Welltower Sees 3 Weeks of Senior Housing Occupancy Gains, Expects To Hit Top End of FFO Guidance | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors
Welltower (NYSE: WELL) has seen three consecutive weeks of occupancy gains in its U.S. and U.K. senior housing operating (SHO) portfolios, and is expecting to achieve the top end of its guidance range for Q1 2021 normalized funds from operations (FFO).
The news reflects positive momentum for a large swath of senior living communities, given that Welltower’s SHO portfolio totaled 646 properties as of Q4 2020. Toledo, Ohio-based Welltower is the largest real estate investment trust (REIT) owner of senior housing in the United States by unit count, according to industry association Argentum.
In Feb. 2020, Welltower’s SHO occupancy stood at nearly 86%. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, occupancy declined; as of March 12 of this year, occupancy was 73.7%. By April 1, that had risen to 74%, according to a business update that Welltower released Tuesday.
The uptick in occupancy comes as senior living communities begin a return to more normalized operations, with many residents having been vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all of Welltower’s assisted living and memory care communities will complete their final vaccination clinic by early- to mid-April, according to the Tuesday business update.
The vaccines appear to be doing their job: trailing two-week resident cases declined by 99% between mid-January 2021 and April 1, 2021. Mid-January represented the peak of Covid-19 infections within the SHO portfolio, with more than 1,220 cases.
Now, almost all of Welltower’s SHO communities are accepting new residents, lead generation “for many communities” has returned to pre-Covid levels, and operators are resuming in-person tours and indoor visitation. Communal dining and programming are also coming back.
“Previous requirement to self-quarantine post move-in has been shortened or removed at some properties if new resident is fully vaccinated and tested negative for Covid-19,” the business update noted.
Move-outs also have been trending in the right direction in the SHO portfolio, decreasing 6% between January and March of this year.
For Q1 2021, Welltower now is anticipating average occupancy in the SHO portfolio to “finish favorably” to the midpoint of its guidance range, of -275 to -375 basis points.
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On Welltower’s last earnings call, in early Feb. 2021, CEO Shankh Mitra was hesitant to make any predictions about the future, citing Covid-19’s unpredictable growth patterns and uncertainty around the vaccine rollout. By early March, Mitra was feeling more optimistic, and could see the “inflection point” for senior housing coming as early as the second quarter of this year.
Also on Tuesday, Debra Cafaro, the CEO of another large REIT — Chicago-based Ventas (NYSE: VTR) — said that senior housing demand is proving resilient and that the economy may be on the verge of a “breakout.”