Special Agents

A new category of Realtors caters to the needs of older buyers

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What quickly became apparent to Rick and Maureen Dailey, after moving to Florida two years ago to care for Maureen's 84-year-old mom, was that the humid Florida climate was not good for the older woman's emphysema. Looking to head north to Delaware so that he and Maureen could be near their adult children, Rick, 60, a former police officer, ended his Internet search for a Realtor when he discovered Re/Max agent Kathy Sperl-Bell's website. Although he had never heard of her Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation, he was so impressed with the info on issues affecting the "mature" client that he gave her a call. "We wanted a Realtor who could understand our need for a house that would not only comfortably accommodate all three of us and afford privacy," he says, "but also be in a location that would please my mother-in-law, who wanted to be near retailers, restaurants and church, and Maureen and me, who like to hike, mountain-bike and sail." Sperl-Bell found the perfect three-bedroom ranch in Lewes, Del. Says Dailey: "Her specialty made the process go very smoothly."

Sperl-Bell is one of 14,000 real estate agents nationwide with an SRES designation, up from 5,000 in 2002. The two-day training for this specialty, which includes analysis of the different generational needs and the attitudes of those 55 and older, as well as the range of housing options available for that market, comes under the auspices of the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council. It was the brainchild of California real estate veteran Tim Corliss, who in 1997 anticipated a growing market segment that would have not only specific needs but also a fair amount of disposable income to meet them.

Of course, any good real estate agent is service oriented, but there's a world of difference between offering general services and anticipating the needs of a specific demographic. "This age group has very different concerns from [those of] a 30-year-old home buyer," says Tom Stevens, president of the National Association of Realtors. "Going to a Realtor with an SRES designation is like going to a medical specialist."

Many SRES agents are of a certain age and have had to deal with the same issues as their clients. Ruth Fennell, 50, who is based in Tampa, Fla., got her SRES training in 2003 after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and had to move from Florida to North Carolina to be near her two sons. "We needed some legal advice, some financial advice and some help conducting an estate sale,"says Fennell, but the agent wasn't much help in any area but selling the house. Fennell offers a team approach to sales, consulting with and referring clients to specialists in taxes, elder law, estate sales, home inspection and health-care advocacy (although clients are free to use their own experts if they choose). Neither the clients nor the specialists pay her for the referrals. "I make only my regular commission on each sale," she says, "no matter how much extra service I provide." And Fennell doesn't stint on the extras. After she helped an elderly woman's adult children sell their mom's duplex in Sun City Center, Fla., she disposed of the belongings left behind--arranging for the better pieces to be auctioned off, dropping giveaways at a charitable outlet and shipping sentimental favorites to family members around the country.

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