A Family Affair

Kisco Senior Living appeals to prospects by developing a rapport with the whole family—in 40 seconds or less

Senior living options are being redefined as the oldest Baby Boomers begin easing into retirement. This very large and influential cohort will continue to shape the housing product created for retirees. But while the residents-to-be are usually the final decision makers, they do frequently consult their adult children. Seasoned senior living providers know this and they strive to create a powerful first impression that will resonate with both generations.

“When we look at a market, and do our demographics, we’re not only looking at [prospective] residents but also at concentrations of adult children who are 45 to 60 years old who have parents in our target demographic,” explains Mitchell Brown, chief development officer at Kisco Senior Living in Carlsbad, Calif. “In our business, 90 percent of the time, the decision to move into a community like ours involves the adult children.”

According to Brown, when prospective residents and adult children (and grandchildren) walk into a Kisco community the first time, they frequently make up their minds within the first 35 to 40 seconds as to whether or not it’s a good place to live. “It’s visceral,” he says. “It’s very much a feeling. It’s sight, sounds, smell—all your senses are on high alert because there’s a certain amount of trepidation about this, but also a sense of positive excitement.”

The first impression takes into account whether there’s laughter and/or great food cooking, as well as the collective mood of residents and staff. “It has to look right and feel right,” adds Brown. “If you have the stuff, you can capture that essence and use it [to capture the market].” Kisco seeks to draw like-minded residents who are interested in creating new relationships and bonds and who view fitness, volunteerism and life-long learning as cornerstones of a well-rounded life.

Valencia Terrace in Corona, Calif., is Kisco’s newest offering for a target demographic of 75 years and older with an income of approximately $50,000 or higher. This rental community offers three levels of product: 22 casitas (attached, single story duplex, and tri-plex homes), 129 independent living apartments and 52 assisted living apartments. The average age in situ at Valencia Terrace is 84, and the average age upon entry to Kisco’s communities is around 80 years old. Valencia Terrace does more than avoid the institutional feel that sometimes comes with senior living communities—it strives to create an appealing resort aesthetic.

Drawing from agricultural roots

Located in Riverside County, CA, the south Corona area is characterized by master planned neighborhoods in the same tradition as the city of Irvine and other parts of Orange County. “This is one of the reasons we chose this site,” says Brown. “The area has high streetscape standards. Since we’re long-term owners, we like the fact that we can control the quality of our neighborhood over many years.”

Valencia Terrace was built in a mission hacienda style mandated by the City of Corona. Rather than sticking with the typical Southern California stucco mission, the architectural team introduced rough-hewn wood and stone elements that draw from the site’s agricultural heritage. Corona was once an orange capital of Southern California.

The introduction of “casitas” or garden homes opens up a new customer base for Kisco. “We get more couples, as well as a younger audience who’s not quite ready for the apartment in the main building,” says Brown. Casitas also create a much more residential feel for the campus. And, since they’re at the periphery of the campus and at the main entry gate, they contribute to the sense of arrival in an important way by setting the scale. “As you approach the main building we intentionally kept the residential wings of the building to two stories.”

For Kisco, the development and design process always starts with the “form follows function” idea, which is so vital to a well-run seniors community. Functional design considerations (such as the location of the back of house and the kitchen in relation to the dining areas) take precedence because of the focus on operations. These decisions are not as straightforward as they once were because market research tells Kisco that, increasingly, its residents want more lifestyle options and choices.

“Unlike communities in the past, where there was one dining room and everyone ate at the same time and in the same place, at Valencia Terrace we strove to create a lot of [options],” explains Brown. This applies not only to dining (where residents can choose from a bistro, two dining rooms or “al fresco” dining) but also to other services and amenities offered on site.

The various operating teams—including those who run the activity programs, execute the wellness concepts and provide care on the assisted living side—were included on a regular basis two years before ground was broken. “It was a very iterative process and we refined the design with all of their input,” says Brown.

Kisco is in a service business, “but it’s also about encouraging our residents to serve each other and themselves and the greater community,” says Brown. “People of this age have tremendous amounts to give back. Our functional design objectives include creating spaces that enable residents to do that as they actualize whatever latent passions they’ve had going back to their teens or twenties. Things happen in their lives: jobs, marriage and now all of a sudden they have an opportunity at this great third age to reinvent themselves and rediscover all kinds of new things: being a docent at the art museum, working with schools, you name it. Our job is to facilitate that.

“[We think] design can facilitate this by being flexible—having rooms that can morph and change on a daily basis over a period of years,” adds Brown. “None of us is smart enough to know what the customer will want in five or 10 years. But we try to build flexibility into our communities. As a developer you turn these things over and you sort of just stand back and watch them go.” He adds, “It’s really kind of fun to go back to communities we opened 10 or 12 years ago and see how they’ve evolved. [Senior housing] is a cool piece of real estate.”

Financing facts

Valencia Terrace was financed with a mini-perm construction loan, along with Kisco’s own internal equity. The original lender was Guaranty Bank, now BBVA Compass. The community opened its doors to residents in August 2009, after receiving its certificate of occupancy in July. Kisco’s ground-up campuses typically reach stabilized occupancy in about 24 months. “Once we get close to reaching stabilized occupancy,” says Brown, “we typically take out the construction mini perm with long term fixed rate debt that more often than not is either Freddie or Fannie with one of the DUS underwriters.”

Kisco has several sites in various stages of pre-development, some of which were acquired prior to the economic meltdown. “We certainly have slowed some of those projects given the lack of construction financing out there,” says Brown. Most of these locations are in Kisco’s core California markets, as well as a campus in North Carolina where the company owns several communities. “We never overpaid during the boom years. Now there are a tremendous number of well-priced land opportunities but we’re being very selective,” adds Brown. “If we see one that meets all of our selection criteria, we might purchase it and bank it. We would hold it to build on it in a year or two.”

Project Team

Developer/Owner: Kisco Senior Living

General Contractor: Snyder Langston/
SL Residential

Architect: Irwin Pancake Architects

Interior Design: Warner Design Associates

Landscaping: Land Arch West

Financier: BBVA Compass

Photography: Aron Photography, LLC

The introduction of “casitas” or garden homes at the periphery of the campus (left) opens up a younger customer base while also contributing to the sense of arrival with a more residential feel.

Occupancy Trends

Kisco Senior Living is a privately held owner/operator/developer with 18 communities in six states. In business 20 years, Kisco builds to own and manage. Overall, the senior living industry has weathered the recession well with most owners, including Kisco, noting that the low point in occupancy occurred in mid-2009. Kisco reported year end 2009 occupancy of 92 percent for its portfolio, and occupancy continues to trend up in a positive direction.

To comment on this feature, email dmosher@multi-housingnews.com.