Welcome back! If you have been following us, you have probably already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series which really speaks to our vision and the overview of our journey into seniors real estate.
Now it's time to get to the meat and potatoes of it all!
I have been thinking about this blog post for a while and in sitting down to type it, I find myself laughing. Yes, laughing. It just occurred to me that we have come a long way since those early years of pioneering this specialty. Some of our first marketing pieces are nothing short of hilarious (not in a good way) and my writing left a lot to be desired.
While so much of what we did in the beginning now seems like second nature, I recognize just how far we have progressed in our mission to serve seniors. So while I (along with other experienced senior housing professionals) may take a few of these things for granted, others may be just starting out. For you my friends, remember that in order to really succeed at this - or anything for that matter - you just put one foot in front of the other and keep going.
As you read the 5 steps below you will probably recognize - as I did when typing them -that there are dozens of steps within the steps. The layers are deep and yet each one of them started with a vision. A vision of what we were creating - who we were serving - and why we were choosing to serve them. When you know in your heart that you were meant for something, there is no amount of force that can hold you back from accomplishing your goal.
How We Built Our Seniors Real Estate Niche Part 3
Step 1: Learn as much as possible about the challenges of downsizing seniors
Even though I was text-book savvy about what issues seniors faced as they aged, the knowledge was too general. Based on both my personal and my counseling experiences, it was clear that there was a lot to learn and if I wanted to be an expert, it would require me to go out and talk with more people.
Who better to talk to than people who were either going through it currently or who had already been down that path, right? That was my thinking. With the help of my sphere of influence and some professional connections, I first arranged a series of focus groups with older adults and then followed that with another series involving professionals from the aging services fields.
These groups proved to be invaluable in helping us gain more insight into what seniors and their trusted advisors needed and wanted. We were able to formulate a powerful value proposition and include value added services that truly made a difference and set us apart from other agents in our area.
A unexpected and useful bi-product of those groups was great stories and examples of situations which we would later be able to retell in order to better relate and build rapport with our clients. Being barely 30 years old, we could use all the help we could get in the rapport building department.
Step 2: Educate senior living counselors about our uniqueness
At the same time we were learning, we were also educating and teaching. I knew that in order to be recognized as a specialist, we had to drastically differentiate ourselves from the typical real estate crowd. When visiting with people in the senior housing field, they didn’t have very high opinions of REALTORS and as far as they were concerned, I was just another salesperson looking to get a commission.
There were a few senior community reps that knew me from my counseling days and were open with me about why they had to be protective of their residents - it was their job. It was clear that they wouldn’t recommend just anyone and that if I were to be their choice, I had to prove myself worthy of their trust. “Fair enough,” I thought. “I can totally appreciate that and am willing to prove my value and my trustworthiness.”
My 3 big lessons learned in this process and the things we now teach our Success in Seniors Real Estate students...
- You must give before you receive - come from contribution
- Relationships are critical - rapport building takes time and consistency
- Serving and selling are NOT the same thing - one leads to the next
Step 3: Provide educational talks and seminars
Thankfully I am blessed with the gift of gab and unlike most people, I LOVE public speaking and teaching. As a leader in my real estate office, I was often called upon to teach classes and it came naturally to me, so why not take the show on the road so to speak. I put together a series of talks about simplifying the downsizing process for seniors and offered myself up to local not-for-profits, civic groups, and senior living communities. We marketed the classes to people who were either thinking about moving into a senior community or more manageable residence and adult children with aging parents.
It wasn’t long before I was teaching or speaking at least once a week and people were calling to book me. Each time I spoke, I had people come up afterward and share their personal stories about late in life moves or family members. And while each was so appreciative, they regretted not having had the information I shared with them that day many years earlier. This just drove me to spread the word more quickly and with more intention.
Giving these talks and showing people that I not only had a deep desire to serve but that I also had the tools, resources, and ability to simplify the process for people having lived in their homes for sometimes 40 or 50 years, provided me the credibility and validity I needed in order to earn the respect and trust of those in the senior community.
the way (shameless plug)... we have since then converted our series of
seminars into a guide agents now use across the country. If you don't
fly by the seat of your pants like I do, feel free to check it out: Downsizing Made Easy Guide.
Step 4: Market to targeted neighborhoods
Naturally we started our marketing efforts with the people we knew and the relationships we already had like past clients, family, friends, and professional alliances. This was a great start, but we knew that in order to reach more people, we needed to get the word out about our offerings.
I would say it took a good year to get a grasp on the direction we would take going forward because we had absolutely no model to follow! At this point, the internet wasn’t nearly as robust as it is now and frankly, the data available was limited.
We lived in a neighborhood that seemed to have a lot of retirees and so we started there and expanded to similar neighborhoods over time. Trying everything from door knocking and door hangers to mailers and cold calling, it was clear that our message was not getting through. We needed leverage. Of course I don’t do anything half-way, so in order to meet all the people in my neighborhood and share with them the solutions we had for helping our aging home owners, I started a neighborhood association and neighborhood watch program. Chris was certain I was nuts - maybe I was. The first meeting was made up of a strategic group who would then become the core for a much larger organization. Our real estate team sponsored the meeting place, flyers, newsletters, and signs. It was a hit. Not only did we get to meet a large percentage of the residents, but we forged relationships with the key “watchdogs” in the neighborhood who kept us in the loop about EVERYTHING.
Frankly, I’m not sure I would do that again at this stage in my life, but at that stage it was the bomb (in a good way). Now I would look for existing associations (active ones) and get involved with them. The exposure and the relationships we created were invaluable.
Step 5: Branding as experts
This one was a big deal - a REALLY big deal. We knew that we needed to be consistent in our message and at the time, we were still in the days of print media (what I wouldn’t have given for social media help in those early years). Our primary marketing vehicles were our yard signs, The Real Estate Book, Arch Telecom’s IVR system, mailed newsletters, brochure boxes with color flyers, and postcard campaigns.
Knowing that our expertise was NOT marketing, public relations, or branding, we hired experts (that’s what successful people do - they hire experts, right?). This was by far one of the best decisions we ever made. Brad and Robin spent time with us to fully grasp our vision for our seniors division, evaluated our current systems and marketing, and then laid out a plan for rebranding us as the experts in our market in seniors real estate.
"No way." We immediately pushed back. They wanted us to rebrand everything from our yard signs to our business cards with “1st in Seniors Real Estate.” But we would lose any business that was not senior related, we argued. Brad and Robin had started this newly formed PR and marketing business after having overseen and organized some pretty major branding campaigns for big name banks, corporations, and other big-wigs, but did they know about real estate - really?
As it turns out they did. We reluctantly agreed to move forward with their recommendations. Everything included the tag line “1st in Senior Real Estate.” And we were - first that is. No one else in our market had chosen to specialize like this in the way we were doing it.
You may be wondering about our theory - the one about losing business. Not only did we increase our sales numbers from around 80 that year to around 100, both our seniors and our non-senior client bases increased. It didn’t hurt our business - it propelled it!
Growing pains and expansion
Building a business isn’t always easy and if anyone thinks otherwise, they have never really done it. There are always new things to learn, hurdles to jump, and obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest ones for us was staffing. As we grew in production we became even more committed to delivering a high level of value to our clients and to do that, we needed more hands on deck.
More on that topic in Part 4. Stay tuned!
|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.