What is a Senior Placement Agency?
When a senior adult must find a senior living community that is the best fit for their needs, it can be difficult to weed through what the best option for them would be. On top of having to meet specific criteria for many of the senior community care levels, understanding which community is the best personal fit for the senior’s lifestyle is also hard to do if you don’t know anything about those senior communities. In addition, many areas are saturated with so many choices, each promising great services and amenities, making that decision so much more difficult.
That’s where Senior Placement Agencies come in. A local agent often has personal relationships with the prospective senior residents and understands what the senior is likely to need the most. An agent will also form strong connections with a majority of the senior living communities in the area, of various care levels, and can distinguish the highlights and pitfalls of each one.
Local Placements Agents take the time to learn what type of “personality” the community reflects so that the resident matches well with the services, amenities and lifestyle the senior community offers.
In this guide we are going to cover the following topics, please feel free to use the links below to skip to that specific section:
- How Are Referral Agents Different Than Placement Agents?
- Are Senior Placement Agents Free?
- When Might I Chose to Use a Senior Placement Agent?
- Is it Possible to Accidentally Hire a Referral Agency?
- Is a Senior Placement Agent the Best Choice for Me?
Many times, in an effort to locate the most appropriate senior communities, seniors and their families will turn to the web to look. In doing so, many will be presented with what they think are senior community listings and search engines. What isn’t always apparent is that most of those websites are really Referral Agencies. The Referral Agencies, without exception, require the site visitor to supply contact information, including their email address. They then broadcast that information to the communities with which they a Referral Agreement with within the senior’s area. The Referral Agreement stipulates that the community will pay the Referral Agency a significant fee if the claimed prospect moves into the community within a specified length of time.
These larger, national referring agencies may or may not have a referral agent in the area that will show the senior’s family around. Many times, the agency will rely on the communities to set up tours and woo the residents in. Every community has a vacancy rate that they have to manage with occupancy goals woven into their annual budget, so each community’s sales manager has strict occupancy rates that they are under pressure to maintain, their jobs depend upon it.
Imagine what it would be like if your phone number were blasted out to 12 senior communities in your area and each one called to setup tours, get feedback, and check on your decision every single day for the months up until your final decision was made. Sounds maddening right? But this is how many, not all, but many of the referral agencies operate. If you look at the tiny words when you submit a contact form on one of these agency’s sites you will see that you agree to be contacted. So, you very well may be, in abundance.
Although there is certainly nothing wrong with using a Senior Referral Agency, many find that it does not always lead them to the best possible outcome. That is because many times these referral platforms steer prospective residents to only those communities that they have a contractual relationship with, which means that their recommendations might be somewhat biased, and the senior’s needs may not be the primary consideration.
A Local Senior Placement Agent is different than a National Referral Agency. First, like mentioned earlier, the agents take the time to nurture strong relationships with the seniors and their family members. They understand how much the decision is going to impact the family and know that finding the right fit can be a lengthy process. They learn as much as they can about the senior’s physical abilities and disabilities, their medical conditions and limitations, and they also delve into their budget concerns, knowing that the longer the money lasts the better chance the senior has for a quality lifestyle.
That does not mean, however, that Placement Agents do not get paid a referral fee. They receive about the same amount that the Referral Agency gets. And they too will have contracts with some senior communities and not others. And, just like the referral agents, they tend to offer up communities where they have a contract. However, where they differ the most is that occasionally they can help negotiate a better rent deal, if the senior’s budget is tight, and tend to direct the senior resident only towards those communities that fit within an established budget. They can also show seniors and their families around a place that they have not contracted with for a one-time placement fee that can be paid for by the senior, the senior’s family, or even the community, if the community agrees to it.
Both Referral Agencies and Placement Agents charge a fee to the Senior Community once the senior resident signs a rental agreement. That fee is usually somewhere around 70% – 80% of the first month’s rent, so average fees can range between $,1000 and $5,000 per placement . That fee is paid by the facility to the agent, the senior resident does not pay this fee. If a senior needs to be placed in Skilled Nursing (which generally does not pay referral fees) or a community the agent does not have a contract with, a Placement Agent may charge an agreed upon hourly fee to the senior for the time spent searching and touring these facilities. Referral Agents typically do not have the ability to refer seniors to communities outside of the Referral Agency’s contractual network.
