It may sound a little crazy for us to write an article that encourages our members to support aging-in-place for senior adults, especially when our very livelihood relies upon helping people buy and sell property.
I understand and appreciate the possible paradox here — but if you would be willing to indulge me for a moment, I would like to elaborate on my proposal.
As you know if you follow my blog and podcasts, I read a lot. Well, the truth is that I scan a lot of things and read a few. In my perusing of the multitudes of literature out there, including academic research, political, social, and mainstream media, one thing is certain — people clearly want to age in place (i.e. live in their own home versus supportive housing) until they die.
Remove the “agenda-based” literature and there is plenty of research out there to indicate that people WANT to live at home—period.
Of course, right?
Who wouldn’t say that they want to continue living in the comfort of their own home? A place where they feel safe, know their way around, and have a sense of independence and autonomy.
I personally can’t imagine someone saying, “Yup. I can’t wait to get frail enough that I get to live in one of those places where my every need is taken care of, I don’t need to make any decisions, my life is handled for me, and there are people I don’t know (or want to know) all around me every day.”
People simply don’t think that way.
Here are 10 things that we know:
- Most people (90%) want to age in place (a.k.a. stay put).
- The fastest growing segment of the senior demographic is the 85 and older group.
- The older people get, generally the more support they need with activities of daily living.
- Many people are outliving their children (and other members of their support network).
- Residences that were adequate in middle-adulthood do not support the needs that accompany frailty in old age.
- There will be insufficient affordable options for elders needing supportive housing in the future.
- Families will choose or find it necessary to assist aging parents through living together or in close proximity.
- Cultural differences in how people age are not addressed through today’s versions of independent and assisted living communities.
- Aging-in-place is a complex issue involving community resources, family systems, social agencies, religious organizations, medical services, and the aging individual themselves (complex in their own right)
- Real estate professionals are uniquely positioned and inherently equipped to be on the frontline of issues related to aging-in-place, relocation in to supportive housing, multi-generational living options, policy reform, and community education.
In my recent research into seniors (“kupuna”) in Hawaii (because we have the pleasure of teaching our Success in Seniors Real Estate course there recently), I have found the following information:
- According to the last census, Hawaii had about 204,700 people over age 65
- The American Health Association estimates that about 12% of people over 65 (23,750 kupuna in Hawaii) will need longterm care.
- There are about 11,000 spaces (4,000 in nursing homes; 7,000 in residential care homes) currently available in Hawaii.
- Hawaii has a deficit of 12,750 spaces currently for Hawaiian senior adults who will likely need longterm care.
- By 2035, kupuna in Hawaii will grow from 204,700 to 475,000 (29.7% of the population)
- Current facilities (if no changes are made) will only be able to accommodate 30% of Hawaii’s aging seniors projected to need care in 2035.
While you may not live in Hawaii, you may find it interesting to note that their situation is not unique. It just happened to be the report laying on my desk at the time I decided to write this article.
Cities all across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and around the globe report similar statistics. Too many seniors — not enough capacity to adequately care for them.
This certainly explains the mad rush by investors to build senior living apartments on every corner of every major city, now doesn’t it?
But is senior living the only option? Of course not.
Many seniors, with some support and home modifications, could live at home to the end of their lives. Some will naturally choose to move into supportive housing and others will truly need to, but with 90% expressing a desire to remain in their own homes, isn’t it our responsibility to try and help them do that?
I think so.
Allow me to share with you a couple of quick conversations I recently had with one of our Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP) members.
CSHP: Hi, Nikki. I have a bit of a dilemma and I would like to get some coaching on how to move forward with this client. Can you help?
Nikki: Of course. That is what I am here for. What is the issue specifically?
CSHP: I am working with a senior who says that she wants to stay in her home, but I think that she would be better served by living in either an independent living community or maybe even assisted living. That is actually how I came to know her. She was referred by a community that I have an established a relationship with.
Nikki: What makes you say that she may be better served by moving?
