April 19, 2021, Ben Swett, The SeniorCare Investor - We are still waiting for that first sign that the seniors housing and care recovery has truly begun. There were some encouraging signs from Welltower’s SHOP portfolio when its census started to rise in the later weeks of March. But so far, that is it. Earlier this month, NIC reported that average occupancy at seniors housing communities fell to a new record low in the first quarter, to 78.8% from 80.6% in the fourth quarter.
National Health Investors also recently provided an update regarding its average occupancy and monthly contractual cash collections. Even though the REIT did not report an increase in census at its three major seniors housing operators, the decline has slowed significantly. How many times have we heard that so far this year?
After reporting two straight months of occupancy increases from 76.2% in December to 77.3% in January then to 78.1% in February, SLC saw its census drop in March to an average of 77.8%. But after a 60-basis point decline from January to February, Bickford Senior Living only reported a 20-basis point drop to 74.8% in March.
The decline across Bickford properties has been a little more precipitous since September 2020, when occupancy averaged 81.8%, so this looks like an encouraging sign. Finally, Holiday Retirement’s average occupancy fell just 10 basis points month over month to 73.5% in March, following a 170-basis point decline from January to February.
We know there is a lag from when initial inquiries are made to when residents actually move in, but with vaccinations efforts among the senior population largely completed more than a month ago in many states, localities and communities, the time for move-ins may be here. Warmer weather certainly helps.
We do wonder whether discounting will be pervasive in order to refill units in the months ahead. Filled units are good, but giving up a month or two of rent (to a theoretically older, higher acuity resident these days) will cost owners and operators. We hope with the success of the vaccination efforts, and all the great work that staff do to provide a happy and healthy environment for seniors, the value of seniors housing is clearly demonstrated to customers.