Hotel Conversions to Senior Living & Staff Culture – Miri Hadas Koller, BSc, MBA

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Miri Hadas Koller, BSc, MBA
Miri Hadas Koller, BSc, MBA

It’s all about vibrancy, engagement, activities in stimulation and, further development, whether it’s an online class or any skill set they want to acquire. If you’re blessed enough to to live in an independent living community that provides it’s a perfect fit.

I find these days that the majority of retirement homes are very good homes with very good operators. I think there are very, very few which are not up to standard. I think if you go into a retirement home and you feel a good vibe and you see smiling people around you, you can feel totally comfortable that you will be happy there.

I heard a lot of seniors say they didn’t expect to make new friends at 85, but they do. They meet people, other people who are just as lonely and want a new friend, their peers, their age group.

The most beneficial thing about doing a hotel conversion to senior living is the fact that you’re saving a lot on your cost and on your time, which means you can then offer better rates. If your product costs you less, you can sell it for less. And we know these days, the cost of a retirement home is high and some people cannot afford it.

If your product costs you less to build then seniors can afford it, you can sell it for lower prices and people can afford to move in hotel hotels in general. And ever since we’ve done those, every hotel I go into, I start looking around me to figure out, can it be converted to a retirement home?

In general, hotels really lend themselves to conversion. They are built in a way where you have all these independent suites. Usually there’s large amenity spaces. So the structure is usually there. So then it’s a question of community. A lot of time, hotels are either in downtown a commercial areas, not really residential areas, or sometimes they’re on airports or highway ramps, not really where you want to put a retirement home.

Miri Hadas Koller has almost 30 years of experience in all aspects of real estate, including the marketing of single-family homes and condominium properties, the management of commercial properties, and now more than 10 years experience in the seniors housing sector.

Miri has helped build Greenwood retirement communities from 2 retirement homes to a portfolio of 8 homes, and a team of 500 employees. In February this year Miri joined Yee Hong to help build a culturally appropriate portfolio of retirement communities geared towards the Asian Canadian seniors.

Hanh Brown: [00:01:00] Today, my guest is Mary color. She comes with 30 years of experience in all aspects of real estate, including the marketing of single family homes and condominium.

[00:01:23] Properties and the management of commercial properties. And now more than 10 years of experience in senior housing sector, she has helped bill Greenwood retirement communities from two retirement homes to a portfolio of eight homes in a team of 500 employees. in February

[00:01:40] In February of 2020. She joined Yee Hong to help build a culturally appropriate portfolio of retirement communities geared towards the Asian Canadian seniors.

[00:01:51] Good morning, Mary, thank you so much to be here. Sharing with the listeners, your story, your journey, and the conversion to senior living. Can you share with the listeners about your background, how you come to senior living?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:02:07] So I come to senior living by complete chance. It’s not that this was where I was expecting to go.

[00:02:14] I joined a real estate investment company. We were just two and a half people and we planned to stay a small real estate investment company, but we just happened at some point to invest in a retirement home. So we started out as, uh, an acquired investor watching from the side. But after the years have gone by, we got more and more involved, more and more interested.

[00:02:44] And at some point decided that we can do this better. And we took over the management. And from there, I started my career in retirement, home living. So I don’t have background in operation. My background is actually real estate, but after. 10 more than 10, almost. Wow. Almost 15 years in the sector. I now have a lot of background in operations just by virtue of owning and managing a retirement home.

Hanh Brown: [00:03:17] Great

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:03:18] company.

Hanh Brown: [00:03:19] Awesome. So what’s your thought on retirement community as an option for seniors?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:03:25] I think it is the best thing we have. Of course it would have been lovely if we could all keep our seniors. In the family, but even then I still think retirement homes offer independence to seniors and they don’t need to be waiting for the daughter for the neighbor, for somebody to come along and help them.

[00:03:49] They have everything they need in the community, but at the same time, they have their own independent suite. They can decide when they’re going to be in the suite and do their own thing. And when they can be out in the community, I feel like a lot of seniors these days are alone at home for long stretches of time, waiting for somebody to, to come by and visit them.

[00:04:15] And when they are in early time at home, they are among their peers, among people who care for them. And again, they have their own choice when they want to back out and. Hang out quietly in their own suite, away from other people. I think it’s the best thing we have to offer to seniors.

Hanh Brown: [00:04:37] Yeah. Yeah. I’m with you.

[00:04:39] I think that’s a family decision to choose what’s best for the loved ones. I mean, I also think there comes a point that family members may not be the best. Caregiver to having gone through the same situation myself. My mom lived with us, my siblings, as long as she possibly could, because our tradition is that we take care of our elders, our parents and grandparents, but reality hit is when my siblings just couldn’t take care of her anymore.

[00:05:09] It’s a very tough decision.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:05:11] Yes

Hanh Brown: [00:05:12] we’re blessed to been able to find a home, an extension home, speak for my mom. Yeah. So I’m a believer that if you can keep your loved ones in their home environment, as long as possible until the care is not suitable anymore, I tell you that that’s a big decision and you have to make that decision based on what’s best for the loved one.

