Years ago when I was searching for a nursing home for my mother, I was amazed at how few websites there were that help in finding senior housing. That was then. Now there are oodles -- almost impossible to keep straight and the business models may not be obvious, the value even less so. Today I will attempt to clarify types, offer a few examples, and attempt to explain the busines model. As with every other web-based initiative, consolidation and shakeout in this world is inevitable and appropriate.
Senior housing directory sites. Directory sites have listings of facilities and services with attributes. They are funded on three models -- subscription fees from listing facilities, referral fees (payment per lead), and move-in commission. For example, RetirementHomes.com and Gilbert Guide (just acquired by Caring.com) charge annual fees to facilities for being listed in the directory. "A Place for Mom" charges the facilities a 'move in' fee equal to some portion of the first month's rent. SeniorsforLiving.com (not to be confused with SeniorLiving.com which is similar) charges a lead referral fee, based on filling in a interest referral form -- which is then forwarded to the listing housing organization as a lead. RetireNet, like Gilbert Guide and RetirementHomes, lists, offers phone numbers to contact, which implies a fixed subscription fee, but there is also an 'interest referral form' on Gilbert Guide -- which implies a lead-generation component as well. 'Featured' listings means there is an upgrade option. Content is critical to these sites -- forums, experts, articles on related topics surround the listings -- and paid advertising. Finally, sites can use the directory listings of other sites, rather than manage the data themselves or pay for partnership with more than one site to boost the number of leads.
CAVEATS: There are too many of these sites (a Google search for 'senior housing directories' is eye-popping), the business relationships with facilities are not exposed, financially-strapped housing or service providers may be unsure who to list themselves with. But the big issue is that determining quality is up to the consumer to research -- and in the end, consumers are left to gather up a list, pick some criteria, and use visits and word of mouth to select. The hybrid nature of the business model (subscription, listing upgrades, referral fees, advertising) means data is plentiful, but not necessarly converted to really useful information.
WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ADDED: Transparency of business model, identification of executive team and launch background, including any funders, integration with consumer ratings and/or quality inspection organization sites -- like Angie's List or state inspection results, which is feasible with nursing homes -- or build-out of a consumer-rating portion of the site. Exceptions include the SeniorList and Gilbert Guide which offers moderated user reviews -- not especially well-populated -- those who use these sites should take the extra step and write reviews. Maybe someday after the consolidation and shakeouts are complete, we'll have a directory of directories that rates the surviving organizations.
Up next, sorting out business models of caregiving portals.