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By Megan Wilber

It is a growing trend in America today: People are planning for their senior years by looking at housing options for downsizing and retirement living. Many people choose active retirement communities, while others look at progressive facilities that allow for assisted living as their needs grow.

For Carolyn Weinstein, a Realtor® with The Hasson Company Realtors in Portland, Ore., this trend not only applies to many of her clients but her personal situation as well. As a senior citizen herself, Weinstein recognizes that aging clients need the special guidance of a Realtor who can relate to and understand their specific needs.

Two years ago, the U.S. Census reported that there were 37.3 million people over the age of 65 living in the United States. This age group accounted for 12 percent of the nation’s total population in 2006. As more baby boomers enter their senior years, we can expect that number to grow exponentially. In fact, the Census Bureau projects that by the year 2050, the population of “Aging Americans” will increase by 147 percent. That’s an expected population of 86.7 million people in just a few short decades!

With millions of people growing older each year, it is now more important than ever to identify the needs of the largest consumer group in the nation today. This means that hospitals and clinics need to prepare for the onslaught of seniors seeking medical assistance. Retail outlets and restaurants will also see an increase in demand for “senior discounts”.

The real estate industry needs to be prepared to assist this growing demographic as well. From selling, buying and relocating to refinancing residential or investment properties, aging Americans represent an active and ever-expanding real estate group.

With this in mind, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) established the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council, which has been a helpful resource for many Realtors to turn to when learning about the needs of Americans age 50 and over. Realtors who are interested in this new client base can earn the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation by taking the new SRES course designed by NAR’s Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council.

According to the SRES website, the course was developed 10 years ago and offers Realtors education about the different housing options available for seniors – from age-restricted communities to assisted living facilities. The training includes teaching Realtors specific ways to help older Americans plan ahead for life transitions and to protect them from mortgage finance and loan scams. The SRES program also includes training on the Housing for Older Persons Act; reverse mortgages; how pensions, 401(k) plans and IRAs can be used in real estate transactions; and how Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security affect real estate decisions.

The SRES designation further underlines the Realtor Code of Ethics as well. Many times, clients are concerned about being taken advantage of with regards to financial matters. Clients can now rest assured that their Realtor has the integrity and fortitude to advocate on behalf of them when it comes to the difficult decisions and situations facing aging Americans today.

More than 16,000 real estate professionals throughout the country have earned the SRES designation, including Weinstein who can now provide specialized expertise for aging clients in Oregon.

Weinstein found that many of the skills and the knowledge she gleaned from the SRES course can be applied to her own needs. “I’m in my early seventies myself and taking [the SRES course] really made me stop and think about what I need to do for my own personal circumstances,” says Weinstein. “These are things my husband and I are dealing with.”

Weinstein is currently working with a couple in their late sixties. A few years ago, the husband was struck by a car while walking, sustaining severe injuries and extensive hospital bills.

“It is physically difficult for him to get up and down the stairs in the couple’s two-level home in Portland and he required his wife’s help to complete even the simplest of tasks,” explains Weinstein. “Recently my client’s wife suffered a seizure, making her unable to care for her husband or herself. I needed to help them determine what their best housing options would be.”

Weinstein suggested the couple either hire a personal nurse or move into a community that can supply the medical attention the couple requires. Even if Weinstein’s advice does not result in a sale, she says she is happy to help her clients with the hard decisions.

“The most important thing is doing what’s right for the client – whatever that may be,” says Weinstein. “There are many options for people and it does take somebody who has learned how to look at a client’s choices and really help them make the best decisions.”

Unforeseen circumstances such as those that Weinstein’s clients face are just some of the many challenges of aging Americans today. Working with seniors struggling to make life-changing decisions is unlike working with first-time homebuyers, explained Weinstein.

“In many ways, it’s very difficult to work with older clients,” says Weinstein. “It is hard for people to downsize or move from their homes where they have lived happily for many years. It can be very stressful and you’ve got to have a lot of patience, but it is extremely rewarding.”

Mike Hasson, president and owner of The Hasson Company Realtors, encourages his agents to keep up with their education in order to better service their clients needs.

“We focus on education and training when it comes to the always-changing real estate industry,” says Hasson. “The aging population is an important clientele for Realtors By understanding our clients’ specific needs, we can maintain the high level of service our clients expect.”

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