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How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche – Part 1

By February 18, 2013 May 16th, 2019 No Comments

 

Over the past few months I’ve received some questions. Specifically,
I’ve been asked how we created and ultimately sold a successful and
profitable real estate sales business focused on a seniors niche.

I
struggle with how to answer this question because first of all, it was a
process that began over 10 years ago, and also because there are so
many details I don’t even know where to begin.

So over the next few weeks I’m pulling back the curtains of our seniors real estate niche
and sharing with you exactly how we transitioned from a regular ol’
real estate sales job into a fun and meaningful seniors real estate
specialty “business.”  I’ll share the highs and lows, the lessons and
the the how-tos and everything in between. 

My hope is that
you can glean some strategies, insights, and lessons along the way to
help you get the momentum you’ve been looking for in your own business.

Like
I said, there are a lot of details, so I am going to break it down into
a series different posts and videos over the next few weeks.

Uncertainty:

We
knew that we wanted to grow beyond our current level of sales (about 60
sales annually) and were looking for a way to expand. Having been
selling together for about 7 years at the time, we were getting a bit
bored (it happens for me about every 2.5 years).

Truth:

I
had gone back to college uncertain about whether I really wanted to stay
in real estate or not. Getting a B.S. in Family Studies and Gerontology
and a M.S. in Counseling Psychology from a private Christian
University, we shelled out some major bucks and took out crazy expensive
student loans too. When realizing what I would get paid to work in the
aging services and/or counseling fields and knowing that it would not
put a dent in what I owed in student loans, I decided to keep selling
real estate.

Clarity:

It was a heart
breaking conversation with an 80+ year old female counseling patient
sitting on a nursing home bed one day that caused me to realize that I
could better serve seniors by being their real estate agent vs being
their therapist. The clarity of that moment is vivid. I will share my
story about this conversation in a video blog a bit later. I went home
that day and informed Chris that not only was I staying in the real
estate biz, but together, we were going to specialize in the seniors
niche. He reluctantly and lovingly agreed. He is such a good husband.

Preparation:

The
decision was made and now the question of “how” was on the table. We
decided that we would begin the project by doing some research. That
research led us to the newly offered Seniors Real Estate Specialist
(SRES) designation (pre-NAR endorsed). Even though I had a degree in
gerontology, I felt that it was an important investment to learn all I
could from others who were on this journey. The nearest class was in
Dallas, TX, so I paid my money and drove 4 hours to attend the class.
Much to my disappointment, the class didn’t really address the business
building blocks I was hoping to learn and so I decided that it was up to
me to figure it out.

Strategy:

I made it my personal
mission to learn everything I could about senior housing and the
then-called retirement communities in our area. Over about a month’s
time I had toured and cataloged every 55+ housing community, senior
living community, Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), assisted
living, and memory care community in our geographic area. I asked tons
of questions and learned as much as I could about the challenges
residents faced as they moved in, as well as the challenges that the
communities experienced with the transition.

More education:

We
reached out to our database of past clients, friends, family, and
neighbors and facilitated focus groups and networking meetings to learn
from their life experiences and to solicit their assistance in creating a
value proposition that would add value to the seniors we served.

Branding and marketing:

Realizing
that we had to differentiate ourselves and get our message out to our
target audience, we hired help. Knowing that our highest and best use
was not designing marketing materials, we retained a marketing and
public relationship firm. They put us through a series of interviews
asking us questions about our vision for our team, our value
proposition, our mission, and what image we wanted to portray to our
target market. This process helped us gain clarity about what we were
about and the value we had to offer. With blind trust and a checkbook in
hand, we turned our marketing and branding over to them and they
knocked it out of the park (not without some push back though). We were
scared to death to plaster “1st in Seniors Real Estate” all over our
brand, but we did it. And it worked.

Educating and speaking:

My
zone of genius is in teaching, speaking and training. I love being in
the front of a room, collaborating with others, and networking, so that
is what I spent most of my time doing. Of course the internet was not
really big yet and there was not such thing a social media, so most of
my relationships were build face to face and toe to toe. I offered to
speak to any group that would have me. Sometimes I presented to rooms of
50 or more, but mostly it was small gatherings of 2 to 15 people. Over
time the word got out that I was educating seniors about how to have a
successful move and that I was willing to share my knowledge and people
began to seek me out for their keynotes. Much to my surprise, people
began calling me 3 months to a year after hearing me speak to see if I
was available to help them with their moves. Senior community reps
trusted us and knew that we cared about our clients (their residents)
and they kept our listing inventory replenished. Our efforts were paying
off with about 4-5 new listings per month after only about a year into
our specialty.

