Today in China, there is an "enormous amount of interest" in building up the senior-housing sector, which isn't as developed as in the U.S., Shill said.
Jason Dopoulos, senior managing director with the healthcare and senior-living financial advisory firm Lancaster Pollard, agreed Chinese investors are largely trying to learn how to operate senior-living facilities. When he visited Chinese facilities last May, many were not properly marketed, their staffing ratios were out of whack and they weren't profitable.
In the U.S., it's more culturally acceptable to place parents or grandparents in senior-living facilities, Dopoulos said. "Other countries haven't gotten there yet," he said. "I think that's why they're interested in seeing how it works because our demographics are huge for senior living, but theirs dwarfs ours by a gigantic magnitude."
At the height of the dealmaking in 2016, the Chinese firm Union Life through a subsidiary bought 90% of the interest in a joint venture with Summit Healthcare REIT, which then owned 15 senior-housing properties. In 2016, Chinese insurer Taikang Life Insurance agreed to buy a $1 billion stake in NorthStar Realty's healthcare real estate portfolio.
And as President Donald Trump fans a trade conflict with China, there is talk of China potentially devaluing its currency. If that happens, Costello thinks Chinese investors with stakes in U.S. companies will hold onto them for a long time, assuming they're not under scrutiny from the Chinese government.
Genesis spokeswoman Lori Mayer described Cindat and Welltower as her company's landlords, with a lease that's structured no differently than the firm's other leases. A Brookdale spokeswoman declined to comment.
For senior-housing operators, that could be a good thing, since landlords like the Chinese investors—which are holding assets for capital preservation and to learn from them—likely won't be as aggressive as, say, a U.S. pension fund, when it comes to negotiating rent, Costello said.
Dopoulos attended the NIC conference and said he spoke with officials from several Chinese firms actively pursuing senior-housing deals. "I don't think it's going to stop," he said. "I just think it went really fast for a while and now we're just slowing down a little bit."