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Marketing to Seniors

The NEW Generation of Renters

Now that the baby boomer generation has begun entering retirement we are starting to see the impact on property behavior. This is the NEW generation of renters.  This generation - those born between the end of World War 2 and the early years of the 1960s - are a very large group in our society; 76 million strong. This means that we are facing a large and growing demographic that is getting increasingly older with corresponding life needs.

Changing needs

While some may continue to live in the family home as they age, others will look for new housing, especially if it offers smaller, more manageable, more comfortable space. It is fairly common for older people to sell larger, family homes because the bigger space is no longer needed and the maintenance requirements have become inconvenient.  

Growing customer base

According to the U.S. Census, there are 35 million seniors in the U. S. today—12.4% of the population. Over the next decade that percentage is projected to increase to 16.5% (53.7 million people). Considering this as a customer segment, it has the potential to become one of the best sales pipelines in the market today. So, how do we attract this population to our community?

Attitude is key. Remember to whom you are marketing. Yes, of course to the senior prospect - but also to their children and influencers. Don’t approach your customer as ‘old’ - studies show that we routinely think ‘old’ means ten years older than we currently are! If you are in your late 20s then you are old to teenagers. If you are in your 30s you are old to college students. How would you like someone thinking you were out of touch, were stupid or had nothing to offer? In the same way, treat your customers as people rather than demographics. Being condescending or patronizing towards your senior prospects will surely kill your sales. Try to avoid words like senior, old or elderly.

People today are living longer than they have ever done at any point in history. The life expectancy of men and women in the USA is 76.2 years for men and 81.1 years for women. In 1950 it was 65.4 years and 71 years. People are living longer and are in much better shape. Of course individuals may need to make some adjustments, but as a whole they are much healthier than their parents were at a similar age. Remember, today’s seniors do not let their capability to be decided by the number of candles on a cake.


Marketing to seniors

The Myth- It’s pointless!!! Why bother??? Somewhere...  someone...  decided that unless you were selling creams, ointments or burial insurance, there was no point in targeting the senior market.

After all (so the theory goes), all seniors live exclusively on their monthly social security check and they have no purchasing power whatsoever. As for being tech-savvy, seniors don't own computers much less know how to navigate the Internet. Wrong... on all counts

Since the recession began households headed by people aged 65 and older saw their income rise by 7.1% compared to a fall in every other age group by 4% or more. Retirees are shielded from the labor market and unemployment is not a factor for retirees.

Seniors do use the Internet. As of April 2012, 53% of American adults aged 65 or more were using the Internet or email. And of these, 70% typically use the Internet every day. Furthermore 34% of Americans aged 65 or older use social networking sites including Facebook. Senior use is growing by leaps and bounds. However, they still heavily utilize print.

Depending on your marketing budget, you will probably utilize several marketing campaigns (Primary drive for your senior customers and secondary campaigns for influencers). Think of your target market and design your senior-focused print advertising to be easily read and understood. As we age the way we perceive color changes and larger print is appreciated. These are some tips that will increase the effectiveness of your marketing to seniors.

  • Only use 11-point and higher
  • Avoid serifs, italics and fancy fonts
  • Color ads draw attention (to the exclusion of black–and-white)
  • Avoid reverse copy and maintain good white space
  • Keep your message on-point and clearly highlight the benefits

 

Building relationships with seniors

Business is all about relationships and as we age relationships become more and more important. Seniors often appreciate the personal touch and therefore actively engaging with them is often as important as what you are actually saying. Take the time your customer needs (and they will need a lot of it). Consciously relax your pace to match your prospect.

Your senior prospects have seen and done a lot in their lifetimes. They may be skeptical - life can do that to you and they have probably seen more of it than you have. If they have met their fair share of thieves, braggarts and empty promise merchants, they may need a little convincing before they put their trust in you. How do you do this?

Well, it helps to have ‘evidence’ of your character and professional integrity. A way you can do this is through the opinion of others, namely your customers. Compile testimonials that you can share. Better yet, ask residents to host social events, use a resident’s apartment as a model, or stop and chat with residents along your tour route. Create opportunities for your prospects to socialize with your current customers. Credible testimonials work. It always sounds much better when praise comes from someone else and if your customers speak up for you they will do your selling for you.

