Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane’s senior housing market remains tight

Kathy Bryant, a Spokane senior housing real estate specialist, advises clients look at options before a crisis hits. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’re considering a move into a Spokane-area retirement community, it’s a good idea to start looking at least a year in advance. You’ll likely encounter a waiting list.

Spokane has a high occupancy rate for senior housing units, close to 96 percent based on recent data, compared with a national average of about 90 percent.

That high occupancy even plays out after recent new construction. The Summit, an 11-story tower on the South Hill with 65 luxury apartments for seniors, already sits 90 percent full after Rockwood Retirement Communities opened it in May.

“It’s smart to get on a list at any community,” said Eowyn Sallis, marketing director for Rockwood Retirement Communities. “I’d say at least a year before you’re wanting to move.”

“Spokane tends to draw from outlying areas, as well, so it’s not just from our own metropolitan market,” Sallis added. “I also think that as the baby boomers start to enter retirement communities, we’re going to see a higher demand and continue to see occupancy rates increase.”

Overall, the Spokane region’s senior housing occupancy rate jumped in third quarter 2016, to 95.6 percent, compared with third quarter 2015 when it was 94.3 percent, reported the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

Spokane’s senior housing occupancy rate was at 93.3 percent at the end of June this year. Kathy Bryant, a Spokane senior real estate specialist, isn’t surprised by the higher numbers.

“My experience has been that most of the retirement communities have waiting lists, at least for some parts of their communities,” Bryant said. “Some of the waiting lists are lengthy. They might be for a few months; they might be for a year.”

“Very often the openings are because of a death, or someone moves into transitional housing.”

Beth Burnham Mace, National Investment Center chief economist, said the nonprofit recently added Spokane among about 100 metro areas it gauges nationally.

The center surveyed 11 properties in Spokane and Spokane Valley, Mace said, including such places as Brookdale properties, Northpointe, Harvard Park, Fairwinds and Merrill Gardens, among others.

“NIC has been tracking the 100 largest markets in the U.S.,” she said. “We chose to include Spokane either because we were getting requests or we saw it as a significant market to track.”

Spokane’s survey includes about 1,400 units within the city and Spokane Valley for independent living, assisted living and memory care living arrangements. It doesn’t include skilled nursing care.

“We look at inventory and supply of senior housing in any given region, and what the occupancy and vacancy rates are,” Mace said. “From the point of view of the consumer, there is very little senior housing available in Spokane.”

Some people in the industry have seen a mostly higher trend for a while, including Al Gilmour, senior care adviser for Angel Senior Care. The service offers paid in-home care, but it also provides free senior placement services.

“As long as I’ve been in the business, about 15 years, Spokane has had a high (senior housing) occupancy,” Gilmour said. “I’d say more so in the last five years it’s been running high.”

“At the same time, it’s almost impossible to stay at 100 percent when considering assisted living, because people pass away,” he said. “It’s interesting how things trend. A year ago you could find vacancies in independent living, and now you really can’t.”

As far as trends, Gilmour said some of the influx comes from people moving here to be closer to families. Spokane also offers more affordable living compared with other cities, Gilmour added. And he’s seeing more baby boomers open to the concept of living in retirement communities and gaining amenities versus staying in a longtime residence.

Bryant helps seniors long before they would sell their single-family homes and move into a retirement community. She encourages clients to research future arrangements even years ahead and consider paying to get on a waiting list, if they find a preferred community.

“Be prepared, even if a year or two years from now,” Bryant said. “You can be on that waiting list for as long as you want to be, and you can say no until you say yes. It’s typically a nominal fee, say $500 down, and then if you decide you never want to move, you get your money back.”

“But look before a crisis.”

People might get locked up in choices if they’re married to staying in a particular section of Spokane, Bryant said.

“Many people in Spokane only want to live in the South Hill, only want to live on the North Side or only want to live in the Valley. That might limit where people have choices.”

Sallis said she also recommends that if people are considering Rockwood as an option, that they get on a wait list early.

“It’s $1,000 to get on wait list, but it’s completely refundable,” she said. “It gets them in the queue as things become available, not only to view something but also to get a sense of what they like the best here. Our wait list has grown substantially over the past five years.”

Rockwood’s campus has some single-family homes ranging from 1,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet, she said. It has a total of 307 independent living units on the South Hill when including all apartments and homes. The campus offers 73 assisted living apartments.

In north Spokane, Rockwood Hawthorne has about 84 units.

The Summit’s 65 units range in size from 900 to 2,200 square feet. Rockwood decided on the project because of demand, and it capitalizes on offering views from the South Hill’s highest point, Sallis said.

“We knew that with the baby boomers aging that we would have an increased base of people who would want to move into Rockwood,” she said.

“We didn’t have the land to build a lot of houses, so we decided we could build an apartment tower with condo-style apartments that are on the larger size, so people who might have been interested in a house could live in the apartments quite comfortably.”

Mace said part of Spokane’s draw could be tied to its growth as a health care hub.

“You have a robust population bringing in more patients and the elderly,” she said. “You might be seeing more demand for senior housing because people want to be closer to hospitals.”