Six First-Impression Pitfalls in Seniors Housing

Don’t let the small stuff damage your move-ins.

(Editor’s Note: Bobby Towery passed away suddenly in October 2019 shortly after submitting this column. With ProMatura’s permission, we are publishing it in memoriam.)

By Bobby Towery, ProMatura

A few overgrown bushes here, a peeling paint job there — it’s easy to put off fixing a community’s little flaws, perhaps for so long you don’t notice them anymore.

But for visitors evaluating your community, these details stand out like bright red flags. Little things cost sales.

With occupancy rates for service-enriched housing falling to the lowest point in the past eight years (per NIC), the competition for turning leads into move-ins has never been greater. There are common mistakes that we see at almost every community we evaluate, and most of them are relatively easy to remedy.

ProMatura is an international consumer research company that has been involved with age-qualified housing since 1984. With over one-third of our revenue coming from market studies and sales assessments, we have at least one person in the field visiting and evaluating communities each week of the year. Our evaluations mirror that of the customer’s experience — that is, we start with first impressions. Here are the six most common mistakes we see.

1. Visibility isn’t optimized

Often, we’ll visit a well-established community — on a well-traveled road — that is totally or partially obscured by mature vegetation (primarily trees) and has an unattractive, small, hard-to-read sign. 

To ensure that your community has as much visibility from the traffic as possible, just drive by it both in daylight and in darkness. Ask yourself:

• Can the community be seen from the road?

• Can you see and read the signage from the road?

• Is the signage large and professionally maintained?

• Is the signage visible at night?

Of note, in a study of 126 independent living communities, ProMatura found that communities where residents felt most at home were more likely to be visible from the road and have readable signage.

2. Access is awkward

Often communities are located where getting in and out is difficult. Management can mitigate these factors with simple but effective fixes:

• Ensure directions to the community are clearly stated on the website. If it’s safer to bypass the property instead of turning across oncoming traffic, then ensure those directions are posted.

• Work with the city to have a designated turning lane or light-
controlled access.

• Ensure that egress from the community is well marked with signs and directional lanes.

• Ensure that vegetation is cleared so oncoming traffic can be seen.

3. Landscaping details are missed

I cannot stress enough how important professional landscaping, from the sign to the front door, is for making a strong first impression. Most communities do a great job with this right up to the main entrance, and then it falls off drastically. 

Most landscaping contracts only cover the entrance and main grounds, not the physical entrance to the community. But the entrance is where outdoor furniture and potted plants are placed. All too often, especially with older, established communities, the space from where the “visitors and future residents” park to the main door is neglected. Cigarette butts, dead plants, dirty outdoor furniture, mold on the structure, tattered flags, and dirty entrance mats are just a few of the common deficiencies we see on almost every visit. 

In my opinion, there are two main reason for these deficiencies:

• Complacency — management walks by this every day without correction and has become complacent with the status quo

• Lack of awareness — management uses a different entrance into the community.

4. Parking is inconvenient

Make finding your main entrance easy for potential residents or influencers, and ensure they have designated parking spots.

Many communities we visit don’t have enough “visitor or future resident” parking, and that forces potential residents to park away from your main entrance. This is not only an inconvenience, but it makes the community feel cramped before they have a chance to experience it. In addition, this often causes them to park in the community’s most undesirable areas such as near dumpsters, in the back or in other areas that might be unkempt.

In our study of 126 communities, residents felt more at home in those that had ample visitor parking with easy access to the building.

5. The receptionist’s influence is underestimated

The receptionist or concierge is usually the first staff member your potential resident meets, so it is critical that that engagement is positive. 

In many of our visits, the positioning of the receptionist or concierge within the community seems like an afterthought. They also seem to be so task saturated that they don’t have the time to smile, look you in the eye, ask your name or make you feel that you are the most important person that stepped through the door that day. They often immediately reach for the information card; ask if you want something to drink (somebody, somewhere told all concierges to ask that question); and then direct you to sit, fill out the card and wait.

The receptionist or concierge should be your best, or at least one of your best, employees — well versed on the community and its amenities. They should be able to talk floor plans, meals and activities, and should know many of the residents by name. They should be part of your integrated marketing plan, setting the stage for your sales counselors to also have that positive first engagement. They should be able to give someone a tour in the absence of a sales counselor.

The handoff from receptionist/concierge to sales counselor is also critical. The best transitions we see are the ones where the information card is handed off, but the receptionist/concierge speaks as if they know the potential resident or influencer — because they do! They took the time to personally engage with the visitor, show empathy, listen to them, and assure them that they will feel at home at this community.

6. The reception or concierge area is cluttered

While the first impression that the receptionist/concierge makes is invaluable, so is the first impression of their area. Ensure that your reception area is not the focal point for all things to gather like extra walkers, boxes, decorations, sign-up books, box lunches and flyers. 

If you do need to collect those things and you decide that the reception area is where that will be, ensure that you have storage and counter space to store those items. The main purpose of that area can be to greet your potential new residents.

The art of the first impression comes from pulling all of this together to ensure that your potential resident or influencer has a positive experience and quickly feels at home at your community. 

Bobby Towery was the president of ProMatura, an international market-research firm specializing in age-qualified housing. He oversaw or conducted hundreds of market studies and sales assessments for small and large communities across the United States.