David Ammons is president of Retirement Living Associates, Inc. (RLA), a company which provides planning, development, marketing, and management services for new and existing retirement communities. He has worked in and with Senior Living Communities since his graduation from Wake Forest University in 1985.
In real estate, we have all heard the redundant use of “location.” We believe it means that a property’s location really, really matters. Extending the phrase a little, I think it means that location matters so much that there must be just a few “right” locations and that other locations must be wrong or at least risky.
In locating retirement communities, this “location, location, location” axiom may apply. But, I believe, it is less likely to be as critical in the retirement industry as it is in other real estate sectors. In selecting a retirement community, location is most relevant to a person’s preference of lifestyle. I do not mean to imply that location dictates a lifestyle option, but it can play a big part, or at least make preferences easier to enjoy. For example, a location near a large city facilitates access to cultural events like the arts; if the arts are important in a preferred lifestyle, then location (access) matters.
Retirement community development 15 to 20 years ago often located new campuses on larger tracts of land, which typically were in suburbs or areas recently developed and afforded access to utilities, infrastructure, and land. Other real estate sectors began doing more infill or repurposing, which involved tearing down old buildings and homes and building new ones; these are usually more dense.
The same is now occurring more and more with retirement development. We see smaller acreage communities being built near revitalized downtowns, even revitalized shopping centers. This is summarized well by a quote I heard recently from a leading retirement community industry architect: “I hope I have designed my last community in a cornfield.”
Recently, I traveled to the West Coast, Oregon, and California, and toured six communities. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about what many refer to as “town center development.” In town center development, the goal is to mix community spaces, residential spaces, retail spaces—and even commercial spaces—to make access to each of these better, and also to bring the various uses together.
Think apartments over retail stores, across the street from offices that may include professionals from accounting to medical, all located so that they can each enjoy convenience to arts, street markets, etc. Often a goal is to minimize the need for cars by increasing walkability. I think we will see more and more of these, as they appeal to a common goal of staying plugged-in, staying part of the action.
There are other ways to address access to diversity of function and these are also being explored. In western North Carolina, I am involved in a new development that will start pre-sales this fall. We have factored into our location and design access to a wide array of destinations such as an airport, shopping, cultural venues, and professional services.
Location plays a big role. Is it the critical factor? I don’t think so.