This January marks Inman’s fifth annual Agent Appreciation Month, which culminates at Inman Connect New York in a celebration of agents at the end of January. Plus, we’re rolling out the coveted Inman Power Player Awards, as well as the New York Power Brokers and MLS Innovators awards.
If you’ve heard about the Silver Tsunami, you know that aging in the United States is rapidly changing, and the housing needs of the silver crowd are as complex and varied as the population.
Working with seniors is more than just touring a few 55-plus communities. Real estate pros have to commit to becoming experts on their needs, wants and accessibility options.
You need to ensure three areas are top notch before making this your specialization: communication, customer service and community offerings.
If any of these three areas are weak, you will need help building or maintaining a business with the fastest-growing population of potential clients with actual buying power in this challenging market.
Below, we’ll look at the various gens that make up seniors today, what they want and need, and how real estate pros can best communicate with them.
The next generation of retirement living
Sorry, Gen X, your worst Tears for Fears are here, and you can no longer escape the fact that you have officially arrived in the landscape of 55-plus housing options. What does this mean to you?
Not much at this point because good luck affording something that might even remotely appeal to the needs of your lifestyle. This means you will probably be tasked with helping your parents plan for their own safe and stable retirement.
Generation Jones is the cohort that is most likely to get serious about downsizing in another 10 years. This generation is busy living it up and living their best lives. Currently, this lost generation makes up about 25 percent of America’s population.
The original boomers are the cohort that needs to get most serious about figuring out how to age in place. The Pew Research Center referred to them as the “Gloomiest” generation for good reason. They are in a perpetual funk.
If they have not already made long-term plans for health care and housing, they may be unpleasantly surprised about the difficulty and costs of creating a care plan on the fly.
This cohort has the finances to make moves but is cautious with where they spend it. They are motivated to spend it on things they enjoy, and items they believe signal luxury.
Boomers, in general, do not want to be “old people.” They want respect and independence; they want to work with businesses that get that and provide a very high level of customer service.
“It’s also possible that the seeds of the boomers’ discontent were planted long ago — back when they were young and their generation reveled in the culture of youth. Boomers are a big, complicated generation, but one thing can be said about them without fear of contradiction: They are no longer young.” — Pew Research Center
Breakdown of generations
|Older Gen X ( 55+)
|1969 – 1980
|55 – 59
|Boomers II (a/k/a Generation Jones)*
|1955 – 1964
|60 – 69
|1946 – 1954
|70 – 78
|Post War (Silent Generation)
|1928 – 1945
|79 – 96
|WWII (The Greatest Generation)
|1922 – 1927
|97 – 102
Communication and making connections
Seniors need multiple channels and ways to communicate with you. At any time during the transaction, they may email, call, text, call your office and want immediate access to the answers.
You need to ensure that if this is your target group, you have multiple resources created (and provided) so they can get their answers when they want them.
Here are a few simple customer experience tips for working with seniors:
- When communicating with anyone 55 or better, you must use every available communication tool and resource. This means digital and physical communication efforts. This group will text and email you but still wants the physical, catalog-style marketing materials.
- Seniors will comment on luxury paper styles, weights and glossy business cards. If you want to impress them, invest in more expensive consumer-facing materials; they will appreciate it. Invest in stationery and some graphic design to match your email correspondence.
- Seniors will read the emails you send in great detail, so make sure you proofread them, or they will let you know about your mistakes.
- They are highly visual and appreciate formal settings for business interactions. If you are meeting in person, they want to meet in your office, a conference room, or somewhere private.
- Make sure your hospitality station in the office is top-notch and includes coffee, teas, nice disposable cups, and an assortment of high-end waters and Coke products. You will wow this crowd if you have Coke in a glass bottle. Even if they don’t accept it, you will get positive feedback. It’s worth investing in a glass door fridge in your waiting/lobby area so they can see the “nostalgia” on display.
Notre Dame of Maryland University studied communication styles amongst generations and found that this generation appreciates it when you pick up the phone.
“Though baby boomers prefer speaking both in person and on the phone, some use online communication methods, as well. A survey presented at the Americas Conference on Information Systems found that 93 percent of baby boomer respondents used e-mail on a daily basis.” — Notre Dame of Maryland University
Boomers and Gen X love video and technology and expect to be impressed by your marketing skills. New studies show that 1 in 3 Boomers watch YouTube to learn new skills.
Another vital thing to note about this cohort is their competitiveness. They love to win, and they love to tell their support network about their wins.
Bring your A game, and you can be sure they will look at your social media accounts to see what marketing you do for their clients. They love intelligent and sharp marketing so that they can brag to their friends about what you do for them.
Seniors do not like to wait. They can become impatient and angry when processes do not go in their favor. It’s their opinion that the customer is right, to be respected, that you need to value their business, and that the transaction should run very smoothly without difficulty — that is how they define professionalism.
Seniors like to do business in person but will use video chat if necessary. They like job titles and want to know who the manager is and what your title and expertise are. They want to know that you are well-researched and have achieved some status if they choose to work with you.
They will quickly point out that it’s your job to ensure things go right. Be sure you are on top of all details, and communicate the next steps often. They will often tell you that this is a business transaction, and they choose to do business with you.
If you do an excellent job for a senior, you will have a friend for life. Loyalty is next-level with these clients. They will be your biggest fan if you can ensure smooth sailing for them. They also appreciate the efforts you make for them and will acknowledge the work you do more so than any other generation you will work with.
Lastly, these clients may be dealing with early stages of cognitive loss. This is often called mild cognitive impairment. Many Americans have been living with this for several years before official, more serious cognitive diagnoses can be made.
Make sure that everything is in writing and provided to them multiple times. This helps them feel dignified and in control so they can reference materials to remind themselves what they need to know to stay “in charge” of the transactions.
If you want to work with 55+ people, you need to know the full menu of options they seek. They want all of their potential choices presented to them, and they will be dumbfounded if they find a community or service that they think you should have presented to them in the first place — and will call you out on it.
You need to have extreme confidence in the recommendations that you make to them.
An example of helpful community resources that you should have on hand are:
- 55+ communities within a 50-mile radius
- Assisted living options
- Memory care resources
- Short-term / rehab options
- Fitness and wellness offerings
- Entertainment and local shopping
- Theater and music offerings
- Golf, tennis, pickleball
- Gardens and hiking
- Arts and crafts venues
- Top restaurants and spirits venues
- Top contractors for age-in-place renovations
- Local senior groups and connections
- Local volunteer/charity opportunities
Don’t forget pet resources as well. Seniors love their pets, and you must be prepared to market to their pet-first lifestyles.
Bonus tip: All of these are great topics for content that seniors want to read and learn about through your social media channels.
Seniors want the best marketing and customer service experience possible. They will expect appreciation, and they acknowledge closing gifts and pop-by gifts more than any other group you work with.
One of the most powerful things you can do is handwrite thank-you notes for this crowd and stay in regular communication.
If you do a great job with this population, their loyalty will reward the hard work you put in, and you will have a fantastic sense of pride in your work. There is nothing in the world like praise from a senior who says that you have provided a job well done.
Rachael Hite is a former agent, a business development specialist, fair housing advocate, copy editor and is currently perfecting her long game selling homes in a retirement community in Northern Virginia. You can connect with her about life, marketing and business on Instagram.