Developing a CCRC: Stepping Stones to Success

Developing a CCRC: Stepping stones to success

A step-by-step approach for saving time and money when developing a CCRC


The “full continuum of care” has to be one of the most common phrases overheard in long-term care circles for the last several years now-and with good reason. Smart LTC providers have figured out that offering clients the option to truly “age in place” makes sense. It’s the old commonsense advice: “Diversify, diversify, diversify.” However, organizations thinking about developing a CCRC or expanding their current operations into a CCRC must bear in mind that this is a complex process. Developing a CCRC requires a high level of expertise, market knowledge, and sophistication. It requires a specialized approach to fi nancing, zoning, project management, and marketing.

It’s not only important to follow the correct “processes,” but it’s also critical to follow them in the right order, to avoid costly errors and succeed in launching the community.

In broadest terms, here are some of the most important steps, in their proper order of execution:

1. Complete a market/feasibility study. Before doing anything, owners or not-for-profit sponsors of projects must evaluate market conditions, consumer demand, demographic trends, and competition, and then prepare realistic financial models to make sure “the numbers work.” Obtaining information from an objective source is critical to making informed decisions.

2. Assemble a professional team. CCRCs typically require a host of lawyers, bankers, contractors, architects, engineers, and other professional vendors who are familiar with the CCRC market. You also might wish to hire a developer/consultant with experience in that market. The question then becomes, do you have the expertise to manage the development, marketing, financing, and construction? A growing number of sponsors and owners are turning o developer/consultants with experience in CCRC marketing to lead them through the process and provide special expertise. Many bankers are now requiring the use of such firms as a condition for financing. Experience, price, and “chemistry” are key factors in choosing the final team.

3. Secure and acquire the right site. If you are developing a new CCRC, finding and securing the right site often takes longer than anticipated. And, as with any business venture, the accessibility, convenience, and prestige of the location can be critical to your CCRC’s success. There is no better key to long-term success than finding a site that meets the three most important real estate attributes: location, location, location.

4. Start the zoning/land use process.
Whether you’re developing a new community or expanding an existing facility on existing property, this daunting process requires the help of experienced professionals. And because positive results can never be guaranteed, it helps to get this effort started early, so that any necessary shifts in design and usage can be incorporated more costeffectively into the final plan.

5. Commence initial architectural drawings. Since land use approval is a major risk hurdle, it’s wise to limit the architects to the schematic drawings and sketches that are required to obtain zoning. The results of this approval process may require rethinking and reworking the original design.

6. Begin marketing. Presales are critical to the CCRC-development process and thus demand that marketing efforts be thought out clearly and started early. The developer/consultant usually manages the marketing process, and hires and trains the marketing team. This process takes time. A multimillion-dollar effort will rest on the shoulders of the individuals hired to “sell” the community. Keep your marketing team focused on generating leads through direct mail, advertising, and public relations, and your sales team focused on sales.

7. Hire a construction manager. It makes sense to bring aboard-early on-a representative of the firm that will construct your community. The knowledge he or she possesses will offer insights into construction costs, system selection, and constructability and can head off problems before they arise. In successful projects, the construction manager works hand in hand with the entire project team throughout the design process.

8. Set prices. Pricing will immediately dictate (and potentially exclude) the types of clients/residents a CCRC will attract. Price points are critical to the marketing effort; prices must match the market. Making a wrong decision in this area can effectively preclude some units from being good sellers. Also, prices must be set at a level that supports financial feasibility. Balancing prices the market will accept with financial feasibility is a delicate task. If prices are set too high, marketing will take longer and cost more. In the extreme, the project could fail. Prices set too low weaken the fi nancial model. An outside developer/consultant with deep expertise in CCRC marketing may be particularly helpful in offering advice on how to proceed in this area.

9. Begin presales. Before construction begins, most investors require a 70% level of advance sales of the community’s apartments and cottages. Of course, initial presales can be difficult to achieve, given changing market conditions. As an owner or sponsor, it is important to realize that you only get one chance to create your new identity within a market. Every marketing effort following this first impression will be affected by your initial message. For not-for-profit sponsors, the reputation of your name is often a deciding factor for many buyers, and the same is true for owners of existing for-profit facilities. Determine how your existing brand is viewed before you start a new development. If your brand is unknown, the marketing program will have to create an identity.

10. Complete detailed architectural plans. Do this only after zoning and land use approvals have been obtained and enough sales have been made to provide confidence that presale targets will be achieved. Delaying this step until this point can defer millions of dollars in fees until land use and marketing risks have been overcome.

11. Get your financing team started. With your project’s momentum going, now is the time to secure financing. An experienced developer/consultant can work effectively and efficiently with bankers and lawyers to secure the most favorable financing terms. An arm of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA), the AAHSA Development Corporation, can also assist owners to obtain financing. Its primary mission is to help AAHSA members obtain affordable capital.

12. Begin construction/continue sales. With all the preliminary steps finally completed, construction of the community can finally begin. This event in itself can boost sales, marketing, and promotional activities by making the project more “real.”

13. Open the CCRC. The time from the initial studies through to the completed community often can take up to four years. But there’s no greater satisfaction than finally opening a community and seeing residents move in, bringing life to it and making it their new home. Marketing efforts, such as a grand opening event with the community’s new residents, potential residents, employees, local government leaders, and those involved in the community’s development, are a great way to create a new level of excitement about the completed community.

While greetings and speeches are integral to a grand opening, the real excitement is generated by the tour of the community, including tours of fully decorated residences and the opportunity to sample hors d’oeuvres and desserts, to experience the culinary expertise of the chef. It is a gratifying experience for all involved.

In summary, to succeed at any endeavor as complex as developing a CCRC requires a well-thought-out plan. Following the steps provided in this article, in the order in which they are presented, will help owners and nonprofit sponsors avoid costly mistakes and will save time in the overall development process.

Douglas Powell is a member of Retirement Living Services, LLC (RLS), based in Hartford, Conn. RLS is a professional services organization focused on the retirement housing market. It helps its clients sponsor, own, and operate market-rate senior housing communities by providing them with planning, development, regulatory, marketing, financial consulting, construction supervision, and management services. For more information, phone (860) 525-6688 or e-mail To comment on this article, please e-mail For reprints, call (866) 377-6454.

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