I recently wrote about the mixed message served up during the American Health Care Association’s annual conference. There, troubling words about the state of skilled care stood in sharp contrast to a jam-packed expo hall.

I guess you could say last week must have been NIC’s turn.

To be sure, the 28th annual Fall Conference of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care in Chicago was an unqualified success. More than 3,100 people attended, a record. The Windy City’s notoriously unpredictable October weather was cool but comfortable. The food was superb and many educational sessions were standing-room only.

One of the more interesting sessions was entitled “What’s it really worth?” But perhaps this exploration of current valuations might have been more accurately called “What the heck is going on?”

I should preface why this session was a bit of a stunner with this observation: Those who sell money for a living tend to be excruciatingly careful about saying anything that might be construed as offensive or controversial. Economists are practically loose cannons by comparison.

But once all the numerous qualifiers delivered at this session were boiled down, two inescapable realities remained. One was that many senior living operators now face a pretty tough slog. While notable outliers exist, overall occupancy is way down. At the same time, finding and keeping qualified employees has perhaps never been more challenging. And neither of these problems appears to be in line for relief any time soon.

The other reality? Despite the negative numbers, capital providers are lining up to make deals, often at inflated prices that seem to be at odds with the available evidence. Or as one person told me afterwards, too much money is chasing too few deals.

One thing I’ve learned about capital providers is that they tend to be both smart and good at math. So it’s not like we have a case here of fools rushing in.

To be sure, many of the aggressive capital providers are taking the long view. And perhaps in a few years they will all be laughing at competitors who didn’t have the guts to pursue a golden opportunity.

It may also be the case that despite some troubling sector numbers, seniors housing and care still shapes up as a better option than other places to park investment dollars. As I just said, these are smart people. So we’ll have to see how things play out here.

But I must say, the first two big trade shows of October have been interesting. Can’t wait to see what might be in store at next week’s LeadingAge conference.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.