How BTR Homes Enable Aging in Place

Single-family rental developers are making headway in the 55-plus crowd.

There are some definite benefits to build-to-rent homes, including community living and amenities without upkeep, mortgage or down payment. Many young adults,  especially those planning families, want the picket-fence lifestyle, and this is the only way they can afford it right now.

Renting a home can get these aspiring parents started on building a household, but it won’t help them start building home equity or generational wealth.  At the other end of the social spectrum is a population that has already achieved both but would also benefit from maintenance-free community living. Build-to-rent homes can be ideal for financially comfortable older adults to age in place. And they potentially free up these tenants’ older homes for young, DIY-friendly buyers.

READ ALSO: Build-to-Rent Units Move Into Master-Planned Communities

Builders and developers are taking note of this happy coincidence to create desirable BTR communities for older adults, proverbially nesting two birds with one new home.  But it’s slow going.

“We are seeing more interest among builders in constructing single-family rental homes for those 55-plus, but we are not seeing a lot of new construction yet,” said Don Walker, managing principal with real estate specialists John Burns Research & Consulting. There are compelling reasons for that to happen, including demographic trends, growing need for accessible housing and the desirability of this market.

“By 2030, the largest generation of active adults will be aged 65 or older, along with more than 65 million Generation X aging into the 55-plus segment,” commented Jane Arthur Roslovic, CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based Treplus Communities.  Treplus is not building detached rental homes, but their single-level attached units are very comparable in terms of style, features and aging in place friendliness.

Image by gradyreese/
Image by gradyreese/

Aging in Place

According to the CDC, 93 percent of surveyed adults older than 55 want to age in place. That doesn’t necessarily entail staying in their current residence, so much as it means avoiding assisted living or nursing home facilities. At the same time, only 5 percent of existing housing stock is aging-in-place friendly, reports the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. That is a massive needs gap and market opportunity.

“If someone has lived in a home for a long time, that home is generally older and may have maintenance needs that affect safety,” observed Jen Molinsky, lead author on Housing America’s Older Adults 2023 report for the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. “Accessibility is a growing concern with age,” she added, explaining that older adults often encounter challenges entering, navigating, and using their homes.

Even those rare homes that can accommodate someone whose health status has changed in recent years can challenge the most determined septuagenarians with home repair ladder fails. An accessible build-to-rent home can be an ideal solution for this population that does not desire traditional apartment living.

Treplus Active Living communities are designed for aging in place. Image courtesy of Treplus Communities
Treplus Active Living communities are designed for aging in place. Image courtesy of Treplus Communities

The Ideal Older BTR Tenant

Senior housing consultant Mitch Brown divides the 55-plus renter into two categories. The first is “those who wish to downsize and stay in their existing communities to be close to friends, family and longtime networks for health care, religious institutions, etcetera.” He estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent of these older renters remain within 15 miles of their current residence.

The other category are relocators to new regions for climate, family (especially “baby chasers” wanting to be closer to their grandchildren) or new environments. “The BTR communities tend to trend younger” than those seeking apartment-style rentals, Brown noted. What neither group wants at this stage of their lives, he finds, is the hassle of homeownership, which can restrict their travel, finances and freedom.

The 55-plus group are ideal residents, according to Bruce McNeilage, CEO of BTR developer Kinloch Partners. “They pay on time, stay for three to four years and treat the houses very well,” he said.  McNeilage’s communities are not age-restricted, but most have a significant portion of retirees–roughly 15 percent to 20 percent.

These are often relocators to the fast-growing region who want to continue their active, independent lifestyles without headaches,” he said. “Many have told us they do not want to maintain landscaping or a house in retirement,” he added.   

According to Walker, the turnover rate among BTR tenants in age-restricted/age- targeted communities is around 10 percent to 15 percent. “The tenants stay in their rental homes for much longer than normal,” he said. “Some state they never plan to move if they love the community and their neighbors. The trend of staying in place longer is certainly truer for those older than 65 vs. those between 50 and 64 years of age.”

Fitness features are popular amenities for older adult BTR communities. Image courtesy of Treplus Communities
Fitness features are popular amenities for older adult BTR communities. Image courtesy of Treplus Communities

Amenities: A few or many?

