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Senior living renovation: An investment—not an expense

February 14, 2012
by Steven Piazza
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Design considerations, whether for a new property, one being refurbished or one undergoing top-to-bottom renovations, are critical to a property’s success. The appearance of the community should get prospective residents and their families through the front door. Once inside, the design and décor should make them want to stay.

Investing in renovation can be a particularly challenging process, with the need to balance the impact of declining local real estate values and changing competitive market factors with the need to present a “fresh face” to current and prospective residents. Understanding the potential for return on the renovation investment should be a critical step in the decision making process.


Unless it’s a new construction project or a complete overhaul of an existing community, most renovations will be based on need. It’s at this point that the owner and manager must begin by assessing their market niche, the financial means of the most likely prospects and the competitive environment—all necessary considerations that help determine the renovation budget.

If renovations are intended to take a senior living facility to the top level of local competition, and if the market exists for such a community, rates can be increased accordingly. However, the goal is to do enough to maximize rates without “over-renovating” the property.

Once a budget has been established, it’s important to seek specialized design assistance. Taking a do-it-yourself approach by buying consumer home furnishings and décor items will not produce the proper aesthetic and functional outcomes. Color, fabric and furnishing choices should reflect the community’s personality, the competitive market niche and local style preferences. Perhaps even more important, the interiors should provide lasting value and appeal to residents.

Calling on consultants with senior living facility experience will help stretch the budget and ensure that the proper senior-friendly design and décor selections are made. Everything matters. An intricate carpet pattern may not be the best choice for a high traffic area. Chairs should be comfortable but still easy to get in and out of. Bathrooms should provide senior-appropriate counter heights. Providing the right combination of independence and social interaction through design allows for the formation of informal resident groupings as well as alone time.


Increasingly, senior living facilities are taking a more upscale hospitality approach to their renovations with design features similar to what might be expected in a hotel. As a result, properties are adding such amenities and features for residents as a post office, country store, ice cream parlor and theater rooms.

In many cases, these amenities are being taken to a new level of professionalism. For example, a theater room is no longer chairs and a movie screen. It is now a room set up to look like a movie theater with comfortable seating, curtains and screen or television along with a concession stand, popcorn machine and refreshments.

Similarly, technology is playing an important role, creating an immediate and positive impression on the part of prospective residents and their families. This includes such elements as a dedicated room with computers that are accessible for all residents and encourage them to stay in touch with family members through email and social media. Many communities have also introduced Nintendo Wii gaming consoles in the living room, just as they would be at home. These systems offer the added benefits of providing exercise opportunities and outlets for competition through the formation of popular Wii bowling tournaments and leagues.


Not all renovation is dramatic. All properties should be evaluated routinely for signs of wear and tear and the need for necessary repairs. Staying ahead of possible problems not only saves time and money, but avoids the negative aspects of a worn out look or the appearance of disrepair—both of which can have a negative impact on retention and new resident marketing efforts. These assessments should include the opinions of staff and residents, who are all great resources for suggestions on changes that need to be made.

The need for renovations is inevitable, and reserve funds should be established for this purpose. Although there is no magic number as to how much a property should save for renovations, a starting point is how much is spent annually on repairs and similar costs.


Planning for renovation is critical to marketing success. After taking care of day to day updates as suggested above, management is ready to reassess its competitive standing and identify whether the community needs to redefine itself through renovations. Once underway, the renovation process can become its own marketing tactic, rather than an impediment to sales.




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