What to know about real estate wellness—the fastest-growing market in the $5.6 trillion global wellness industry

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Get ready for apartments with smart toilets, biofiltration systems that improve indoor air quality, and planned residences that aim to create their very own Blue Zones by providing everything from “clean cuisine” to holistic health services for its residents. It’s all part of what’s known as real estate wellness, and it’s the fastest-growing market in a $5.6 trillion global wellness economy, according to a new report from the research-based nonprofit Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

While other elements in the race for longevity revolve around more familiar trends such as nutrition, spa treatments, and high-end fitness programs, real estate wellness refers to residential and commercial buildings that are proactively designed, built, and operated to support the holistic health of their residents.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reckon with how our health is shaped by our built environment, and wellness real estate will continue to be a winner amidst this shift,” notes the report by GWI, which released the new findings on Tuesday in conjunction with its Wellness Real Estate & Communities Symposium, a daylong industry summit held in New York City.

“In the past, people often associated wellness real estate with amenity-filled resort properties and retirement communities, but they are now seeing it in a more holistic light—incorporating diverse features like strong air filtration, better sound proofing, facilities for outdoor exercise, ample community and social spaces, and access to nature,” the report’s authors, Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, continue. “Across the world, there is rising demand for buildings, homes, and communities that help people to live a healthier lifestyle and protect their health, creating vast potential for the wellness real estate sector.”

That sector will grow, according to the report’s forecast, “by 15.8% annually from 2023 to 2028, when it will approach the trillion-dollar mark ($912.6 billion forecasted for 2028).”

Real estate wellness, GWI notes, is just one of 11 sectors that make up the wellness economy, also including personal care and beauty (the largest, at $1,089 billion); wellness tourism; springs; spas; mental wellness; physical activity; healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss; public health, prevention, and personalized medicine; and traditional and complementary medicine. It surged from $225.2 billion in 2019 to $438.2 billion in 2023, representing an 18.1% annual growth rate—which is put into perspective by the fact that the average annual growth for overall construction is 5.1%.

The United States is the largest real estate wellness market, accounting for 41% of the global total, followed by China, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. 

What does real estate wellness look like?

Conscious wellness in real estate can look as basic as integrating healthy aspects into how a structure is sourced, built, and designed. 

“What’s good for people is good for business,” noted Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO of the International Well Building Institute at Tuesday’s symposium. The institute is a third-party rating system that issues WELL certification for buildings, accounting for elements including air, water, light, thermal comfort, sound and materials—resulting not only in improved mental health and overall workplace satisfaction for employees, but in a significant rise in annual gains and S&P 500 appreciation for companies, Hodgdon said. 

In its new report, GWI finds that interest in such wellness certifications has risen rapidly in recent years, with the total number of wellness-certified building projects increasing by more than 40-fold from 2017 to 2023, when there were over 3,300 certified projects by WELL and Fitwel, another major third-party rating system, around the world. Over 55% of these certifications are in the United States, with the majority of the certifications going to office/commercial, hospitality, and retail properties. 

Healthy indoor air quality is also becoming an essential feature—a welcome shift, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program, who says it has long been a “glaring hole” in what constitutes wellness. 

“We’ve been in the sick building era for 40 years,” said Allen at Tuesday’s symposium. “We have not had health as our north star in the way we operate and maintain our buildings… But things are changing, and changing very fast.” That’s largely due to “new technologies that let us take the pulse of our buildings and indoor air quality,” he explained, referring to low-cost air-quality sensors that are changing the game, with individuals using them to pressure companies “because of the awareness created by COVID that indoor air quality matters.” 

At the more glamorous end, real estate wellness comprises luxury, health-driven technologies—measuring real-time wellness, for example, by equipping homes with smart versions of everything from refrigerators and stove tops to beds and toilets, as explained by Dr. Helen Messier of Fountain Life, which focuses on technology for prevention. 

Other wellness trends in real estate called out by the report include:

  • Pro-social design features to encourage spontaneous social interactions and combat loneliness and isolation. 
  • Workspaces becoming healthier, equipped with wellness design and features, to entice people to come back to the office after years of working remotely. 
  • Luxury properties including wellness features and healthy design to the point of being “nearly ubiquitous.”

Finally, there’s been a demand for “retreat style” wellness living—whether for young professionals or families, as with new super-high-end SHA residences in Mexico, Spain, and the Emirates, featuring nutrition and mind-body pavilions, or seniors, as with Mather residences. There, wellness is infused into the design as well as the programming, including breathwork sessions, beekeeping workshops, guided meditations, and Pilates reformers. And that, noted Mather president and CEO Mary Leary at Tuesday’s symposium, “is a far cry from shuffleboard.”

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