Demand rises for senior housing in Katy area

Made up of single-story, patio homes with a central community activity center, Katy's Heritage Grand is one of about a half dozen 55-and-up neighborhoods in the Greater Houston area and one of a handful of living options designed exclusively for seniors in Katy. A combination of aging demographics nationwide and Katy's continuous growth are driving a demand for new senior housing options that has developers playing catch up. At the same time, a number of Katy area memory care centers and other businesses that cater to seniors are set to open in 2014.

"Katy is a community of families and children, but it is also a community where grandparents want to live close to their children and grandchildren, so we do have a rapidly growing mature population," said Lance LaCour, president and CEO of the Katy Area Economic Development Council.

Katy's 65-plus seniors represent 11.2 percent of its population, slightly higher than the state average of 10.3 percent, according to the 2010 Census.

Assessing the need

Heritage Grand is nearly built out and while some neighborhoods are not exclusively for those 55 and up, patio homes in communities such as Katy's Ashfield Gardens—which resemble retirement communities with a central clubhouse—are quickly snatched up by seniors, said Michael Gealt, an agent with Champions Real Estate Group.

"They are selling them to older people, and they are selling them very fast," he said. "I have people call me every day and say, 'If a home comes up about this size, please call me.' If one of these homes comes on the market, it sells in a week."

An increase in the senior population will enhance and provide diversification to Katy's economy, LaCour said. It also spells an increased demand for all types of senior living accommodations.

The largest population segment, the Baby Boomers, are expected to keep pushing up the senior demographic until 2020, when there will be a projected 3.5 million seniors in Texas.

Many seniors are coming home to the Katy area to be closer to grown children and grandchildren, said Bob Miles, an agent with the Katy office of Better Homes and Gardens Gary Green Realtors.

While most of Miles' buyers are either the traditional families seeking better schools or professionals wanting a short commute from the Energy Corridor, a number of newcomers this year were seniors moving closer to their families.

Some are not necessarily going to senior-only living arrangements, he said. One trend among new homes is the inclusion of a second master bedroom—almost always downstairs, often with a full bath. Miles said one client has parents who now live in Katy with their children six months of the year.

"They have a condo in Florida," he said. "I won't be surprised if we see more of that. Almost every builder now is including a second master downstairs. That's becoming the norm now, not the exception. No doubt the main driver is parents coming to stay and not wanting to worry with stairs."

One-story, patio homes are also popular with seniors, he said.

"Those are interesting in that they are not an age restricted community, but because of the size of the homes, the majority are empty nesters who just want a really nice home but don't want the yard to mess with."

In age restricted neighborhoods such as Heritage Grand, chores such as lawn maintenance and painting are tackled by the HOA.

"Not because the residents can't," Gealt said. "They don't want to. We have trips to New York, trips to Las Vegas, ball games, day trips. People get to the point in life where they want to have fun."

New facilities

In recent years, Katy has gained the attention of assisted living facility developers who describe the market as underserved. A total of 14 licensed assisted living facilities currently operate in the Katy area and accommodate 477 residents, according to state records.

A collaboration of Atlanta-based Thrive Senior Living and Houston-based PinPoint commercial, Legacy at Falcon Point is a 158-unit assisted living and memory care facility set for completion in 2014. Thrive Principal Jeramy Ragsdale said the company conducted both an internal and third-party analysis of the market. The third-party analysis, he said, showed an unmet need of more than 300 units of assisted living and memory care facilities in Katy.

"We feel strongly that even after we—and competitors—are operational, there will still be unmet demand in the area," Ragsdale said.

Autumn Leaves Cinco Ranch is the ninth Houston area project by Irving-based LaSalle Group. With an expected opening in 2014, the facility will serve about 50 Alzheimer and memory-loss patients.

LaSalle spokesperson Robin Carter said existing senior living properties in Cinco Ranch, one of the fastest growing submarkets in the state, have performed well.

"Extensive research determined that Cinco Ranch has a large amount of demand, and demand will continue to increase as the area grows," Carter said.

Senior citizens tend to gravitate toward Cinco Ranch, in particular, because like other master-planned communities, it is designed with a small town feel, but with access to urban amenities such as cultural opportunities and health care, said Christen Madigan, senior living counselor at The Solana at Cinco Ranch, an upscale assisted living facility that opened in 2009.

"The senior options in this area will continue to grow exponentially," she said. "It's an ideal location for seniors, and we see many adult children bringing their parents to Katy from out of the city or state."

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