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  • Writer's pictureNancy Griffin

NIC Defines Active Adult Rental Properties as Emerging Senior Living Category

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Defined as age-qualified, conventional multifamily housing that appeals to a younger, cohort of the older population seeking an option for living in a secure, maintenance-free setting, active adult represents 33,000 units, 234 communities, 84 markets in 34 states.

A new report from NIC defines Active Adult Rental Properties as an emerging senior living senior category. The report defines product type in terms of unit count, typical amenities, locations and pricing trends as well as the typical active adult resident and their wants and needs. NIC brings insights and understanding on the growing housing opportunity, defined as “age-restricted, market-rate, multifamily housing properties that are lifestyle-focused and do not provide meals through general operations.” During the pandemic, relative to senior housing property types, active adult outperformed as it was not as significantly impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

With its new report, NIC has defined a new senior living product type for the first time since the 1990s. In the process it has reached a new “milestone,” according to NIC COO Chuck Harry. “It’s definitely a segment that has … growing interest, not just from the operators or developers in the space, but frankly, the prospective residents and existing residents in the communities,” Harry said. “So, we felt it important, if we’re delivering on our mission as an organization, that we provide coverage relative to this emerging segment.”

Active Adult by the Numbers

Researchers with NIC MAP Vision have tracked about 33,000 active adult units at 234 communities located in 84 markets in 34 states. But that is not the full scope of the market, Harry said. “We expect, as we identify more properties in the marketplace, that these numbers will grow dramatically in the near term,” he added. “It’s the beginning of what we expect to be an increasingly robust database.”

In terms of unit count, the typical active adult community has between 140 and 180 units, with dwelling sizes ranging 650 to as much as more than 2,200 square feet — similar to independent living, but with less floor plan variety than a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), according to the report. Typical amenities include outdoor spaces, salons, bars or pubs with liquor lockers, clubhouses, full gyms that may offer fitness classes, dog parks, pools and spaces for sharing meals.

The Market

The active adult rental market caters to the younger older adults looking for the lifestyle, convenience, and amenities of conventional multifamily living but with residents of their own age cohort—they are looking for something different. These individuals often consider independent living senior housing as either too expensive or associated with residents with acuity levels that are too high for their current lifestyle choice.

In contrast to conventional multifamily properties, active adult communities rarely have to weather the traditional consumer “push and pulls”—those life events that hasten a move. Overall, the active adult resident cohort is older, has downsized, and is making a long-term decision to move to a community that offers an authentic experience of connectivity, independence, and choice.

Resident tenure is relatively long. Unlike residents of conventional multifamily properties, older adults’ timeframes for moving are longer. Active adult rents tend to be higher, and the units tend to lease up more slowly than conventional multifamily buildings. Additionally, the active adult residents have longer tenure—on average, about 6-9 years, with 80% retention in stabilized properties—making the active adult segment very attractive to risk-averse investors and developers once the properties stabilize.

For perspective, according to the NIC Investment Guide, Sixth Edition, the average tenure at senior housing properties ranges from 2.9 years in memory care, to 4.3 years at independent living communities, and 9.2 years at entrance fee continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also known as life plan communities).


  • The average age at move-in is the upper 60s to mid-70s

  • Typically have $50,000 annual income with a minimum of $150,000 non-housing related assets

  • Renters by choice

  • Familiar with communal living setting

  • Engaged in the community and the resident experience

  • Many are married or widowed

  • May be still employed full or part-time


  • Lifestyle-oriented (desire enhanced socialization, health, wellness, and lifestyle programming) • Will choose to live in an environment that helps them thrive; age isn’t the driving factor

  • Seek lifestyle connections with their peers

  • Do not want or need healthcare in the community

  • Share a common culture with other residents

  • Making a long-term commitment


  • Downsizing from a long lived-in home

  • May use proceeds of a home sale to fund tenure at the community

  • About 70% move from within a ten-mile radius of a property

  • About 60% come from a single-family home that they own


  • An emotional decision and sale similar to senior housing

  • Desires financial flexibility often at a lower price point than independent living

  • Often requires education on what the product is

  • Not for those looking for the services of traditional senior housing

Senior Living’s Golden Goose

The rise of active adult has been compared to the assisted living market in the mid- to late-1990s. According to CBRE Seniors Housing & Care Investor Survey, 34% of respondents identified active adult as the best opportunity for investments in 2022, up from 31% in 2021.

The bullish outlook on active adult is driven largely by the fact that residents of those communities are often younger and with fewer care needs, according to the report. The category is also more affordable than independent living, with active adult clocking in at anywhere between 30% to 50% less expensive. The properties tend to lease up faster than and carry lower resident turnover than more traditional senior living communities in the range of about six to eight units per month.

Active adult communities have fewer staffing requirements and are cheaper to build. With fewer full-time staffers — usually between six and nine — active adult communities have far lower payroll costs than senior living properties. And operators can earn extra revenue by charging residents for add-ons such as garage parking, retail, and catering services. When taking all of that into account, active adult properties with higher rents, lower expenses and longer lengths of stay can achieve margins of as much as 55% to 65%, according to the report.

What's Next

With active adult now defined, NIC MAP Vision is now collecting more robust operational data on the sector. And Harry reiterated the organization is still “only at the beginning” of its data collection. “Our intent is to continue to build on the transparency in this sector and provide the resources behind it so that we can be giving insights so that those stakeholders in the space can make informed decision on the behalf of those residents,” said Harry.


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