An interview with Sebastian Holl, CEO of wohnvoll AG
Sebastian, in your own words, what is special about the wohnvoll concept?
What makes it special is that we are rethinking the matter of aging. In the past few years, we have questioned many senior citizens about their needs and looked at existing concepts. Assisted living has been considered, until now, purely from a care provider’s perspective. This needs to change. We want to offer a client orientated approach, in which half the residents live without any degree of care provided and live comfortably. We provide them with services similar to those of a hotel. In addition, loneliness in old age accelerates the aging process drastically. We hope to create and foster a feeling of community with the help of multifunctional spaces and digital concepts. This is a clear evolution from the usual bulletin board which you see in nursing homes and represents the next development in senior living. Through our Relatives app, for example, grandchildren have the opportunity to actively participate in their grandparents’ lives – even if they live several hundred kilometers away.
Who is your target group?
These are couples or individuals, who are 65 and over, who still want to enjoy an active and autonomous life for many years to come and who wish to further educate themselves. We appeal to a broad section of the senior population when it comes to the price of apartments. As a guideline, anyone who receives a pension for their household of around 1,500 euros can become a tenant of ours.
How is the implementation of the concept going? What plans do you have?
We are currently targeting around 30 sites in Germany, most of which have already been purchased. In 2023, the first wohnvoll-villages will be launched. As a platform, we use a sustainable and repeatable concept when building our new projects. We build in compliance with the KfW-40 Standard, which means that buildings use 60% less energy than a conventional house. All competencies have been consolidated within our management team, and we have got to know the needs of our target group through extensive surveys and experience. Over the next few years, our platform is set to grow to a minimum of 60 sites.
What does a typical wohnvoll-village look like?
Each village has approximately 80 apartments, which range from 45 to 75 m2 in size. They are extremely functional and practically thought out. Even the small apartments feature a utility room, for example. In the entrance hall, you will find a wardrobe with seating, plus a large mirror. In addition, each apartment will have a Loggia which can be used not only in summer, but in three of the four seasons. The ground floor contains communal areas which can be used as day care for seniors, for example. In the evenings, these can also be used for yoga sessions or classes from the Higher Education Centre (Volkhochschule). In addition, there is a restaurant and a cafe, which is also partially open to external visitors. A community manager is always available on site, and the outpatient nursing service is also on site. On the first floor, we hope to set up one or two shared care apartments for tenants who require a higher degree of care and who are looked after around the clock. In this way, spouses can continue to live in the same house even if their partner requires constant care. Depending on the size of the property, we are also planning to feature a garden, perhaps with raised beds for the residents. We are even considering keeping chickens or bees.
How did you come up with the concept?
The wife of our Supervisory Board Chairman, Andreas Steyer, has been active in senior care for many years, and Andreas himself, has a real estate background. She has always said to him, “Build me a house for my seniors, who have far too much to do in their large houses and who, nonetheless, are lonely. A house where they can live together and where life is the focus.” The idea has matured over many years. Then Andreas met Andreas Skoberne, who had already implemented the idea with his company PflegeQuartier, and they teamed up together. The two of them approached me in May and didn’t have to take time convincing me for long. My father is himself in the situation of still living at home with a degree of care. I bought an apartment for him 20 years ago so that he would be well taken care of. If the wohnvoll concept had existed ten years ago, I would have much preferred to rent such an apartment for my father.
You are originally from the banking industry and worked in equity trading for a long time. How did the switch to senior living come about?
As an investment banker, you must also take on the role of strategy consultant for the companies you advise. To place their shares on the capital market, you must first understand the fundamental drivers of their business model. It is also necessary to be familiar with the markets the company operates in and their competitive position. In my 25 years in this field, I have supervised many real estate companies, and this has developed into an area of specialization for me. As a result, one thing became increasingly clear to me; at a time when the population is aging, there is a structural shortage of properties for senior citizens. Moreover, existing concepts do not reflect the needs of an ever-evolving generation. It is for this reason, that I felt the compulsion to take on a more operational role in this transformation.
But you switched sides, didn’t you?
Yes, that’s true. But I have always tried to think outside the box and be open to change. I had my eye on investment early on and advised companies. Nevertheless, switching from the broker side to the corporate side after 25 years in investment banking, is a big step. I have received a few offers over the years, but they never seemed interesting enough. As part of wohnvoll, I can make a difference and do something positive for society. At this point, there is a shortage of 600,000 apartments for senior citizens. We are now creating affordable housing for them, and it is this that truly motivates me.