As we all know, trust is very important when selling any product or service. We also know that the decision to move from a single-family home to a multifamily property is not an easy one. When a senior decides to move from their family home into an apartment community, they want to be assured they will enjoy the amenities and social life they are lacking in their current living situation, as well as everything else they have been promised. Therefore only promise what you are confident in delivering. Under promise – over deliver!

 

Sell with sensitivity

Be real. Be direct. Always ask for the sale. However, do not use a hard close or scare tactics. Remember, this is a major move for them. In some cases they may have 30 or 40 years worth of possessions to sort through and dispose of before they can start a move. A key focus for us is to not ADD to the fear but to enforce the newfound independence they will have by moving in to your community. Your job is to solve their problem and present your offer.

Therefore, highlight why the move to your community will help them remain active and independent. One of the biggest fears often expressed is of having to rely on others for basic everyday life functions. What do you offer that will enhance their lives? Define what your customers need. Do you have it? The senior housing market is changing quickly. Baby boomers are demanding a level of quality and service that far exceeds their predecessors. In the past, buildings became ‘senior’ buildings because the population aged in place and never left. Today, your customers are expecting much more. (Expectations might include van service to doctors, shopping centers and events; library/business centers; hot meals; fitness centers; hair salons and even happy hours!). Be creative, identify what your customers want and then see how you can deliver it.

Another common fear among senior prospects is that of being taken advantage of. To assuage this fear try using guarantees to impart confidence. This might even be the time to employ fully refundable holds. And remember, don’t adopt a defensive attitude if your customer gives you a hard time – they may be testing you. Like most customer complaints what people remember is how the complaint was responded to - if you handle the situation with grace, your likelihood of eventually closing the sale is very strong.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Emily, you give some very valuable insights and advice on this topic. This is a suggestion to those who want to be competitive in providing some additional "amenities" to this demographic. This includes installing some walk-in showers, offering the ability to plant something (whether that is a flower garden around a patio or an actual community garden), extra storage (especially if building a new community) and allowing seating areas throughout the community.

Many people in the fifty to ninety age bracket do not want to risk falling or tripping as they climb into a tub. They often are downsizing from larger houses and are used to growing flowers, etc. Offering a place to plant will encourage them to transplant favorite items from their current house to their new apartment. Often apartment communities just aren't roomy enough to allow them to bring a cherished piece of furniture or several sets of china. I can tell you many of these Residents would like to pass on their things to family members but the family is spread all over and geographically it may be impossible to do so by the time the move is made. Having some extra storage allows them to get rid of things while settling into a new home. And finally, having seating areas on the grounds allows people to walk their dogs and rest every so often. For anyone who has knees or hips replaced, it is a welcome relief to be able to sit for a few minutes throughout the daily walks.

  Mindy Sharp
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I am fortunate to manage a building developed by a company that has many senior assets and they do seniors housing very well. We have the resident gardens; raised beds with 2 foot edging so you can sit and garden, plenty of seating for resting and to just chat with your neighbor. Activities of some sort go on everyday and twice weekly transportation for shopping. We did have our own 15 passenger van but 2 years ago do to finances we had to get rid of it and hire a car service. This has been a huge bust so I'm getting a new van YAAAAAY!
Leasing to seniors is a bit different than to more transient younger people. In my experience the vast majority of seniors do not want to move again after they move here. I've had prospects visit for 2-3 years, every few months before they "pull the trigger". You just CAN NOT rush them; the last thing you want is to rush them into something they will be unhappy with. Special like "move in by 9/15 and get xyz" just don’t work. Nor does reducing the rent or if you do you had better let them know that next year their “special” will end and there may be what they feel is a large increase whereas it’s really just the end of the special. They are extremely budgeting contentious and want to know what the rent is now and to have an idea of what kind of increases to expect going forward. As Emily said you have to slow down just a bit, that includes on the tour and in your speech (this has been especially challenging for me because I am the opposite of the “southern drawl” southern girl lol). Any good leasing person knows you adjust your pace and your presentation to fit with your customer anyway so this shouldn’t look as if you are doing anything special.
One way we’ve really excelled at gaining trust (which is paramount) is to offer them the option of a 30 day notice to break their lease should it become medically necessary. This gives them, especially couples, a piece of mind when worrying about their future health Also it’s very...

