As we mentioned in recent blog post, How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche - Part 1, we are 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 am sharing the highs and lows, the lessons and the the how-to's and everything in between.
In my previous post, I covered some topics with a broad stroke and promised to go deeper into each area. This second post touches on the first three topics of uncertainty, truth, and clarity - the journey to deciding to specialize.
Hopefully you glean some strategies, insights, and lessons along the way to help you get the clarity and/or momentum you've been looking for in your own business.
The early days of unrest, uncertainty, truth and ultimately - decision
As we were in about our 7th year of selling together, Chris and I both knew that we wanted to grow beyond our current level of sales but were uncertain as to how we were going to pull it off. We were closing somewhere around 60 sales annually and were looking for a way to expand. Side note... since that time, we have done a lot of different timeline exercises and personal growth and one thing I now know about myself is that I need something new or different about every 2.5-3 years.
This particular time of uncertainty fell perfectly in alignment with that lifelong trend. Thankfully I am married to an amazing man and business partner and while he may never fully understand this trait of mine, he respects and loves me enough to allow me to reinvent, challenge, and grow at the pace that is natural and right for me. I had gone back to college uncertain about whether I really wanted to stay in real estate or not (see, uncertainty - expand or get out altogether).
In about 5 years time I ended up accomplishing a B.S. in Family Studies and Gerontology and a M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, OK. This endeavor cost us a small fortune in student loans (still paying on those BTW), but I would not trade the experiences for anything. College life was not fun for me as a traditional student in the early years, but going through two accelerated degree programs as an adult with small classrooms taught by professors who were actively working in their fields of expertise was priceless. If you are thinking about going back to finish a degree, I highly recommend accelerated adult courses.
The truth - I was searching.
Searching for what? I am not really sure. All that I know is that I wanted deeply to help people, make a difference, and find meaning in my life - I questioned that this was possible in real estate. I mean real estate sales people fell somewhere in the ranks of used car salesman and ambulance chasing attorneys, right?
Life delivered a gift from this part of our journey that neither Chris nor I would have anticipated and it certainly wasn't a part of the plan. As a counselor in training, it was required to have 3000 hours of supervised counseling experience. On evenings, weekends and an occasional weekday while Chris was in charge of running the real estate team, I was meeting with foster children, drug and alcohol addicted parents, and "depressed" senior adults. When I wasn't visiting subsidized housing complexes, nursing homes, and places that concealed carry should be required, I contracted as a therapist and case worker at adolescent mental health facilities, senior diagnostic centers, and for a clinic who did DUI schools. It was fulfilling for a while - when it was new and I thought I could make a difference. Then reality set in. I was just another signature in a thick file wrapped tightly in beaurocratic red tape reeking from the stinch of greed and mismanagement ran by burnt out clinicians that likely started out with the same great hope, inspiration and anticipation of making a difference that I had.
I believe that nothing happens by accident and there are absolutely no coincidences. As it turns out, in the course of a couple of long and challenging years, one of the 25+ children I had counseled became our daughter. The path I had followed led us to the most amazing gift ever and it certainly wasn't a counseling career. Dakota was 9 when we adopted her and now she is all grown up and the mother of my precious grand daughter, Layla.
Gift number two from this particular phase in our journey came from a heart breaking conversation with an 80+ year old female counseling patient sitting on a nursing home bed. It was this conversation that in a split second caused me to realize that I could better serve seniors by being their real estate agent than I could by being their therapist.
This woman, all of about 4'10" tall and beautifully petite at age 82 or 83 sat with tears streaming down her face. It was my job to confirm her depression diagnosis and write a treatment plan for our work going forward. As I inquired about the source of her tears, she began to tell me the story of selling her home and moving to her semi-private room there in the skilled nursing facility. Knowing that people experience the phases of grief when they sell a longtime family home just as they do when they lose a spouse or loved one, I jumped to what seemed like the obvious source of her grief - selling her home and losing her independence.
I was wrong. She was certainly dealing with the emotions of selling her beloved home, but not in the way I imagined. As she continued her story, her emotions became increasingly strong and she expressed immense anger and frustration saying, "My daughter just let my refrigerator go with the house without even asking me." With continued curiosity, I learned that her daughter had negotiated the refrigerator as a part of the sale and had done so without consulting her mother - a tragic mistake that I have seen time and time again in working with older adults.
This refrigerator represented far more to this woman than a storage place for cold foods. My client was able to recount in intricate detail the purchase of her beloved appliance complete with dates, locations, prices, and emotions. She and her late husband had bought the refrigerator new and it was the only appliance she had ever purchased that wasn't used - a milestone in their lives together. My guess - she not only kept milk in that fridge, but it also held many loving memories of her husband and their lives together. Now it belonged to someone else.
I made a decision that day - one that would change not only my career but my life. My role as an agent specializing in seniors real estate would be to insure that every older adult was empowered throughout their move and sale process. I made it my personal mission to educate and communicate with adult children, senior community sales teams, service providers, real estate agents and my own team the importance of empowerment in this phase of life. We instituted systems in our sales process that made this possible and I began teaching and training publicly across the city on how to effectively navigate the downsizing process.
intentional sales style - grounded in compassion, appreciation, respect,
and empowerment - changed our lives and the lives of those we served.
It is also serves as the basis of our current trainings and educational
programs offered through the Seniors Real Estate Institute.
It worked. Through many successes and failures and with the support of our family, friends, and colleagues, in a relatively short period of time we became the recognized source of information for all things senior real estate in our market area. Our sales increased from an average of about 60 a year to 80 and then eventually over 120. There were two really exciting things resulting from our increased sales production: 1) We were having FUN, and 2) We weren't working evenings and weekends.
This was the first time in my real estate sales career that I really felt like I was were I was supposed to be. I was making a difference in the lives of other people, living in my zone of genius, and running a profitable business with my best friend and business partner who also happened to be my husband.
Now that you have a feel for the path that led us to specialize and the mindset and philosophy our business was built upon, stay tuned for our next post that will unveil some of the foundational work that we did to build our seniors real estate division. I will share the things that worked and the things that flopped. There were plenty of both!
|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.