[00:05:36] Maybe not what’s necessarily right. The best for the family members. You always have to think in terms of, is this good for my parent or grandparents?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:05:45] Yes. From my experience over the years, I’ve heard again and again, seniors who moved into a retirement home reluctantly. And found out that this was an amazing decision and they were regretful that they haven’t made the move much earlier, but they found they have company.

[00:06:05] They eat well. They exercise, they feel better before a lot of people have this concept of. Hospital. And these days, retirement homes are, are tiny little condos. They’re not hospital.

Hanh Brown: [00:06:20] Absolutely. It’s all about vibrancy, engagement, activities in stimulation and further development, whether it’s an online class or any skill set they want to acquire and all, I think it’s great.

[00:06:34] If you’re blessed enough to be an independent living in a community that provides that it’s a perfect fit.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:06:41] Yes. Yes. It can definitely make you healthier for longer.

Hanh Brown: [00:06:48] I agree. I think that’s great. So you want to share your take on senior, going into a community into believing this the best decision ever, because.

[00:07:01] Not all communities will provide what you and I discuss. I’m sure yours. Do, do you have anything else to add to that before we go into the conversion?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:07:12] I find these days that the majority of the retirement home sector are very good homes with very good operators. I think there are very few who are not up to standard.

[00:07:24] And I think if you go into a retirement home and you feel a good vibe, be smiling people around you, you can feel totally comfortable that you will be happy there. I, again, heard a lot of. And as seniors say, they didn’t expect to make new friends at 85, but they do. They meet people, other people who are just as lonely and want a new friend and it’s yeah, it’s their peers, their age group.

Hanh Brown: [00:07:53] Very blessed. It’s almost like a restart right. Restart on exploring your later third quarter.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:08:00] Yes,

Hanh Brown: [00:08:01] I do have that opportunity. That’s amazing. And I know COVID has taken a hit, uh, worldwide and particularly assisted living and the older adults and I’m hopeful. That once this settles down, that the seniors can truly reap the benefits of the amenities at these communities.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:08:22] Yes. As far as I see right now, COVID hit very hard. The. Long-term care. The heavy care communities, most retirement homes remained pretty much a COVID free because they had the ability to separate people. So the minute people had their own independent room and it was not. Impossible to isolate and there wasn’t a problem.

[00:08:53] So I really don’t think people should be concerned about the retirement homes. And I heard that people are going back on cruises. So if people are going back on cruise, Ships, they can definitely go back to retirement homes.

Hanh Brown: [00:09:06] Yeah, no, I agree. I think all of us, we just gotta be mindful comply with the regulations, but at the same time, the sooner we get back to life, the better it is for the economy.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:09:18] Yeah. Yes.

Hanh Brown: [00:09:19] Yeah. Okay. I know you mentioned you’ve been involved with converting hotels to retirement communities. What are some of the advantages of doing that in the conversion? As opposed to let’s say starting out ground up.

Miri Hadas Koller,: [00:09:35] the, the company that I worked for before had four. Oh, it’s a of the portfolio that was a hotel conversions.

[00:09:45] The most beneficial thing about doing a hotel conversion is the fact that you’re saving a lot on your cost and on your time, which means you can then offer better rates and your product costs you less. You can sell it for less. And we know these days, the cost of retirement home is high and some people cannot afford it.

[00:10:06] But if you’re. Product costs you less to build, then you can afford, you can sell it for a lower prices and people can afford to move in M hotel hotels in general. And ever since we’ve done those, every hotel I go into, I start looking around me to figure out, can it be converted to a retirement home? And in general, hotels really lend themselves to it.

[00:10:30] They are built in a way where you have all these independent suites and usually there’s. Large amenity spaces. So the structure is usually there. So then it’s a question of community. A lot of time, hotels are either in downtown a commercial areas, not really residential areas, or sometimes they’re on airports or highway ramps, not really where you want to put a retirement home.

[00:11:02] Not every hotel is convertible, but a hotel that’s in a environment where you can walk and the there’s good at public service, sorry, public transit service. Then that’s a very good and option for conversion. And of course you need to have enough amenities space. So we share looking at a small. Motel that doesn’t have a kitchen or a dining room area then again, problematic.

[00:11:33] But if you buy a hotel that used to have a nice banquet or an, the extended stay hotels, these days have a small kitchen and, uh, an a dining room that really can be converted. And of course, a lot of hotels have, uh, Conference rooms that can be converted to amenity space. So hotels in general lend themselves to conversion.

Hanh Brown: [00:12:02] Makes a lot of sense. Give me your thoughts on, let’s say the room size of a hotel. How is that adequate for us to sit or, um, memory care room and, and is it robust enough to accommodate independent size room?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:12:18] So, eh, Really depends on what you’re looking for. I’ve seen a small, eh, 250 280 300 square feet suites that are very small and the old type, eh, hotel suite.

