Spokane Realtor Kathy Bryant markets herself as a real estate specialist for seniorsone who helps people explore their options when looking to move from a house to a retirement facility.
Now, Bryant wants to become an expert on retirement-home living in the most direct way possible: by living in retirement homes herself. The 56-year-old real estate agent plans to spend one week each month throughout 2011 in the independent-living units of various Spokane-area retirement facilities. Her first stay started Jan. 24 at Moran Vista Senior Care, at 3319 E. 57th on Spokane's South Hill.
"I'm going to do whatever is going on that day. I'm going to eat there, get my hair done there, go to the parties," Bryant says. "How could it not make me more of an authority?"
An eight-year real estate veteran, Bryant works for Keller Williams Realty Spokane, at 802 N. Washington. She provides resources and consulting to seniors and their families when they are considering a move, and generates income as listing agent on homes and properties she sells for them during that transition. About 90 percent of her business comes from that seniors niche, she says.
Bryant says she plans to write about the day-to-day experiences at the retirement centers for a blog she's publishing, titled Kathythroughthelookingglass.blogspot.com.
"I think there is a real interest and a real need to see what it's really like," Bryant says. "I want to break down that wall."
She expects the blog to become a resource for seniors, as well as for the younger generations of an elderly person's family. In many cases, she says, it's a senior's children who are slow to embrace the idea of a parent moving into a facility.
"If their kids understand it from a different point of view, they might be more apt to support the idea of their parents moving," Bryant says. "Some people picture the nursing homes of their parents' parents. That isn't the retirement homes of today."
Six retirement facilities have agreed to let Bryant stay for one week each month during the first half of the year, and she currently is talking with other facility operators about stays in the latter half of the year. She says nobody has turned her away yet.
In the arrangements she has made so far, no money is changing hands; Bryant isn't paying to stay in the retirement centers, and the companies that own the complexes aren't paying Bryant to write about them. While she often works closely with the retirement community, she doesn't feel any obligation to put a positive spin on her experience.
"I'm going to be honest," she says. "Most of them (retirement-home operators) are receptive to the idea that they might now know about certain things they can improve on."
Crystal Lorenzen, director of sales and marketing at Moran Vista, says she immediately saw value in the idea when Bryant approached her and thought the 131-unit retirement facility could benefit from Bryant's endeavor.
"For a lot of prospective residents, the barrier is the fear of the unknown," Lorenzen says. "Kathy will be a fresh set of eyes. She will be a neutral party with an unbiased opinion."
While Lorenzen says she doesn't recall ever having someone like Bryant stay at Moran Vista and write about the experience, the facility regularly hosts prospective clients for five days free of charge.
"It's try it before you buy it," she says. "We want them to stay with us, try the food, experience the lifestyle. We want them to know what it's like. It's a hard decision for them to make, for sure."
Bryant learned how difficult that decision can be about five years ago, before she began specializing in seniors real estate. At that time, she was trying to help her own mother move from a traditional home into a retirement center. Being a professional who helped people find the right place to live, she became frustrated when her mom shot down place after place that Bryant had found for her.
Her mom, Bryant says she now knows, wasn't ready to move into such a facility at that time. She since has moved, but Bryant says that initial experience was profound for her. She says the consulting she does doesn't always result in a listing right awayshe met with some families off and on for four years before they finally decided to make the movebut she believes strongly in giving people the information they need to make those decisions.
"Other Realtors say, 'Oh what a great niche,'" Bryant says. "It's not about a niche. It truly is about a passion."
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