Educators, Advocates, Real Estate Agents: In That Order

Posted by: Nikki Buckelew

by Dr. Nikki Buckelew, PhD

This blog post was inspired by a recent experience in our own real estate practice. As you know, we do our best to help shorten the learning curve for you by sharing the "real life stuff" that happens in the day to day lives of our members -- good, bad, and ugly!  

Someone mentioned to me recently that maybe I had “overstepped my bounds” as a real estate agent when I questioned as to why a client chose a particular senior living community over others. "You are just a real estate agent," the woman says. 

As it began, our client tells us that she has been having trouble eating right, getting around, and staying active, and that her daughter was having to take off work regularly to transport her to the doctor. She had chosen, however, to move to an independent living community offering none of these services  (meals, transportation, scheduled outings, security, etc.).

Naturally, I wanted to know if she or her daughter were aware of or had considered other options. 

Let's be clear about what our team at Buckelew Realty Group at Keller Williams considers as our professional services boundaries as Certified Senior Housing Professionals (and as human beings for that matter). We are NOT typical real estate agents only assessing how we can get a home sold or purchased. We are NOT typical sales people only thinking about how to get the fastest commission check. And we are certainly NOT "just real estate agents." 

We are MORE than that! 

With graduate degrees in gerontology and counseling psychology, the fact that I am still in real estate causes people to question my sanity at times, but in all fairness, I use the skills and this knowledge from these fields each and every day.

"Why in the world would you go to the trouble of getting degrees in the aging services and counseling fields when you have no intention of getting out of the real estate industry?” they ask. Oh, what would they say if they knew that I am also now half way through pursuing my PhD in Psychology with emphases on geropsychology and environmental gerontology?

Below is my answer to this question and it may help anyone else who, at first blush, may be mystified by my services and perspectives in my role as a real estate professional. 

The way that we (Chris and I both) see our roles is first as educators. It is our job to first insure that our clients and the community-at-large is well-informed, equipped, and empowered to make good choices. As a matter of fact, our first real estate team — the one we sold back in 2005 — was called the Clear Choice Team because it was our intention to insure that all the parties we represented were in fact making “clear choices” as they entered into a real estate sales transaction.

We took that mantra a step further as we added additional services for our elder clients and made it our mission to insure that our clients were fully informed, adequately equipped, and fully educated before they made decisions about where, when, and how their move would take place.


Knowledge is power. Sales people know this; that is why those who lack integrity do their best to keep clients in the dark so they can manipulate them. As long as people are uneducated, they are easily sold and rarely question the fine print. Our goal is just the opposite. We believe that the more people know, the better decisions they will make for themselves and the more empowered they will be in the next chapter of their lives. This is true for caregivers, family members, and most importantly, our elders who are doing their best to navigate the decision making process in a world where nothing seems to be "clear cut” and everybody seems to have a hidden agenda.


Let’s be honest here: Being educated and knowledgeable about something does not necessarily mean that you have the skill or ability to get the outcome you desire. Sometimes the thing that is lacking isn’t knowledge — it’s courage.

In my counseling experience, the number one area that clients seemed to struggle with as they made major life decisions in their later years was having the courage to ask for what they wanted and then stick to their guns until they got it. This is especially true for women who were brought up in a world where men were in charge and they, as females, were not encouraged to assert their own opinions or desires.

Our experience in real estate is no different. Many of our clients (not all) are widows who feel completely lost because they have never been in a position of authority or in the decision making role. We frequently hear our clients say, “My husband handled all of these things.” When this is said, I watch the body language and it becomes quite evident that they are scared of and overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.

As advocates, our job is to first insure that the client is being treated fairly and honestly in all things. 

This also means questioning things that we are not sure about, such to verify that the client is well-informed and making confident and empowered decisions. Should we find that someone is being bullied, coerced, or manipulated into making a decision, we bring this fact to the forefront with all parties involved. Naturally, this can cause ruffled feathers, especially when we enlighten people that a salesperson things they have already "sold" on a product or service.  

Truthfully, it isn't usually overt action causing people to make ill-advised decisions, it is most often the lack of knowledge. 

Our other responsibility as advocates is to support and recommend those things which we believe may be beneficial to our clients. Rather than sitting back on our laurels or just doing our “job,” we assess the entire situation and make recommendations, offer solutions, and ask questions. Because we are uniquely educated in the issues of aging and caregiving, as well as moving, senior living, estate liquidation, and selling or buying property, we have the ability to assess the situation from a more comprehensive approach. Ultimately, all decisions are made by the client, as they should be.

The fact is, however, that if we have done our job effectively as educators, our clients know what is right for them and feel confident in their decisions. Advocacy then becomes easy — it’s about helping them get what they want and under the terms that best suit their goals, desires, and intended outcomes.

Real estate professionals

Our first two roles as educators and advocates really have little to do with our vocation. These are more about being good human beings — loving, caring, and serving.

While we don’t really earn any income directly from being educators or advocates for our clients, what we do earn is respect, trust, and the privilege of assisting them with the sale of their homes, businesses, and other property. It is only through this role that we make money.

We don’t take kick-backs from referral partners and we don’t ask for (or accept) placement fees from senior living or retirement communities. To do so would muddy the water related to our advocacy role. By staying neutral, we remove any question as to where our loyalties stand.

In our role as real estate agents, we are masterful negotiators and project managers. Every single day we are managing and facilitating transactions involving multiple parties who are both directly and indirectly related to the transaction. Most real estate agents only concern themselves with the actual sale itself, limiting their attention to real estate sales-related issues. Our perspective is much broader, as we assist in facilitating the pre-move, move, and post-move process, as well as the real estate transaction and the estate liquidation.

It’s about more than selling or buying a home

Our roles as educators and advocates are about who we are. Real estate sales is simply a vehicle that allows us to serve in those capacities and in a way that is frequently absent from most real estate related encounters.

People are more than welcome to question our skills or our knowledge, but to question our integrity would be a big mistake. 

We will happily provide hundreds upon hundreds of names of people who know us and who know that we are about doing what is right — even when no one is watching. This is especially true when we are serving one of the most admirable and honored members of our community - our elders.

Nothing gives us more joy than to empower, educate and serve the needs of our elder clients. 

Clients' needs and goals come first and the commission is secondary. If we didn’t get paid to do what we do, we probably couldn’t do it, but the fact is this: The money we receive serves to pay our bills and affords us a nice life, but the relationships we form and the appreciation we receive is what motivates us and gets us up every morning.

As a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP)...


Photo Credits: 
Ion Chibzii - Wikimedia Commons 
"Angry Penguin". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


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 degree in counseling 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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