Filling the gaps:

As we began to get more
and more clients who were downsizing into senior living from their
long-time family homes, we quickly realized that there were a lot of
details that needed to be handled along the way. In order to fulfill our
value proposition of creating hassle-free moves, we found ourselves
helping clients sort, organize, pack, move, unpack, reorganize, and set
up their new homes. Although I loved this hands on approach, we just
didn’t have enough time in the day to do it all – AND we were committed
to it getting done. There was really no such thing as a senior move
manager in 2001 and 2002 (in our area anyway) and so we hired a staff
person to serve as our move coordinator. A gerontology graduate from a
local university, this young lady was a perfect fit. She handled all the
details of the move for our senior clients and also helped us with
marketing efforts to build relationships with additional senior
communities.

Running a business:

Up
to this point we were salespeople. We had a team, but we didn’t really
know anything about running a business. Hiring coaches was a big step
for us. It meant admitting that we didn’t have a clue what we were doing
and also writing another big fat check! Best decision of our careers.
In one year after hiring Art and Anna Kleimer we had doubled our sales
and stopped working evenings and weekends. We got our financials in
order, had a business plan, and were creating an operations manual. Our
team was highly profitable and our senior clients were getting a level
of service unmatched by any agent in our area. Referrals began to pour
in and we found ourselves once again ready for expansion.

Leverage:

In
our business planning and strategy process, we realized that we needed
more leverage. We were doing a lot of work to get new listings and sales
and had not really tapped into the strength of relationships we had
built. Over the course of about 6 months, we reached out to our resource
team members, database, and professional network, and asked for their
help. Immediately we had the support of about a dozen people who were
actively sharing our information and sending us referrals. And not just
senior referrals – all types of referrals. The conversation about
specializing with seniors opened the door, but the door was wide open
for all types of business. Our best referral sources were senior living
communities, estate liquidators, and trust officers. Naturally, our
database of past clients, friends, family, and professional connections
also offered a steady stream of new business.

Surprising outcomes:

As
our brand became more popular within real estate circles, we began to
get two types of phone calls from agent colleagues – both with and
outside our company. The first call type and most frequent was typically
an agent who listed a home for an older adult and had no idea how to
help them. They wanted advice, guidance, and resources. The second call,
although less frequent, was the agent who had met with a senior who
clearly needed a lot of assistance and they wanted to refer them to us
because they did not feel equipped to help them. In both cases, we were
thrilled to be able to support them and make sure their senior client
got the services they needed and deserved.

Expansion:

Not
only were we selling homes for a lot of seniors (about 50-60 yearly),
our other real estate clients (non-seniors) began asking about and using
our value added services. They were happy to pay the additional expense
to have us handle the moving details such as organizing, sorting,
packing, and moving. It was a one-stop-shop by this point and we had
great vendors whom we had negotiated special savings and perks. This
caused us to separate our real estate sales services from our downsizing
services and led to the birth of Memories on the Move, a senior move
management company (before there really was such a thing). The company
itself, staffed with two gerontology graduates both experienced in
senior housing, never really made a profit. But where it came up short
it more than made up for in referrals to our real estate business. Over
time, this company became our marketing vehicle and the real estate team
was our profit center.

Selling the business:

Before we
even realized it, we had a business with equity. It’s a good thing
because we were ready to take on new challenges and relocated to warmer
climates. With a database delivering a consistent and predictable 10-12
sales per month, and inventory of about 20 listings, and marketing
vehicles in place, we sold our business including the brand, inventory,
and database and moved to Florida. Of course hind sight is 20/20 and we
would do it differently now, but at the time this was a major win for
us.

Lessons learned:

We have come full circle and have
been teaching and training real estate agents for nearly 5 years now on
how to build successful real estate sales specialties. It brings us
great joy to shorten the learning curve for others who have chosen to
serve seniors and to help them create better and more efficient sales
processes and systems. We now offer a certification that helps agents
learn not only how to serve seniors, but also how to build a business.
This year we are also gearing up to develop new sales forces markets and
to serve downsizing homeowners. This time around it will be so much
more fun knowing that we have like minded colleagues all over North
America who are willing to blaze the trail alongside us and leave
legacies for generations to come.

Stay tuned for upcoming in-depth posts on each of the topics mentioned. 

 

P.S.
Oh, you probably know this already, but just in case… Naturally we
teach all the strategies that we used when building our businesses in
our Seniors Real Estate Institute classes and masterminds. If you are ready to grow your seniors niche, feel free to jump in – we’re ready for you!

Read How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche – Part 2

Read How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche – Part 3

Read How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche – Part 4

Read How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche – Part 5

 

 

 

 

Nikki Buckelew

Nikki Buckelew

Nikki Buckelew is the Founder and CEO of the Seniors Real Estate Institute and administrator for the Certified Senior Housing Professional® (CSHP) designation. A veteran REALTOR® of over two decades, she holds a bachelor’s degree in gerontology and a master’s and PhD in psychology. As a professional speaker, coach, and trainer, Nikki is committed to empowering, equipping, and educating real estate sales and senior housing professionals seeking to better serve the mature market segment.

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