Wellness Real Estate and Communities: New Momentum, New Directions

The pandemic ignited demand for “well” homes and new trends–from developments that blend home, work and wellness to a huge new value for nature to a shakeup in senior living to thinking beyond the billionaires

Waaay back in 2007, GWS trends forecasters named “spa real estate” a rising trend (when destination spas were starting to add homes). In 2015, we named “wellness homes, communities and cities” a top trend, exploring just how much more comprehensive and meaningful the idea of building for human health had become.

Fast forward to 2021. We all know—intuitively and from analysts’ reports—that the pandemic completely transformed the concept, function and value of the home. It became our “everything” (from where we work to workout), and during this long crisis, more people have questioned where and how they want to live (what they want in a home and community). The answer, in a word, is “more wellness”: more safety; nature and sustainability; space and serenity to work; and more purpose, meaning and true community.

More people now seek homes and communities purpose-built to deliver more physical, mental and social wellbeing. This is not just a temporary fallout of the pandemic, but because of bigger cultural, environmental and demographic shifts that will play out over decades

Rising trends:

More wellness “hardware”–There is so much new technology and design innovation to create more “well” buildings—from the surge in safety-tech (whether air purification or touchless design) to “nudge design” that makes healthy behaviors the easy path to futuristic smart homes (integrating sensors, AI, telemedicine). So many angles, from designing homes/communities/cities for the coming global heatwave to new apps (like Sugar) that turn apartment buildings into interactive communities to “bio-experiential” multisensory spaces.

New programming angles–Wellness real estate concepts and programming are taking much more diverse directions, from the rise of super-sophisticated medical-wellness projects (see: Tri Vananda, Thailand) to developments that put mental health—and even spirituality—at the center (whether in design, with meditation spaces and prayer rooms, or programming, such as bringing in mental health professionals and coaches–see Gravity in Columbus, Ohio).

Nature, nature, nature: from biophilic design experiments to regenerative living–The pandemic and environmental destruction have put an unprecedented new value on nature, impacting not just where wellness developments get built but fueling new experiments in biophilic design, a reinvention of the interplay between nature and the built environment, and in new, nature-based programming. If there has been tension between building for wellness and sustainability, new regenerative, net-positive communities are producing their own food, renewable energy, recycled water—and building communities around farming/food, even in urban developments (see: Powered by Ulsteinvik, Norway).

The Work from Home (WFH) shake-up: The radical acceleration of remote work, and mounting issues of burnout and loneliness, are spurring new destinations and concepts: from multifunctional home design to projects that dissolve the line between home, work and wellness. With remote, flexible living, there is a primary (once urban/suburban) and second/vacation home flip, so look for more wellness-centered pied à terres and extended stay apartment-hotels in cities–and more fluid, flexible and fractional-based ownership models overall.

Baby boomers will reinvent “senior living” around wellness: Our world is aging as never before (the WHO predicts the 60+ global population will double by 2050). In the US, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and by 2030, all boomers will be at least 65. Boomers invented the wellness revolution, they’re active and engaged, and will entirely rewrite “senior living” models—rejecting the tired mega-developments filled with old people in favor of multigenerational, age-in-place living concepts in smaller, more creative, urban-close, social communities (see Cantina Communities near Austin, TX) that reflect their radically different attitude toward aging: a cool, joyful, live-well-and-long approach.

Beyond the elitist high-end: The pandemic made clear that wellness is a burning public health issue and that where you live and your built environment have an outsized impact on your wellbeing. Wellness communities are poised to move beyond the billion-dollar palaces and penthouses to a new wave of more affordable, inclusive, pragmatic wellness communities and healthy building driven by forward-thinking policymakers and developers. For instance, Agrihood in Santa Clara, CA, a coming farm-focused wellness community, features a balance of mixed-income apartments and homes for low-income seniors and veterans.

There are so many more trends to talk about: from the powerful impact millennials will have on this market to the new resort/residence/community models that big wellness resort players (Six Senses, Aman, SHA Wellness, GOCO Hospitality, etc.) are creating. It’s a whole different future for wellness real estate and communities than the one imagined in 2019.

At the Global Wellness Institute’s Wellness Real Estate & Communities Symposium on September 28, researchers, developers, investors, architects and designers will gather to explore the most powerful future concepts in this space.

Learn more about the agenda and attending (in-person in NYC or virtually on demand).

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