(This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1, “There’s big money in 55-and-older market.”)

Why is there a need for senior-housing specialists? Why the focus on persons over 55?

The housing decisions and choices for persons over the age of 55 began to increase in 1988. That’s the year the Federal Housing Act was amended to prohibit discrimination based upon disability or family status. The inclusion of families as a protected category suddenly collided with the operation of retirement or adult communities, so the 1988 amendments included exemptions for housing developments that qualified as housing for persons over the age of 55.

Congress countered with the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (“HOPA”) in an effort to resolve the conflict between protected family status and the exemption for older persons. HOPA redefined the exemptions for elders. The law has become the guideline for developers and owners of elder housing.

Tim Corliss, a former Franciscan monk who left the order and spent 42 years in real estate, founded the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council (SAREC) in 1997 to help answer the questions sparked by national legislation and local inventories. Corliss, a huge man with an irrepressible smile and relentless encouragement for others, died five years ago after an 18-month battle with cancer. He anticipated the senior niche long before the industry realized the net worth locked up in seniors’ homes — and the anxiety they experienced selling their longtime residences and locating to a new one.

Corliss knew that seniors were living longer and he sought to provide a core service for that group. He encouraged real estate professionals to take the time to truly understand senior needs and to learn to ask the right questions at the right time and in the right tone of voice. He designed an educational program — Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) — that was recently adopted by the National Association of Realtors family of designations. While the course was available nationally for many years, it was not promoted (or entirely understood) until NAR officially took it over in March.

To earn the SRES designation, applicants must complete a two-day course, pass an exam and provide documentation of at least three transactions involving senior clients in the past 18 months (or submit two such transactions prior to the first annual renewal date). (A fast-track correspondence course was available to Realtors who had valid designations approved by SAREC.)

The education module includes a comprehensive workbook presented in 11 sections. During the opening day, instructors define niche marketing and generational differences, and discuss housing issues, the process of retirement, equity conversion and the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.

Day two delves into estate planning, communication modes and the role of the agent as it relates to developing a client base; communicating with the client and their advisors and family members; educating parties to the transaction; negotiation strategies; and administrating the process to a successful conclusion. The workbook also includes tips on working with and counseling seniors, reprints of articles and other reference materials.

Upon earning the designation, members receive access to ongoing training, development and marketing materials as well as a referral network. While SRES designees do not offer legal or tax advice, they are urged to maintain referral relationships with accountants and real estate attorneys so they can refer their clients to those professionals as needed.

Corliss was a past president of the 100,000-member California Association of Realtors and a significant force within the organization. He and his wife, Jill, owned and operated SAREC from their home in Murphys, Calif., in the heart of California’s gold country southeast of Sacramento. The couple focused on providing agents with the specialized training and education materials needed for the SRES designation. After Tim died, Jill sold the assets of SAREC to Real Estate Business Services Inc., a subsidiary of CAR. The California group then passed the program to the national Realtor group.

Thanks to Corliss, approximately 15,000 real estate professionals now have the SAREC designation, up from 1,000 in 1998. (For the senior specialist in your area, visit www.seniorsrealestate.com or call 1-800-500-4564.)

To get even more valuable advice from Tom, visit his Second Home Center.

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