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A model experience

September 1, 2010
by Bonnie M. Cauthorn, IIDA
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Well-appointed rooms provide seniors a preview of long-term living

For seniors shopping for a new residential lifestyle, a key factor in emotionally and financially “buying into” a long-term living arrangement is the well-designed model. For property owners of senior residences, the bottom line is to sell, while ensuring a new place to call home. Especially in a challenging economy, long-term living community executives affirm that partnering with professional interior designers experienced in the seniors housing market can produce increased sales through the power of polish. Anecdotally, the building industry claims as much as a 30% faster selling rate of furnished apartments over empty spaces.*

Knowing how to meet the needs of a market where “one size” definitely does not “fit all” requires special finesse and marketing sophistication on the part of elder housing executives. Leaving the family home can be wrenching for some older adults, while others breeze through a change of address.

“We are reaching out to two different demographics,” says Richard Williams, vice president for HHHunt, Blacksburg, Virginia. “First we appeal to seniors and then to their adult children, who can influence the buying decision. We are equally excited to make the move happen when we can appeal to both groups.”

Furnished models encourage wavering potential purchasers to come back to the community to firm up their preferences in competitive markets, proving “seeing is believing.” Attractive elements in models offer talking points to sales and marketing teams and help differentiate between one community and another.

“Models are excellent ways to continue the marketing process, by inviting prospects to visit after the initial contact. At that time, we can eliminate any possible objections to the sale. We want them to feel welcomed and comfortable,” continues Williams.

Effective designers bridge the gap between old and new during this transitional time. Dynamic, richly colored spaces with varied finishes and textures illustrate how mature, discerning individuals and couples can thrive in an assisted or independent living community, while respecting traditional design elements such as crown moldings, striking artwork and current color palettes dispel any expectations of stodgy, predictable environments. Models with coyly placed knitting baskets or too much clutter that suggest an “old person lives there” have no place in the minds of active seniors or their children. Instead, style-conscious consumers shopping in higher-end communities expect to see granite countertops, dramatic red or plum “statement” walls “that everyone can't stop talking about.”

Marti Miller, marketing director, Cedarfield Retirement Community, Richmond, Virginia, concurs. “We want to present a space where the client will say, ‘This is beautiful, I could move right in.’ But it is a very fine line between up-selling slightly and taking them where they can't see themselves living. We want our prospective residents to be comfortable from the very start.”

Richard Williams


Well-thought-out models further achieve multiple design and sales goals by showing how furniture sizes “work” within a given square footage. Full-sized or queen beds, and a reading chair in the bedroom demonstrate a space with ease to move about and show purchasers that they can bring some of their cherished belongings to the “new home.” “The children want to see mom comfortable and safe, and the parents want to know they could actually live here,” adds Sally Spielberg, executive director, Spring Arbor of Salisbury in Midlothian, Virginia.

Marti Miller


Savvy interior designers also incorporate flexibility within their furnishing plans for the benefit of community sales teams. As models sell and floor plans get tweaked, items inevitably get moved and rearranged. Quality furnishings and accessories with consistent or complementary colorways and styles can be reused cost-effectively and keep their value for the owners.

Sally Spielberg


Scenarios of kitchen cabinets stocked with food boxes, dining tables with china and placemats, and closets containing trendy sweaters and stylish flats help seniors mentally create a storyline or “emotional piece” to the shopping decision. These attractive settings add a warm, human element to even the most sophisticated marketing package. Absolutely, the “financials” are important to any purchaser. But so is that sense of “fitting in” that only a stack of well-thumbed books, colorful artwork, and well-appointed furnishing say “you should live here.”

For more information, call (804) 644-3424, e-mail bcauthorn@designsourceinteriors.com, or visit www.designsourceinteriors.com.

*Source:www.builderonline.comHard data solely for the long-term living market has been difficult to quantify. Design Source, Inc., is now formulating a survey of its clients to put hard numbers on the value of furnished models to establish ROI in Mid-Atlantic markets.

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