Retirement housing is now one of the most promising fronts in the multi-housing sector.

With nearly 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day, investors and developers continue to see a lot of potential in the growing need for senior housing.

Since 2010, gains in senior housing construction have been steady. According to the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry, there were more than 31,000 units/beds under construction during March 2013—a 24 percent increase from the year before. There are now dozens of properties under construction or recently completed and ready for tenants. Just last year, veteran senior-housing developer Oakmont Senior Living opened three resort-style retirement communities in Brea, Roseville and Santa Rosa, Calif. This year the company has set another aggressive construction schedule to complete three more communities in the cities of Upland, Folsom and Carmichael, Calif.

As the market transitions into a new era, so does the landscape of the products being offered. Trends toward catering to interests, rather than just the care needs, of today’s seniors are now shaping the industry.

Rebranding with lifestyle options

The “retirement community” concept still has a major image problem and struggles with the misperception that all retirement communities are the institutional hospice-type nursing homes of the past. But as quality and lifestyle offerings take more precedence, builders are shattering that stigma and collectively rebranding the “retirement community” as a vibrant, carefree oasis people want to live in.

From affordable housing to luxury properties, successful retirement communities are more often being designed like care-free vacation cruise liners—offering a combination of active lifestyle elements and the comforts of home seniors are used to. Spacious apartments (or in some cases free-standing homes) with fireplaces, high ceilings, large offering residents the option to customize accent features of their new homes.

Understanding that seniors want to buy unto a distinct way of life that suits their interests, retirement communities are now resort-style campuses with a wide range of unique leisure amenities. Long gone are the days when board games and movie nights were enough. It’s now more common to see swimming pools, fully equipped fitness centers, mapped walking/biking trails, pet parks, libraries, craft rooms, billiard rooms, or even preserving some of the surrounding natural landscape for activities like bird watching. Other unique amenities include onsite hair salons, full-size movie theaters, resident gardens, valet and concierge services; and for the tech-savvy senior, business centers, computer labs and Wi-Fi.

Developers are also making big strides to place communities near downtown areas and commercial hubs or public transportation resources to allow mobile seniors to get out and be a part of the local community.

Aging in place

If you are looking for a retirement community, quality long-term care options are just as important as lifestyle. You want to stay active and independent for as long as possible, but you also want to know that if you need help, it’s not far away.

Continuing care retirement communities, which combine all the elements of active, retirement living with as-needed care services, are becoming more popular as they allow people to enjoy a rich and full retirement with the peace of mind of knowing that care is available if their health changes. These communities offer a wide variety of care services including medication reminders, blood pressure checks, flu shots, dietary guidance, housekeeping and temporary in-home care for those recuperating from an illness or injury.

There is also an increasing number of specialized programs being offered to address growing aliments such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Many communities now have memory care programs for various stages of dementia which gear care and activities to a resident’s individual needs. Some even offer diabetic wellness programs that help monitor and manage glucose levels through glucometer readings and diabetic friendly cuisine. Also catching on are concierge medicine programs that provide residents with the option of seeing an outside physician onsite.

Niche communities

In recent years, the development of communities geared toward specific lifestyles or shared interests has grown in popularity. News has spread about several new communities that target hippies, artists, skiers, mail carriers, specific ethnic groups and even seniors that want to go back to school.

One growing area is the emerging number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) related communities. Last year, Oakmont Senior Living opened Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, which was the first full-service continuing care retirement community which is geared toward LGBT and straight individuals. The 10-acre community offers leisure amenities and care services to meet the needs of the LGBT community. Since opening, it has paved the way for several LGBT communities under construction or being talked about across the nation.

Bob Pospisil is the construction director and project manager for Oakmont Senior Living, an award-winning developer of resort-style retirement communities based in Santa Rosa, Calif.

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