“Seniors’ housing is going to become what college used to be,” Christopher A. Kazantis, director of AEW Capital Management, a firm that has $50 billion under management in Asia, Europe, and the United States, told members attending the recent ULI 2011 Fall Meeting in Los Angeles. At some point, he explained, living in seniors’ housing will become what the whole population does at a certain point in their lives.

William D. Pettit, Jr., president and chief operating officer of Merrill Gardens, a Seattle, Washington–based company that owns 56 seniors’ communities in ten states, said demand for seniors’ housing will grow in part because “people retire twice.” When they retire from work, he explained, they remain active and may travel the world, often remaining in their longtime home. Then “there’s a second retirement that occurs in the late 70s or 80s, and usually that’s event-driven,” he said. Seniors’ housing with associated health care and lifestyle services then becomes more attractive—or necessary.

Mitchell K. Brown, chief development officer for Kisco Senior Living, headquartered in Carlsbad, California, said the most profitable place to locate a housing development for seniors is not where the retirees are. Rather, it is where there is a high concentration of 45- to 50-year-old, highly educated adult children of retirees. Developments near such locations allow people to maintain family ties, and tend to be “incredibly successful,” he said. Kisco owns 18 communities in five states.

While there is, of course, a real estate component to seniors’ housing, panelists stressed that, at its core, it is a service industry, with health-management components and regulatory requirements that vary from state to state. “It is a mission-driven industry in many regards,” said Mercedes Kerr, senior vice president of Health Care REIT.