Sometimes it’s hard to tell if I live in a virtual retirement community or in San Francisco.

By Jacquelyn Kung

One summer, I had the thrill of living in an Erickson community. Today, I live in San Francisco. Now, this is going to sound crazy, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if I live in a virtual retirement community or in SF.  I am also not quite sure what it could mean for the future of senior living.

Here are some examples for you to compare:


Dining is a huge and widely-marketed benefit of moving into a retirement community. Someone cooks for you, and you don’t have dishes to wash. Your kitchen can look like it’s brand new. Plus, if you don’t like your meal, you can complain real-time about it. It’s been this way in SF for years – my favorites include:

  • Munchery — chef prepared meals delivered in oven safe packages and you can heat it up later
  • Doordash and Caviar — restaurant delivery from your favorite restaurant

If you don’t like something, you can complain about it immediately on the customer satisfaction survey app that you get upon delivery. And, like a retirement community resident, you can also complain about the lack of choices and how the beans are cooked to be indescribable.

Cleaning, Lawn, and Maintenance

Having housekeepers and maintenance guys come regularly or when ordered is another big benefit of retirement living. No more worries about who you will call to help you change light bulbs or do other tasks around the house.  In San Francisco . . .

  • Thumbtack — get plumbers, electricians, and handymen to help with household tasks like leaky faucets and changing light bulbs that are out of reach
  • Task Rabbit — get random tasks and errands done, like rearranging furniture or hosting an event
  • Lawn Love — it’s not yet in SF but it will come soon . . . on-demand lawn
  • Personal Care — Of course, getting older sometimes requires help at home. There are several startups in this space, like Honor, HomeTeam, Carelinx, and others attempting to be the “Uber of home care.”


Sometimes independent living has pickup services too. (In assisted living and skilled nursing, laundry is often an add-on service.) Doing laundry in SF is just as convenient:

  • Rinse — available to pick up and drop off with you as early as 8 a.m. You get a white bag for dry cleaning and a black bag for laundry. If you’re not home, you can leave the bags on a hook on your door. Like at a good retirement community, Rinse was proactive with their customer service when they made a mistake with a laundry or dry cleaning order.


Transportation can be split into three types – scooters and assistive devices, rides to go, and parking. In some retirement communities, residents may have scooters or other devices that zip them around the hallways. SF does not yet have scooters and walkers in the hallways or golf carts on the streets yet, but here is a sampling from SF:

1) Scooters/assistive devices (on campus vehicles):

    • Drifting Board
    • Airwheel
    • Chic Smart . . . just like elderly scooters, the brands abound!

If you are brave, you might get the one-wheeled variety or electric skateboard. Like the self-balancing scooters of SF, resident scooters are generally unregulated by DMV rules so when residents run into each other, it’s unclear who is at fault.

2) Getting rides to go out: This week, my Lyft driver estimated that half of his rides are “Lyft Line” (Uber’s version is called “Uber Pool), where you hail a ride and pick up a stranger nearby to share the ride. I usually end up socializing and learning new things while on these rides.

    • Uber — more like a car service or the local taxi; Uber Pool is the group rides product
    • Lyft — more like the retirement community car or van where you chat with the drivers; Lyft Line is the group rides product. Brookdale is starting to shuttle residents around with their Lyft partnership.

Every now and then you run into a friend on a shared ride, and you get to catch up. It’s just like riding the group bus at a retirement community where old (pun intended) friends catch up.

3) Parking: Like in retirement communities, parking spots can be a squeeze in SF. Fortunately, there are apps that park for you:

    • Luxe — they are the valets in the blue windbreaker jackets


At the Erickson retirement community, if you needed something or had a question, you simply called Faye at the front desk to help you. She is at the heart of the community, and residents love her. In SF’s virtual lifestyle, your help is through Zirtual. My wonderful Zirtual is named Mary, and she helps me with restaurant reservations, trip planning, and much more. In NY and Boston, you can use Hello Alfred for a person that can access your apartment.

Mail and Packages

The concierge/receptionist Faye also helped get your mail and packages. A mobile post office sometimes comes to sell stamps and weigh packages for shipping. In SF, you order Shyp and see them come to your rescue.

  • Shyp — It’s a $5 pickup fee to send any number of packages, and the shipping rates you get are much cheaper than if you went to UPS or FedEx yourself. Like a senior, I like to examine every penny spent.

Healthcare at Your Fingertips


At my retirement community, you had a clinic of geriatric physicians at your beck and call. At smaller retirement communities, there is often a nurse full-time or part-time who can discuss your ailments with you.

  • Doctor on Demand — In SF, you use Doctor on Demand; $40 for a 15-minute consult through your tablet or mobile phone. Or, if you don’t want to video chat with anyone, you can also log your question on HealthTap for quick answers from doctors and providers. (For seniors, it’s best to do video chats for the social and signaling component.)
  • One Medical Group — If you need an appointment in person in SF, One Medical Group almost always has day-of appointment slots available to book online. At the retirement community, you could call for an emergency appointment.


  • Walgreens and Target — Walgreens and Target (now CVS) pharmacies will text you with refill reminders and pickup notices. Just like the calls from the pharmacist at the retirement community.


This is a critical area for elderly residents — physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. However, I do not have experience with it personally here in SF, although if you are interested, I can check around. I’m sure there’s an app for it [insert tongue in cheek grin here].

Peace of Mind

In SF nobody wants to check in on me on a constant basis, but friends and family want to know that I’m generally okay. They mostly want to know if something is wrong. Likewise with retirement communities. Retirement communities have a variety of systems, from door latches to GPS trackers, for ensuring peace of mind. People in my life know that I am fine because I zip off hundreds of emails and texts a day — and put up posts.

But, if anyone wanted to check in on me, they can beam in through:

  • Find Friends
  • Hangouts (better than Skype)
  • Facetime
  • Dropcam

I can even check who is buzzing my front door through an app!

Social Life, Entertainment, Mental Stimulation, and New Friends

One of the biggest benefits of moving into a retirement community is something that most people gush about only after moving in — that is socialization and new friends.

In independent living, resident clubs and cultural/educational events abound. Walk down the hall and you will likely see someone you know.

There is no app for this, just like there is limited language in marketing materials of retirement communities for the psycho-social benefits. But this is one of the best things about living in a retirement community, and it’s one of the best things about living in SF.

Conclusion and Takeaways for Us All

There are several takeaways for those of us in the senior housing industry:

Staying at home – our biggest competitor – is an easier and easier option. Therefore, differentiation is more important than ever. Instead of competing against a “virtual retirement community,” can we collaborate with 2.0 companies and both benefit. It’s about personal relationships, not just apps or processes. This is where senior housing and care can win. But it will take a careful look.

After all, is it senior living or is it living in SF? It’s becoming harder and harder to tell . . . making it exciting times ahead for our industry. If you’re not in SF, drop me a note when you come to visit!