What are these desirable tenants seeking in BTR communities? It’s a mix  “Some renters prefer more attainable rents and do not want to pay extra for amenities, while others prefer and are willing to pay more for the lifestyle that often comes with amenities,” observed Walker. “Communities that hit their prospects’ sweet spots are seeing success. When we survey these communities, the leasing agents often tell us they are 96 percent to 100 percent occupied.” He sees growth coming to multiple markets, including Arizona, Washington, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Ohio and New York.

“The most popular amenities tend to be central common areas to hold parties and social events, fitness and wellness spaces for classes, particularly group exercise, card and game rooms, walking paths, outdoor pool, outdoor dining areas and pickleball,” Brown shares.  Walker adds that one of the most desirable features is onsite maintenance and management.

Walker also predicts, ““I think in the future we can see more age-restricted/age- targeted communities within larger master planned communities as a way to meet a variety of housing needs within the broader project.”

One of the most widely known and respected wellness developments in the U.S announced last year that it was doing just that. Atlanta-area Serenbe is adding a new aging-in-place campus that will include its own wellness club and medical facilities, along with 48 rental cottages, (and 40 apartments) when it opens in 2026.

“In the U.S., there has been a tendency in the last few generations to separate the youngest from the eldest members of our communities in gated compounds and large facilities,” shared CEO Steve Nygren. “We were inspired by ways of the past to create a more complete community that encourages intergenerational living and enables elders to remain in place,”

Serenbe’s wellness features will extend to the AIP campus, including easy access to nature, farm-to-table food, fitness amenities and programming, and other enrichment opportunities. Nygren anticipates that some of the new tenants will be related to current Serenbe residents who want their older relatives closer to them and to planned healthcare amenities.

Popular Serenbe wellness community is planning an aging in place campus with 48 cottages. Rendering courtesy of Serenbe / DKLEVY Architecture & Design Rendering
Popular Serenbe wellness community is planning an aging in place campus with 48 cottages. Rendering courtesy of Serenbe / DKLEVY Architecture & Design Rendering

Accessibility a must

The common element to these aging-friendly home rentals is accessibility. Preferred unit features include: open floor plans with single-level living (at least a master down if two levels), an area for a dining table vs. just an island, private patio or balcony, ample walk-in closets and other storage (both in unit and extra rentable), side- by-side washer and dryer or new front-load stacked laundry center with controls at chest level for the dryer, well thought-out master suites with low threshold showers, tub/shower combos in the second bath and modern clean design with low maintenance flooring and counter tops.

 “Most homes are modest in size and do not have a lot of hallways,” Walker said. “Entryways can be a bit wider, but that is not always the case.”

Other popular features, in addition to those Brown cites, are a covered patio, two- car garage, dual sinks and walk-in shower with bench in the primary bathroom, Walker noted. 

“These renters also like to have kitchen islands, a half bath for guests if space allows, and a small workspace/craft room, he said. “On the outside of the home, most prefer a private/fenced rear yard and the community must be pet friendly.”

At Treplus communities, every apartment home in our communities offers an attached garage, private entrances, outdoor patios, lots of natural light, Universal Design elements for accessibility, open and spacious floorplans, designer finishes, and ample storage, Roslovic noted. (All of the Treplus Communities also have dog parks to support tenants’ pet-friendly preference.)

Combination washer-dryer appliances with apps make laundry day easier and lighter for multi-generational households. Image courtesy of LG Electronics USA.
Combination washer-dryer appliances with apps make laundry day easier and lighter for multi-generational households.
Image courtesy of LG Electronics USA.

Serenbe’s 48 cottages will all be single-story with smooth thresholds and zero-entry baths. “Universal design will be incorporated throughout all the residences,” said Nygren.

“Over the next five- and 10-year periods, demographic trends tell us there will be a surge in population and  households among those aged 65-plus. So, new community and home design should focus on the needs of an older demographic,” Walker advised. `

Harvard’s Molinsky adds, “There is urgent need for more housing options for the growing numbers of single older adults aging in lower-density areas. We need to improve people’s connections to their communities and to services and supports in order to help people remain in the homes of their choice.”

BTR homes and communities are ideal for meeting the needs of our aging population. The fact that their older homes will become available for first time buyers is another social benefit. Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is a contributor, wellness design consultant, industry speaker, and award-winning author of Wellness by Design (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

Read the April 2024 issue of MHN.

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