CSHP: Well, she seems lonely and with her husband gone now, she really has no way of getting out and about without relying on her church friends and family members. I’m not sure, but it also looks to me like she may not be eating right and when she walks, she seems really frail and susceptible to falls.
Nikki: Ok. Those are great observations. Have you shared with her the various options available to her for both staying in her home and for moving to a community? Have you discussed things like community services for transportation and meals and possible fall prevention measures for her house? Have you shared the benefits of living in an independent senior community, such as availability of regular nutritious meals, transportation, social activities, and such?
CSHP: Yes. I did all that. We spent a good 2 hours together last week talking about her options and how she would like to proceed. She has visited a couple of communities, but ultimately I think she has decided to stay in her home for a while longer.
Nikki: Great. So what can you do to help her with her goal of staying in her home until she chooses otherwise?
CSHP: That is my dilemma. I want to help her, but at the end of the day, I only get paid if I sell her home.
Nikki: You’re right. Under your current business model, you aren’t charging for project management or consultancy services, right? As I understand it, you are offering those for free.
CSHP: Yes. I just don’t feel that I am in a position to charge for those services.
Nikki: Ok. So, let me ask you, what do you feel is the right thing to do here?
CSHP: That is why I called you. I’m not sure.
Nikki: Yes you are. You may not think you are sure, but that is because you are thinking like a typical Realtor. You are different, remember. If you weren’t you wouldn’t have picked up the phone and called me today. You would have just walked away and wished this woman well. So, what is it that caused you to define this as a “dilemma?”
CSHP: I guess it’s a dilemma because I want to help her, but I also want to make money.
Nikki: Great job. That is, in fact your dilemma. Your head says you are in this for the money, but your heart is saying you are in this to serve people and make a positive difference in the world. So, which will it be? Will you follow your heart or your head? Only you can make that choice — I can’t make it for you.
CSHP: What would you do?
Nikki: That isn’t relevant. What is right for me may or may not be what is right for you. What does your gut tell you.
CSHP: My gut tells me to help her stay in her home even though I won’t make any money doing it.
Nikki: Great. There is your answer. Do you have what you need in order to do that?
CSHP: Yes. I think so. I got most of what I needed in the course and by doing my post-course action plan. I have plenty of resources I can connect her with and I have some ideas about how she can make her home safer by just installing some railings, grab bars, and stuff like that.
Nikki: Well then, it sounds like my work is done here. Do you feel complete?
CSHP: Yes. I do. Thank you. You always seem to clarify what I am dealing with, when in my own mind, it is so jumbled up.
Nikki: What a nice compliment. That is what a good coach is supposed to do. Please let me know how everything turns out. I look forward to the outcome. Oh, and don’t forget to touch base with the community that referred her so that they are in the loop. Let them know about her decision and that you will continue to assess the situation and keep them informed should something change. As we all know, circumstances can change quickly as we age and so it is important that both you and the community stay in touch regularly. It’s a team effort with the senior client as the priority always.
CSHP: I will. The community rep that I work with is great and understands that sometimes people need time before they make the decision to move. We work well together in that regard. Thanks for your time today.
Fast forward ….
CSHP: Hi Nikki, I wanted to share with you an unexpected outcome from our conversation the other day.
Nikki: Excellent. How did it turn out? Was your gut right as usual?
CSHP: Yes it was. I went back to my client’s house and met with her after our talk. I told her that if she wanted to stay put, I was going to do what I could to make that possible. You should have seen the look on her face. She asked me if I was going to charge her for helping. I told her that I did not have a set fee for this because it was not something I came across much, but that if she felt like she wanted to pay me she could. We both laughed.
Nikki: That was a great response. You were very honest and authentic. Of course you could decide to start charging for those services if it makes sense for you to do so. You would just need to outline your role and how your fees are based.
CSHP: Yes. I know. I have thought about that. I think for now that I am going to just do it pro bono and after I tell you what happened next you will understand why.
