Real Estate

A New, Hip, High tech Retirement Environment Debuts in Houston

Today’s Baby Boomers are a larger, healthier, and more active demographic than their folks were, out-sizing them by 62%. The 75+ population in the U.S. is projected to grow 50% in the next ten years, doubling in the next 20. Do we want to live forever? Maybe: this generation works hard at longevity. In fact, this month’s National Geographic asks, on the cover: Can aging be cured?

While scientists produce longevity diets and breakthroughs in Alzheimer meds, today’s seniors are retiring later, traveling more, and embarking on non-traditional work/live/play paths, which includes the urban lifestyle as well as proximity to their children.

But getting old remains a challenge —- the body falters, the mind deteriorates, diets and movement are restricted.

A new Houston adult community is integrating those challenges into a first of its kind luxury senior lifestyle real estate offering. The Watermark at Houston Heights, the first Élan Collection in Texas, presents an independent and assisted living senior community aimed at residents seeking a vibrant and active lifestyle up to, well, as long as they can. Highly tech-enabled , the concept focuses on aging in place, rewarding healthy living, access to senior and longevity resources, and top healthcare providers under one roof.

The Watermark is like living in a Four Seasons with some structure and a personal aging concierge.

The Watermark is located in the smack of Houston’s vibrant Houston Heights, known for hip retail concepts, restaurants and culture. It joins eight other thriving Élan properties in upscale communities such as Palm Beach, Coral Gables, Napa, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Tucson and now, Georgetown (TX).

The Élan concept is resort-like senior environments with curated technology assist woven into everyday life, all to soften the blows and deficits of aging.

Elan was conceived by a Boomer FOR Boomers.

“Several years ago, retirement living CEOs were talking,” says David Freshwater, CEO of Watermark Retirement Communities and an industry veteran.

“I asked, ‘would any of you live in your communities when you get to that age?’ There was a pause… and then everyone said, ‘no we wouldn’t”

“That hit me,” says Freshwater. “It hit me hard.”

David Freshwater is a 35-year veteran of the retirement industry. And he is officially tossing out the word, ‘retirement’. Freshwater, inching toward 69, was talking to me from Wyoming. He lives in Tucson. Constantly on the go, he is the prototype for the senior community he created at Elan. Freshwater conceived the Elan concept to cater to affluent seniors but to offer more —- a lifestyle shunning ageism, promoting vibrant, spirited living at various care levels, all wrapped into a five-star wellness resort.

And he had no shame about pulling in technology to assist.

Throw out the obvious alert buttons that scream OLD PERSON. Enter PalCare alert: discreet wearables coupled with a community-wide modular emergency call system for real-time location alerts to falls and accurate location tracking.

Then there’s the building’s private cable TV station, a Radiant Channel Insertion, with a wide array of well-being (and exclusive) programming from yoga, meditation, scholarly courses, to movies, theater, even musical performances to be enjoyed at home.

A trip to Tuscany? Skiing when your knees aren’t up to it? There is EngageVR-Virtual Reality, Oculus technology to offer virtual experiences replicating what residents may have enjoyed in the past, but can no longer do. We’ve seen this technology used abundantly in open houses in Dallas.

Let’s face it, we do get more forgetful as we age. But there are ways to stave that off. Thus cognitive health and memory training classes through UCLA’s renown Longevity Center are offered to help residents stay ahead of, or deal with, aging deficits.

Since technology solutions are incorporated into the fabric of Watermark’s communities, a Technology Concierge is available to assist residents and their families with the frustrations of processes and adoption rates.

Coming of age in the Covid era, Watermark integrated the latest technology to screen and track communicable diseases for a high risk community. GoHealthID is a web-based software app custom built for WatermarkRetirement Communities that tracks and reports associate and resident COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Super high tech, the platform leverages blockchain technology, linked to cryptography, with timestamp and transaction data that is HIPPA secure.

An Accushield system replaces sign-in books for visitors and third-party caregivers with a kiosk-based, sign-in system that also records temperatures and asks health-related screening questions.

Freshwater wrapped it all into beautiful real estate: The Watermark at Houston Heights is a stunning seven-story residential tower of 222 residences (201 senior living up to almost 1500 square feet, 21 memory care) designed by Architect of Record Kirskey, with Munoz + Albin Architecture and Planning, with sweeping skyline views of Houston. Residences are studio and two-bedroom with open floor plans, designer kitchens or kitchenettes, quartz countertops and tile backsplashes, and modern bathrooms with walk-in disability accessible showers. Most residences include in-suite washing machine and dryers as well as ranges. Expansive floor-to-ceiling windows allow abundant natural light.

Common areas incorporate niche social spaces accented with curated art, as well as terraces, lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, art gallery and studio creation space, movie theater, library, heated outdoor swimming pool, activity lawn, luxury salon and spa, virtual-reality lounge and golf simulator.

“This is a re-start, not a retirement,” says Freshwater. “We are trying to shed the word “retirement” in our corporate brand because it doesn’t reflect nor encapsulate what is actually going on within our communities.” Elan charges a one-time membership fee with monthly rentals that vary in each community.

Years ago, at age 55, Freshwater sensed his company was not building products he himself would likely consume.

“If we are NOT building a product I want to live in, we are doing something very wrong,” he told colleagues.

From the beautiful real estate to the daily activities and food, life is carefully planned and crafted to stimulate the mind, body and souls of its residents.

About the food: Seasons, a signature restaurant is on site, along with other casual options and at-home dining that can adjust recipes and favored signature dishes. There are healthcare integrations through the Alzheimer’s Association®, and a collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine. The entire Élan Collection is also currently in collaboration negotiations with representatives from the Cleveland Clinic.

“More seniors prefer city life because of proximity to arts, top medical care, and services, not to mention their families” says Freshwater. “And in their later years, people tend to want to experience rich learning possibilities, and grow.”

Like going back to college: Watermark University offers residents learning and whole-person well-being through interactive live lectures, courses, and activities exclusive to the property.

Wall Street is paying attention. The compulsively comprehensive concept has attracted blue chip investors, such as Prudential, Goldman Sachs, and Kayne Anderson — Kayne Anderson has invested in five of the Elan communities. Expansion is in the air: another Elan prototype is almost complete in Georgetown, Texas, just north of Austin. Investors believe the next generation of seniors will be a ripe market in terms of sheer numbers and disposable income: a fixed-income clientele who will not be so affected by inflationary trends or income dips. They will age, of course, but demand their dignity, every bit as much as they demanded the right to vote when they were just babes at 18.

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