In the first three months of the year, U.S. senior occupancy fell to a new record-low level, of 78.8%.
That occupancy rate was 1.8 percentage points lower than in Q4 2020 and 8.7 percentage points lower than a year prior, according to NIC MAP Vision data released Thursday by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
Assisted living occupancy was even lower, hitting 75.5% in the first quarter. Independent living occupancy sat at 81.8%.
Some markets outperformed national averages, with San Francisco leading the pack at 84.2% senior housing occupancy, followed by San Jose at 83.4% and Seattle at 82.9%. At 72.9%, Houston had the lowest occupancy, along with Atlanta (73.5%) and Cleveland (74.2%).
The occupancy statistics indicate that Covid-19 vaccine clinics, which were being held in senior living communities during the first three months of the year, did not immediately translate into census gains.
“As move-in moratoriums continue to be lifted and operators get more inquiries from prospective residents, leads, and property tours, occupancy may increase in the months ahead,” NIC COO Chuck Harry said in a press release.
Indeed, there are already promising signs that occupancy might be troughing.
Earlier this week, real estate investment trust Welltower (NYSE: WELL) announced three straight weeks of occupancy gains in its senior housing operating portfolio, comprising nearly 650 properties. Occupancy in the SHO portfolio stood at 74% on April 1.
On Thursday, the nation’s largest senior living provider — Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale (NYSE: BKD) — released occupancy data showing that net move-ins and move-outs turned net positive on a year-over-year basis for the first time since the pandemic started. Month-end occupancy for Brookdale’s portfolio of nearly 700 communities was 70.6% in March 2021, up from 70.1% to end February 2021.
The leader of another REIT, National Health Investors (NYSE: NHI), also is feeling more optimistic lately. Since mid-February, leads and sales metrics have been improving in NHI’s portfolio, NHI CEO Eric Mendelsohn said during a recent appearance on SHN+ TALKS.
“I’m not ready to call it a trend, but I can tell you that that’s probably the best good news we’ve had in a year of watching things go straight down,” he said. “That’s why I say it feels slightly better.”
In senior living, there is a “natural lag” between initial inquiry and move-in, NIC Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace noted Thursday.
“Data from the next two quarters will signal whether consumers have moved beyond the pandemic and are again considering senior housing properties,” she stated.
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