gone through the process for recommendations. Then call on those professionals and ask the tough questions about their experience, process, and ability to meet the goals you set. Once you have your team in place, be an active participant in the process. It is challenging, but it is also an enjoyable and rewarding process. 

Market Study
If new construction is being considered, a good planning process will begin with a well-qualified market study. This study will provide valuable information on the target market demographics indicating the likelihood of marketing success. It should also indicate the economic demographics of the target market, thus providing a milestone for designing the project to that target. Without a good market study, planning for a new product or service is simply a “gut reaction” to the capability of market support for the project. While there is nothing wrong with this “gut reaction,” it is not a competent resource on which to rely, and most lending institutions would hesitate to provide the funding for projects that do not have good market research.

Planning Process
Good planning for a revitalization project, especially one that includes a new environmental component, will also incorporate the preparation of a building space and functional programs for those new spaces. It will also include both construction and “soft” costs involved in completion of this work. These costs can be utilized by the financial consultant to prepare a financial proforma that includes anticipated operational costs and “fill-up” timing to stabilization. It is critical to be as accurate as possible in the preparation of these tools to provide a viable picture of the anticipated sources and uses of funds as well as the operational revenues and expenses.

The planning process, regardless of whether it is a new environment adding product or service, or a simple environmental “update,” needs to examine the phasing of the work. Construction, even minor construction, can be very disruptive to residents and operations. Minimizing that disruption while simultaneously maintaining a revenue stream can be the difference between a financially sustainable period of operations or a significant dip in bottom line dollars.        

Working through this front-end planning process is a relatively inexpensive way to model the project and its financial and marketing ramifications. Assuming the results point to a viable project with secured and established funding, the actual implementation can follow this format:

  • Design and construction documents need to be completed and approved and a constructor–either a general contractor or a construction manager–needs to be selected;
  • Firm pricing, often a guaranteed maximum price, for the work would be received from the constructor;
  • One step prior to actually putting construction workers on the site is a reconciliation of the programming documents and financial documents to assure the project is still viable within a framework of changing financial, market or building climates;
  • And of course, the permitting or entitlement process needs to be undertaken, usually by the constructor for building permits and the sponsor for operational licensing. 

Construction + Beyond:
Starting on the construction of a revitalization project is an additional marketing opportunity, a time when interest and enthusiasm by residents, potential residents, staff, family members and the surrounding community can be encouraged and heightened. A revitalization project can be the catalyst for a focused, albeit short-lived, marketing campaign. Whenever there is a construction project, large or small, there is increased interest in that activity from existing and potential residents. If that project is coupled with a new or enhanced product or service offering, the interest is increased. Safely providing a periodic “dusty shoes” walk through of the progress of the work can further heightening interest, increasing the campus waiting list and ultimately the campus residence census. The groundbreaking ceremony is a marvelous opportunity for media coverage and attention from the community. Each stage or completed phase of construction also offers opportunities for media coverage and resident and community celebratory gatherings. And, of course, the project’s full completion is a time for a gala grand-opening.

A successful revitalization must have an experienced team that works well with you to help make smart decisions and follow-through to create environments that will provide benefits to your market competitiveness, residents and staff. Gathering that collaborative and creative team is the first, and perhaps the most important, step. Making well-considered decisions as that team moves through the process will not assure a challenge-free undertaking, but it will assure that undertaking will be beneficial for your campus.

Senior Living Expert Contributor