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As senior living occupancy edges toward pre-pandemic levels, operators need to adjust their strategies, which have been more responsive than reactive, to improve sales and marketing success, according to a new trends report from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

Digital sources are producing more leads than ever in senior living — independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities — making personal engagement with prospective residents even more critical, according to a blog post from Lana Peck, formerly NIC senior principal and now vice president of research and analytics at Aline.

Lead conversions have not kept pace with the increased use of digital marketing tools and referral sources, however, Peck wrote in a post about the state of the senior living market..

“Although considerably more leads originate from internet sources than before the pandemic, the increase in conversions from digital marketing, direct website and paid referrals sources has increased, but to a lesser degree than the volume of leads produced from these sources,” Peck wrote. “Nearly two-thirds of leads are now generated by digital sources — up from about one-half before the pandemic. However, only about 40% of conversions are derived from these sources — up from 30% before the pandemic.”

Some prospective residents, she added, need a more personalized approach. Being responsive, rather than reactive, and focusing on “high-value tasks,” including building relationships, could lead to higher conversion rates, she said.

Professionalizing sales teams and investing in tools to create efficiencies can help operators “work smarter, not harder,” Peck said.

“If this is the ‘new normal,’ operators must adjust to managing and engaging growing volumes of inquiries to sustain the occupancy recovery,” she wrote.

Using Aline US senior living data, Peck said that senior living occupancy growth momentum has slowed since last year, with memory care and assisted living experiencing the most improvement in occupancy rate growth since emerging from the depths of the pandemic. 

Potential reasons for the slowdown could include downward pressure from rising rents, increased competition from other senior living options and in-home care, the housing market downturn due to interest rate hikes, and deferred capital expenditures, she said. 

Trying to score “quick wins” in efforts to increase occupancy, she said, leads to missed opportunities to increase margins. The volume of prospects who have urgent move-in needs, Peck said, hasn’t changed much since before the pandemic. Residents moving into independent living communities within 30 days of inquiry fell in the range of 43% and 49% between 2019 and 2023. Meanwhile, the percent of assisted living resident move-ins within 30 days of inquiry ranged from 57% to 56% in that timeframe; the percent of memory care move-ins within 30 days ranged from 58% to 62%; and CCRCs move-ins within 30 days ranged from 25% to 28%.