There are so many communities that are competing for the attention of the same prospects but not all of those communities have the marketing budget to get themselves found very well. Many times smaller communities can do a better job of attending to a senior resident’s needs and can be found in small homey towns where transportation, shopping, and social outings are abundant. But it is incredibly difficult to find these smaller communities online.
Why is that? Because it all comes down to marketing dollars. These larger communities can spend thousands of dollars on search engine ad space and search engine marketing every month while smaller communities just don’t have the resources to do that. A lot of times those less expensive, small town communities can’t be found online at all because many don’t even have websites. Quite a few small-budget communities, which tend to cost less for the residents, haven’t much more than a Facebook page and you have to already know about them to find them. That isn’t very helpful to someone just starting down the long road of finding appropriate senior housing.
A Placement agent will know about these smaller, less expensive communities and can help the community by bringing in prospective residents that may have otherwise not been aware of the community. Placement Agents not only try to form tight relationships with the senior residents, they work very hard nurturing close associations with every community in that agent’s area so that when they are working with a senior or senior’s family they can help them to be aware of local choices.
Because of the inflexible fee that Senior Referral Agencies charge, smaller communities often just can’t afford to pay them. And because it is rare for a referral agent to bring a senior to a community that the agent does not have a contract with, residents working with those larger referral agencies will never know about those smaller communities.
It is not only possible to accidentally hire a Senior Referral Agency, it is really easy to do. Because large national referral agencies have tremendously large marketing budgets, they can afford to dump all of that money into serious online marketing. They buy up copious amounts of ad space, market on social media, and have affiliates that they pay to also do the same for them. Almost all of the large, national referral agencies have websites that appear to be senior provider search platforms, like how Senioridy works. But, when a site visitor rummages through the listings to search for senior communities they quickly learn that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Since the goal of a Senior Referral Agency website is to gather contact information from it’s site visitors, as soon as a visitor clicks on a link, like a call link or a pricing link, they will be met with a popup asking them for their contact information in exchange. While this may seem harmless enough, if you were to read through the print at the bottom of the form you will see that you are agreeing to be contacted about senior options. This form is what is used for your consent to blast your contact information to all providers within a certain radius of the city you are inquiring about so that they can claim the senior’s name as “referred” by them to the community. This is how they collect their fee.
Where this gets terribly confusing is that many prospective senior residents have family members searching for them as well. If that senior, or anyone else searching for them, fills out an inquiry form on one of the Referral Agency sites and then contacts any community that has received that “referral” and goes on to a sign a rental agreement, that community will have to pay the referral fee, even if no one from the referral company ever contacted the senior or family. However, usually the Referral Agent, who is eager to win their portion of a commission, will contact anyone whose contact information they receive. They will usually continue to contact them until the senior has signed a rental agreement or until the referral period has expired, which can be up to two years in some cases.
While getting a high number of calls from a Senior Referral Agency may not be something that everyone wants, some people really don’t mind it. Seniors who lack companionship and like to talk on the phone may even prefer to have the regular attention. The Senior Referral Agency’s model of driving site visitors into the arms of waiting communities is not a bad business model if you think about it. And any money that is spent to help seniors and their families become aware of senior living options is money well spent. At the same time, it is important that a senior searching for living options understands what to expect when a Senior Referral Agency steps into the picture.
In order to help bring some regulation to an otherwise wholly unregulated service, a new national alliance has been formed called the National Referral & Placement Alliance (NRPA) which was designed to nurture a positive relationship between competitors with a pro-disclosure and pro-provider approach. One of the guidelines set by NRPA is that potential residents and their families should be given the right to inform the provider which agency was most helpful during their search. This was implemented because it is not uncommon for a referral agency to simply send a name and a phone number and collect the referral fee while a local Placement Agent actually showed the senior around the community and could not collect a fee because the fee was given to the referral agency. Communities won’t pay two agents for the same placement so many times the larger national Referral Agency will win the fee because the contract is so binding.
The NPRA is very young and very few agents or agencies belong to it even though it does implement a strong list of standards. One of the Code of Ethics policies it extends is the prevention of “Churning”. Churning occurs when a senior has been placed by a referral agent and then moved into another facility strictly for the purpose of the agent earning another fee. There is not a law to prevent this, so it is regulations like this that have been implemented to address that problem.
In the long run it is usually best to work with an agent that has your best interests in mind, that takes the time to understand your specific needs, limitations, medical history and budget. And beyond that, an agent that truly cares about your happiness at the end of the day. Senior Placement Agents will take a considerable amount of time trying to find the very best solution for your unique needs.