By Jack Cumming

You may not have heard of Cozy Home Community, but it is changing thinking about the use of capital and construction time for senior living and other community development projects. With today’s design, approval, and construction timelines, capital investors have to be patient before they see any returns on investment. That time lag is costly.

Time is Money

This may not be obvious to many who work or live in senior communities but who don’t have developer experience. We’ll try to clarify why time to revenue, i.e. development time, is so costly.

Imagine that you are going to build a house. You know it’s going to take a lot of money, so you persuade a bank to lend you the money to get started. To keep it simple, we’ll imagine that you start making mortgage payments on that money right away. In short, you’re making payments, but they don’t give you a place to live.

Those payments are just money spent until that house is built and people, perhaps you, move in. If you’re building a home to rent out, it’s money spent before you begin receiving rents to offset those payments you’re making. If it’s for you, yourself, it’s time to occupancy. To keep this understandable, I’m collapsing the complexities of construction loans and the like into the known concept of a mortgage.

Here’s how you will have to use that capital you’ve borrowed.  You have to: (1) find a lot to build on; (2) make sure that it’s zoned for single-family residential; (3) go through the process to buy it; (4) hire an architect, and perhaps a landscaper, to design your home; (5) find a contractor to build the home; (6) buy the materials needed for a home; (7) hope that all deliveries are made on time; (8) hope that there are no construction delays; (9) hope that the market holds up; and on and on. It’s complex and fraught with risk.

You get the idea. All of this takes time. It will be a long time during which you will be paying for the money that you’ve borrowed before you can occupy the home that you’ve been paying for. Imagine how long you think this might take. Do you think you could get it done in a year? Might it take two years? More?

It’s comparable for a capital investor in a senior living project. The timelines may stretch out if special local approvals are needed, and that increases the time before revenues begin to offset the capital investment. Obviously, the longer the time from start to revenue, the more costly the project will become. This gives you an elementary introduction to the financial realities of capital investment, which is essential to understanding the principal breakthrough that Cozy Homes Community is bringing to the process.

Cozy Home Solution

Matt Thornhill, Founder and CEO of Cozy Home Community, is seeking to create comfortable, multi-generational living communities. We’ll get to that in a moment. The breakthrough he’s pursuing to gain capital efficiency is his use of prefabricated construction. Mr. Thornhill is partnering with Deltec Homes, an Asheville, NC, home manufacturer.

This is not the usual “manufactured home” factory producing mobile dwelling units. Deltec prefabricates all building components and ships them to the site where the home is assembled by a local builder. This is reminiscent of the Sears catalog homes of an earlier era.

Moreover, Deltec is not the only manufacturer coming to the fore to bring factory quality to housing in the 21st century. Boxabl, a Las Vegas, NV, home manufacturer, goes farther, producing a home in a box. Boxabl has targeted the affordable home market. Its products are simply unfolded on the homesite, allowing them to be in place in less than a day.

Moreover, Boxabl units are modular so they can be combined horizontally or stacked vertically up to five or seven stories to create larger living units or even multi-family dwellings. Boxabl’s initial offering is a small unit called a Casita.

Both Deltec and Boxabl offer factory uniformity and quality, including features to improve disaster-proofing for all conditions. The factory environment allows materials, automation, and quality control, which are not possible with the usual site-built construction methods.

From a capital usage perspective, i.e., keeping costs low while speeding time to revenue, the advantages of a factory modularized building solution are apparent. There are other advantages, too, especially with the Boxabl approach. If needs change over time, modular units can more readily be rearranged to meet evolving market perceptions. The average time for construction of a multifamily building is, roughly, 12 months, so shortening that to a fraction is a major boost toward keeping the cost of capital low and getting to revenue sooner.

Cozy Home Community

Mr. Thornhill is not only breaking new ground in envisioning senior housing constructed with prefabrication, he is also an advocate for a larger concept of community. Mr.  Thornhill believes that community can be age-targeted but ought not to be age-segregated. Mr. Thornhill puts it somewhat differently from today’s senior living perspective. His message is that it’s, “a new approach to living for a new stage in life: let’s call it ‘pre-senior.’ It’s that time in your life when you’re no longer raising kids or perhaps even working, and long before you reach ‘old age.’”

His concept is a step toward age-agnostic living, though he does not go as far as what was envisioned in the Senior Living Foresight series “Opportunity Beyond Age Segregation.” Mr. Thornhill is a baby boomer himself, so his insights reflect thinking among his contemporaries, many of whom are resistant to today’s perceptions of senior living, whether those perceptions are accurate or not.

Takeaway

As our culture changes, shifts, and evolves, the market for housing is changing, including who we consider as our neighbors. We are trying to become a more tolerant and inclusive society. There is a growing perception among people who are aging or who work among the aged that the nature of age is changing. It is no longer the distressing condition it was once perceived to be. Increasingly, it is a time of new fulfillment in which people, freed from other concerns, find new paths toward societal contribution. Communal living can provide that freedom.

In the past, we often saw age as a slow decline toward life’s end. Increasingly, it is a time of new purpose leading toward a more clifflike ending. With that experiential change, our ideas for how we want to live are also changing. The boomers, now in their sixties and seventies, may not articulate in these stark terms what makes them different. Still, they predominantly object to being treated as though they have become intrinsically different because of a birthday. That affects the housing industry and senior living in particular.

Click here for Cozy Home Living, here for Deltec Homes, here for Boxabl, and here for the Senior Living Foresight series, “Opportunity Beyond Age Segregation.”