Peter Linneman And Albert Ratner: We Have Seen The Future, And It's Old. That's A Good Thing
Albert Ratner, who turns 95 years old next week, admits he is not the same man he was a few decades ago. But it’s probably not in the way most people would expect.
The economist and former co-CEO and co-chair of Forest City Enterprises said his changes have been for the better.
“The difference between what I'm capable of doing at 95 with what I was capable of doing at 70 is enormous,” Ratner said. “I know more people, I have more contacts. So I'm so much better at what I'm doing than when I was 70 years old.”
His firsthand experience with longevity gives Ratner optimism about the massive demographic shifts the United States is facing in the 21st century — and it is an optimism that extends to the commercial real estate world.
People tend to worry about two trends impacting the country’s population. One of them is the declining birth rate, and the other is the tremendous growth in longevity. A recent Pew study warned that persistent low fertility rates could have a negative impact on tax bases and the ability of the states to meet their residents’ needs.
“The projection from the Congressional Budget Office is that our GDP over the next 30 years is going to be 1.5%, and that our country is going to close down,” Ratner said. “[Peter and I] don't believe that. But what we do believe is if we understand the opportunity in longevity, we can have an economy and a life that we never dreamed of.”
The difference, said Ratner and Linneman, who co-authored the Great Age Reboot with Dr. Michael Roizen, is in the quality of those extended life spans. As Linneman pointed out to host Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker, while they project that U.S. longevity could increase by 30 years in the next decade thanks to medical advances and healthier lifestyles, it doesn’t mean people will spend those “extra” years confined to a nursing home. If anything, it suggests they’ll be living more vibrant lives than their parents or grandparents could have imagined, he said.
“It's not like you’re sitting on your deathbed for an additional 20 years,” Linneman said. Instead, it is as if people are adding a couple of years of living “in your 20s, two more in your 30s, two more in your 40s, two more in your 50s, etc. That's how you get the extra years.”
This has great implications for the overall economy, as people are able to work more productively for longer. Ratner noted that increasing longevity by one year adds $37T to the economy, according to one estimate.
This trend also should influence how developers look at senior housing and other commercial real estate assets. Linneman said that geriatrics who live in assisted living are unlikely to be playing beach volleyball, no matter how healthy they are. Instead, they expect buildings and infrastructure to accommodate their needs.
“How many times have you been with a shopping center owner and they say, ‘Oh, we restriped our parking lot to get more cars,’” Linneman said. “And you go, ‘You may as well put up a big sign out front saying, Nobody Over 65 Is Wanted Here, because narrower [spaces make it] harder to get into and out of the car.’”
Linneman said developers and architects should make more of an effort to think like older people and incorporate their needs into their designs. The results needn’t be radical.
“The big money isn't figuring out the big stuff, but then you're going to have to execute on the small stuff as a real estate person,” he said. “I would ask every apartment owner to go get your friend, your grandparent, your neighbor who's 80 years old, and take them through your apartment complex. And listen to what their reactions are.”
Neither Linneman nor Ratner pretended that life as an older person is a bowl of cherries. Ratner said he has made it this far with the help of 18 stents. But he doesn’t let that define him.
“You can't convince me I'm 95, because I don't feel 95,” Ratner said. “I don't know what it's like to be 95.”
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