Putting Assisted Living Reviews in Their Place

ReviewsThe senior living industry has gone gaga over reviews. In the last year and a half, there has been much published about the value of assisted living reviews, much discussion at industry trade shows about the need for providers to gather reviews, as well as numerous websites vying to become the preeminent source of reviews.

Before we get too far, let’s put assisted living reviews in their proper place… Our belief is that consumer reviews will never have the same impact in assisted living as they do in other consumer markets because we will not reach a critical mass of reviews. Consumer reviews do serve a purpose and do provide value to assisted living decision makers, but will never become a key decision making element. Let’s go get reviews… We want them on SeniorHomes.com too. But let’s be clear about their role.

By the way, we launched the SeniorHomes Rating to fill the need that reviews will never fill, to provide consumers an objective resource to narrow down the many choices they face. We’ll talk more about that later.

Let’s start by looking at some other industries… Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor have significantly impacted how consumers select restaurants, hotels, and more. By aggregating a significant number of consumer reviews, shoppers are given a resource to help guide them through their purchase decision. Nowadays, an estimate of the quality of a restaurant can quickly be garnered from your computer or mobile phone for free, in an instant. In these markets, many people make choices solely based on the reviews they read and the average review scores.

Let’s look closer at Tripadvisor to see how this works… Check out the EPIC Hotel in Miami: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g34438-d1149365-Reviews-EPIC_Hotel_a_Kimpton_Hotel-Miami_Florida.html With (as of the date I wrote this) 1,482 reviews, you can rest assured that the average review score as well as the distribution of reviews will provide a reliable opinion on the quality of the hotel as well as a metric which you can use for comparison with other hotels nearby.

In fact, in looking at all 130 hotels listed on Tripadvisor in Miami, only 40-50 have fewer than 100 reviews and most of these are small independent hotels. The other 80-90 hotels have more than 100 reviews, many with 500, 1000 or more. With such a critical mass of reviews, TripAdvisor has become a reliable, essential element in deciding where to stay. A study commissioned by Tripadvisor this year showed that “Travel review websites” were rated as the “most useful” source of information and “online reviews” are the third most important decision making factor behind “location” and “price”.1

How did Tripadvisor get to such a critical mass of ratings? Some data:

  • The average larger hotel has over 250 rooms. Occupancy on average is 40-70% depending on the time of year. With simple calculations you can see that on average a large hotel might have anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000, to 10,000 customers or more visit the hotel per year
  • Yelp studies indicate of all Yelp users, only 1-2% actually post reviews.2
  • With such a large potential review writing audience, you can see how TripAdvisor could aggregate from 20 – 200+ new reviews per year per hotel, getting to a critical mass.

Reviews have clearly become a valuable resource across many purchase types, but can consumer reviews meet the needs of families seeking assisted living? Will consumer reviews become a critical element in the decision making process?

Consumer reviews will never have this kind of impact in assisted living.

Let’s look at equivalent numbers in assisted living…

  • The average number of residents in a senior living community is roughly 125. Add in 2 family members per resident as potential reviewers, which gets us to 375 potential reviewers per year.
  • The average stay in assisted living is 18 months. So 375 possible reviewers per year shrinks to 250.
  • With 1-2% of consumers actually posting reviews that gets us to between 2-5 reviews per year.

But wait, looking at the audience of residents, it’s highly unlikely we’ll hit even these numbers. Residents average age is 82 and many don’t have a computer or smartphone. Also, the transactional nature of a restaurant or hotel, creates a natural timeframe to post a review following a meal or a stay. Does it seem natural for a resident that has moved out after 18 months to a higher level of care to post a review? I think we have to cut our projections down even further.

What about visitors? There are potentially hundreds of visitors a year to any assisted living community. We believe that visitors are an unreliable source for reviews. If you knew that most restaurant reviews on Yelp where from people that walked into the restaurant, but didn’t taste the food or experience the service, would you rely on Yelp? We think not.

So what is the value of reviews in assisted living? Assisted living reviews do provide value, but will not become as influential a data source as in other markets. Reviews, especially ones that share someone’s personal story, can help show the personality of an assisted living community. Readers of reviews can get a sense for the culture of the community, the activities offered, and the personality of the staff. So we believe that reviews are valuable and can influence someone’s decision, but never to the extent in other markets. Reviews will certainly influence decisions, but won’t likely drive decisions.

Reviews are also beneficial to providers because the presence of reviews on a website helps improve conversion rate from website visitor to inquirer.

Let’s go get reviews as an industry, but let’s just be clear about the role they will play.

It is because of the our viewpoint on reviews and the fact that in assisted living there is not yet a reliable information source to help consumers make decisions, that we launched the SeniorHomes Rating.

The SeniorHomes Rating brings together opinions of local experts (people whose working lives take them in and out of senior living communities every day and every week), state inspection data, and consumer reviews into one simple number which reflects the overall quality of a senior living community. Our goal for SeniorHomes rating is to have the same sort of impact on decision making and becomes as valuable a resource to consumers as are Tripadvisor reviews.

Interested in sharing with others your experience with an assisted living community? Visit our Post a Senior Living Review page to find the community and submit your review.


  1.  TripAdvisor: Travel review websites most influential source of information: http://www.tripadvisor.com/PressCenter-i5794-c1-Press_Releases.html
  2. Yelp blog: http://officialblog.yelp.com/2011/06/yelp-and-the-1990-rule.html
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