What if . . . this is all wrong thinking?

By Steve Moran

Each generation of new senior living gets bigger and fancier with more amenities and more square footage, which, in turn, means:

  • Higher development costs

  • More money that needs to be returned to capital providers

  • Higher utility bills

  • Higher staff costs

  • Higher maintenance and replacement costs as buildings age

  • Higher monthly service fees

Since the buildings are snazzier it also means the programming has to be snazzier with stronger life enrichment programs and 4-star dining every day all day with lots of choices.

Why do this? The answer is pretty simple. People say this is what they want. Prospective residents and their families believe this will make their lives better. They believe having all these things will make those last “golden years” so much better, so much happier.

So we all go along believing this is true and that the only barrier is that it makes senior living way more expensive, which means fewer people can afford it.

Otherwise, a perfect trajectory.

Except What if it Is All Wrong?

We know the cost-more part, and the shrinking size of the qualified market is true, but what if the rest of it is actually all wrong.

What if . . .

  • Larger apartments and more common area makes residents less happy?

  • What if 4-star dining every day is actually bad for residents, that it makes their health deteriorate faster?

  • What if luxury life enrichment programs don’t really make a difference? 

What if . . . this is all wrong thinking?

A few weeks ago, The Atlantic published an article titled “Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?” It talked about how the average size of newly built homes in 1973 was just over 1,500 square feet and today it is nearly 2,500 square feet. The upsizing is actually more dramatic than those numbers indicate. In 1973, household sizes were substantially bigger. “By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that — 971 square feet — four decades later.”

But . . .

According to the Atlantic article, Clément Bellet recently published a paper that having a bigger house does not lead to being happier. He found some evidence that suggests that it is more about having the biggest house in the neighborhood than how much space one has. So, if a person has a 5,000 sq. ft. home and all the others are 4,500 sq. ft., they are happy. But if someone builds a 6,000 sq. ft. house down the street, happiness declines.

According to the article, there are other reasons why larger homes could lead to a decline in happiness. It creates more isolation inside the house with each person having their own bedroom, TV, and bathroom. Comfortable but lonely.

Senior Living and Smaller

The tiny home movement is still . . . well . . . tiny but seems to have some traction, though consensus is mixed. Perhaps we would actually have happier residents and family members if we built downscale rather than upscale. If we went back to basics for apartment size, common area, programming, and dining.

It would, for sure, require us to tell the story very differently. We would really need to focus on why this would actually make residents happier. And, of course, it would have the added benefit of making senior living accessible to more people.