I am fortunate to manage a building developed by a company that has many senior assets and they do seniors housing very well. We have the resident gardens; raised beds with 2 foot edging so you can sit and garden, plenty of seating for resting and to just chat with your neighbor. Activities of some sort go on everyday and twice weekly transportation for shopping. We did have our own 15 passenger van but 2 years ago do to finances we had to get rid of it and hire a car service. This has been a huge bust so I'm getting a new van YAAAAAY!
Leasing to seniors is a bit different than to more transient younger people. In my experience the vast majority of seniors do not want to move again after they move here. I've had prospects visit for 2-3 years, every few months before they "pull the trigger". You just CAN NOT rush them; the last thing you want is to rush them into something they will be unhappy with. Special like "move in by 9/15 and get xyz" just don’t work. Nor does reducing the rent or if you do you had better let them know that next year their “special” will end and there may be what they feel is a large increase whereas it’s really just the end of the special. They are extremely budgeting contentious and want to know what the rent is now and to have an idea of what kind of increases to expect going forward. As Emily said you have to slow down just a bit, that includes on the tour and in your speech (this has been especially challenging for me because I am the opposite of the “southern drawl” southern girl lol). Any good leasing person knows you adjust your pace and your presentation to fit with your customer anyway so this shouldn’t look as if you are doing anything special.
One way we’ve really excelled at gaining trust (which is paramount) is to offer them the option of a 30 day notice to break their lease should it become medically necessary. This gives them, especially couples, a piece of mind when worrying about their future health Also it’s very important that you staff not have a high turnover. Seniors want to trust who they are dealing with especially in LIHTC communities where they share all of their financial information. It took about 3 months for my residents to warm to the idea of coming to me even as the manager because they didn’t know me. We were fortunate to have 5 years of no turnover, but my assistant retired recently so I’ve hired a new leasing person. While the residents are all kind to her they just aren’t comfortable, yet, doing recertification’s with her. Oh and one other thing I learned, older residents HATE color paper. Especially for calendars or anything with a large amount of type, it’s harder for them to read. Fancy fonts like Emily mentioned are out too. Clear and to the point is what they want.
Now to my challenges, cause I need help  Mine is a 62+ community 80% tax credit 20% market. As the only seniors community who offer market rate units those are rarely an issue. It’s my TC units that we have an issue with. I have by a pretty good margin, the highest rents in the area; I also offer BY FAR the best product. YTD we’ve moved out 32 residents and moved in 32. So how is it I have 14 vacant units? The unclosable (yes I know that’s not a real word) back door. This year 15 of my new move ins have moved right back out due to illness or death. We are trying to build a waiting list because as we’ve already stated most seniors do not move right away, but that’s not helping right now. Any suggestions?

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  Stephani Fowler
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Great article! First let me say that I am one of the ‘seniors’ aka baby boomers at the age of 62. I am fortunate to work at a +55 apartment community as well. I started here 8 years ago, worked here for 2 years, went to at a ‘regular’ community and came back 2 years ago.

One important fact to keep in mind is that most, if not all of our residents have never lived in an apartment community before and since they are making a huge change in their lives, often times they will come back multiple times to view the property. Be aware you may have to show an apartment at least 2-3 times, and often they will bring their children for their approval. Patience in the leasing process is key. Be prepared to spend at least one hour with them - I am not kidding!

We are lucky to have an underground garage and storage areas, as well as 2 community rooms with catering kitchens and dining areas. Our garden area is a big hit and we are planning on putting in a dog park area where dogs can run and play with each other. Each year we have an annual cookout with a jazz band and also do a St. Patricks Day boiled dinner. Both of these events bring about 75-85% of the residents!

What Stephani said about them moving and staying is true - our retention rate is 80% and part of this is because we offer 2 year leases which they appreciate because of their fixed incomes.

Also, what Mindy said about the falling in the bath is a good point. We put in grab bars for them at no cost to them. Remember, a grab bar is about $18.00, so this is short money for us and shows we care enough about them and their well being to do this for them.

Things like changing light bulbs in overhead fixtures is also another "amenity" we offer - again, short money for a great return and they feel safe knowing they won't have to rely on family members or climb on a ladder to perform this simple task.

  Connie Whittall

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