The marketing representative will meet you in the lobby and will guide you to the marketing office. She will have a brochure for you with information about the community. (Not all marketing representatives are female, but I’m using “she” for the sake of simplicity.)
She will likely ask several questions about your background and interests, your children, and your health. She will do this for two reasons: 1) She wants to build a relationship with you so that she can understand what motivates your to move into senior housing and 2) She wants to figure out what type of apartment to sell to you.
Once she figures out what sort of apartment or cottage you are looking for, she will likely give you a tour of the campus. These tours usually include a handful of different apartments, some likely furnished and some not. The tour will always include the community highlights: dining areas, arts and crafts rooms, library and computer centers, and meeting areas. These are fairly typical, and generally, the sales person will try to both learn more about you in order to “close the sale.”
Following the tour, the sales person will take you back to the marketing office and ask if you have any questions. She will invite you to lunch or dinner. If you express interest in moving forward in the sales process, she will give you a packet of forms to take home with you to fill out. If you don’t sound interested, she will try to get you back to the community for another visit.
Eat the food. There is nothing worse than making a commitment to spend the rest of your life in a particular senior housing community and then realizing that you hate the food. It is common practice for marketing representatives to offer you lunch following your meeting. Take them up on their offer. Also, ask if you can come back and eat lunch with some of the existing residents. There is no better way to learn about the community!
Visit unannounced. It’s one thing to visit a community when they are expecting you. It’s another to see how things function when you’re not expected.
One time I did a market visit to a community that was not expecting me and observed a manager lose her temper with a maintenance man who had forgotten to move a moldy refrigerator from an apartment. The entire conversation happened in the lobby, in full view of anyone who happened to be there. At the time, they had no idea that I was doing a market study. I watched the whole thing, thinking all the while that I would never let my loved ones move into this community.
At another market visit, which I conducted on a rainy afternoon, there was a whole group of angry residents at the front desk complaining about their leaking roofs. Had I not been sitting in the lobby, waiting for the marketing representative, I would never have seen the residents complain.
In doing your research, make sure you come back a few days after your initial visit. Look around. Observe how the community handles unexpected visitors. While you wait for the marketing representative, talk to other residents in the lobby. Ask how they feel about their home and what they wish they would have known about the community before they moved in.
Pay Attention to Details. Use your time at the community to take in all the information that you can about the community. Check out the bathrooms. Are they clean and neat? Observe the general cleanliness of the community. Pay attention to dirt and stains, which may indicate that management does not pay attention to the community’s maintenance issues. Are there residents moving around the community and engaging in activities? Or is everyone in their rooms? The first visit is the time when these impressions are freshest.
Go with your Gut. If you get a bad feeling, leave immediately. You have no obligation to sign a contract, go on a tour, or stay for lunch. If the sales person is pushy or if you don’t like the way the community looks, don’t feel bad about leaving. At the end of the day, you don’t want to live in a place that makes you uncomfortable. Even if all of details seem to make sense, your instincts should be your guide.