Nikki: Do tell.
CSHP: Well, after we met and talked about how to make her home safer and get her some support, I started making some calls to my senior resource team members. I told them what I was doing and got some appointments lined up for me and my client to interview them, get some bids, etc. The very next day I received a call from a guy who does wheelchair ramps and stair lifts and that kind of thing. He said he was talking to one of my resource team members and she told him that I was different than any other agent she knew.
You always say that when someone says “you’re different” that you are on the right track, right?
Nikki: Yes, I do. I have a feeling that this is a great outcome!
CSHP: It was. The guy told me that he has two clients who are going to move and that they called him to come and remove the stair lifts and wheelchair ramps before they sell the house. He said he wanted me to meet with them because they needed an agent who cared about them. I was blown away! He didn’t even know me.
Nikki: Third party testimonials and references are powerful. Your resource team member did all the selling for you — all you have to do is follow through and validate what they already told them.
CSHP: That is exactly right. I met with both of the people he referred and will be listing one of the homes next week. The other person already committed to another agent, but that’s ok. I gave them my opinion on pricing and it was very similar to the other agent. I also know the other agent and he is really good, so I left feeling confident they will be well served.
Nikki: So, what you’re telling me is that by doing what your heart told you to do for one client where you didn’t get paid, it led to a paid gig with another client. Oh, and probably a raving fan or two who will refer you more clients down the road. Am I right?
CSHP: Absolutely! I feel really silly that I even had to call you about this issue to begin with. I know that when I give without any expectations that I receive exponentially more in return. Why can’t I seem to remember that?
Nikki: It’s not just you. I have the same challenge. Society, and the real estate industry specifically, teach us that making money is what allows us to give back. It’s the other way around. When you give, the money follows. By helping that woman age in place and enjoy her home a little longer, you literally attracted more goodness into your life.
That is how the Universe works. Great job!
CSHP: I am excited about the idea of helping more seniors live at home longer. I know that I won’t get paid for that, but it is so needed and they don’t know where to turn. I think I can be of service in a bigger way in my community by teaching other people how to equip their homes for safety and how to access services. It felt good to see my client smile and to know that she was happy. My guess is that she will need to move to a community at some point and I will sell her home for her at that point, but until then, the goal is to stay in touch and let her decide when the right time is to move.
Nikki: Love it. Love it. Love it. Unlike what other designations out there may proclaim to be about, being a CSHP is being ALL ABOUT SENIORS. You are different. And because you are different, you are rewarded both financially as well as spiritually. Your heart and your bank account are full.
Doing the right thing has it’s advantages! Congratulations!
The End…and the beginning.
This dialog isn’t uncommon. In fact, if I had recorded all the similar stories I have been told over the past several years, I could fill pages upon pages.
It is unfortunate that real estate agents have historically been described in the ranks of used car salesman and lawyers. By the way, I know plenty of good ones in those fields too. Unfortunately, it only takes a bad apple or two to spoil the whole barrel in any industry. It is up to us, however, to change the image people hold of real estate agents.
As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I feel strongly that we can do this by championing the aging-in-place movement!
It’s time to get passionate and become a catalyst for change. By doing good in your community, your real estate business will prosper. You can’t do it, however, for that reason alone. It only works if you are genuinely impassioned to lead the cause.
Not feeling the desire to lead? That’s ok — become a follower. No doubt you have some organization in your community that is attempting to help seniors age in place! Maybe it’s a Village, an agency, or a religious group, but whatever the vehicle, jump on board and add value in whatever way it makes sense for you.
Get off the sidelines.
It’s time that we all suit up and show up! Nothing ever changes if we don’t take action. So, if you are bemoaning the fact that you are short on sales, have emptied your listing inventory, or aren’t getting referrals, it may be time to take stock of your contributions to the people you claim to serve.
Are you asking and taking without giving or offering?
It may be time to reevaluate your job description. You can be a typical Realtor or you can be DIFFERENT. It’s your choice!