Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide, the number of publicly announced senior housing and care acquisitions in the fourth quarter of last year rose to a record high, with 120 deals announced, according to data released this week from Irving Levin Associates. The increase represents a 107% jump from the 58 transactions in the previous quarter and is 5% higher than the 114 deals made public in the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Based on disclosed prices, the dollar value rose to more than $2.5 billion, a 68% increase from the third quarter, the firm said. Compared with the $3.73 billion spent in the fourth quarter of 2019, however, dollar volume was down 32%.

“As seniors began to receive the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, investors were unleashed on the M&A market in the fourth quarter of 2020,” said Ben Swett of Irving Levin Associates in a press release. “Lenders gave the go-ahead on dozens of deals that were delayed because of the pandemic, leading to record transaction volume.”

Portfolio deals of three properties or more dominated the market last quarter, making up 26 transactions announced, compared with just eight in the third quarter and 10 in the second quarter. Four of those deals surpassed $100 million in publicly disclosed value, including Welltower’s $200 million sale of six Boston-area seniors housing communities to a fund co-managed by global private equity firm Taurus Investment Holdings and Northbridge Asset Management.

Unlike previous quarters, skilled nursing deals represented a majority of the merger and acquisition activity in the fourth quarter, both in terms of transactions (52%) and properties (more than 70%). 

“Average skilled nursing occupancy plummeted during the pandemic, but federal relief has stabilized many facilities’ bottom lines,” Swett said. “Also, both residents and staff have been among the first to receive the vaccine. These factors have given buyers the green light to start acquiring value-add facilities again.”

Assisted living and memory care made up 51% of the seniors housing deals, followed by independent living, with 17% of the share. Affordable seniors housing comprised 16%, active adult communities 10%, and continuing care retirement communities, also known as life plan communities, accounted for 5% of the senior housing deals.