[00:12:37] Eh, so. In that case, your retirement home is full of studios and they don’t have kitchen nets. They have those little cupboards where you can stick up microwave, you get smaller suites and eh, but still you have it. As long as you have enough amenities space, as long as you have room in the suite to set up the basics.

[00:13:01] And we used to tell the residents, that’s just your bedroom. The whole arrest of the hotel, the rest of the building is the rest of your home. So that allows again, to offer a much lower price range and open it to a much broader audience. We also. Did an extended stay hotel. So in an extended stay hotels, they actually have a full little kitchen in the suite.

[00:13:30] So for independent living that’s perfect again, because it was a hotel conversion. We had large suites with full kitchens. And still it was it, uh, cheap enough for us to do, to allow us to also sell for lower prices depending on what your hotel you start out with. There’s definitely options for different types of markets.

Hanh Brown: [00:13:59] Makes sense. Makes sense. If we’re able to convert hotels to senior living. And another consideration is schools, schools in rural areas that perhaps have the community, but not accessibility for folks who drive far to go to a senior living. That’s another consideration too. That’s another topic.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:14:21] Yes. I have seen schools converted.

[00:14:23] I have seen churches converted. So if you have a large structure, That takes away some of your development risks, then away you go, you just saved yourself some time and some money to get a product into the market.

Hanh Brown: [00:14:39] I agree. You gave me a high level, the benefits and what you look for in a hotel for that conversion.

[00:14:46] And give me some deep dive what the process into entail. Like, how did you convert it with regard to the construction and the approvals?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:14:56] And so it really depends on where your hotel is and what the city requirements are and what the zoning is. So in, you definitely need to go through the city and ensure that you have the right zoning and if not apply for it.

[00:15:14] And then there were. Different considerations about the building. So the first conversion that we did the building was, it was relatively new. There was very little that we needed to do in terms of upgrades. It was some replacing of carpets, some and buying a senior friendly furniture for them many space.

[00:15:36] It was interesting. I. Never expected, but one of the big things to do was to get rid of all of the furniture in the hotel suites. You would think that would not be a problem, but yes, it was a problem. And so it was wrong.

Hanh Brown: [00:15:50] so it was wrong with the old furniture.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:15:51] So normally in retirement living, you let the seniors bring their own.

[00:15:56] Furniture. They don’t necessarily want hotel furniture. The minute you take all the furniture out of the suites. And a lot of time, it’s not senior friendly. It’s hotel furniture. Yes. You want to take everything out, but now you have dents in the carpet. You have. Markings on the walls. A lot of hotels have wallpaper.

[00:16:18] You take off the headboards and you know how in hotels, they nail everything to the wall so that people don’t take it when they leave the room. And yes, no, you have holes in your wallpaper. So what do you do with that? In some cases we painted over the wallpapers. In some cases, we had somebody, an artist come in and do.

[00:16:39] Artistical, eh, fixes to the wallpaper. Yes. That was an interesting thing that we did not expect. And another thing was bad. So if you’re, if the hotel is full of bat baths, not showers, eh, we had somebody who came in and cut out the tubs. So cut a chunk in every tab to allow. Eh, the top to become, uh, a walk-in.

[00:17:06] So we didn’t replace the Tufts. We had them professionally cut out in the two hotel conversions that I was involved with. We took two different approaches in one of them. We said, We don’t have to fix up all the suites. Let’s just fix up the first 30 and start selling. And it allowed us to really, between shutting down the hotel and opening the retirement homes, it was three months.

[00:17:32] It was so quick that people would actually still come in and expect this to be the hotel. And we would have to constantly turn away people who. I thought that they were coming into the hotel. So that allowed us to really do a very quick upgrade, replacing furniture, replacing some carpeting and away we go, we opened a retirement home.

Hanh Brown: [00:17:56] Oh, nice. Three months.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:17:58] Yes. In the second case, we, we had more. And it was an older building needed more work. So we couldn’t do that. And we actually went and fixed up all the 148 weeks and we did a much bigger renovation. So it took longer, there were all kinds of issues with the city that I don’t really want to get into, but yes, there was a lot of work to get us to, uh, to open.

[00:18:26] But even then, when I say a lot of time, It was 13 months. So compare that to building new. And from the day we took over the hotel to the day we opened the door to the public was 13 months.

Hanh Brown: [00:18:42] Nice. Nice. So what did you do in the rebranding? From the hotel to the senior living?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:18:49] I have to admit when you’re building a new retirement home and the whole town watches, the building grow.

[00:18:56] Everybody knows that you’re there when you’re building a new retirement home. When it’s the hotel one day and it’s a retirement home three months later, yes. You have much more to do in order to get your name out there. We didn’t do rebranding. We just needed to let the world know that we’re there. So we did some advertising, of course, usually with retirement homes, your market, most of your marketing is community outreach.

[00:19:22] It’s letting the. Social workers, the hospitals, a, the church groups let, letting the community know that you’re there. And so that’s how, that’s what we had to do in order to, to let the world know in our second hotel conversion, we were very lucky. We were in the parking lot of the largest. Small in the neighborhood.

[00:19:45] So everybody knew we were there. We just hung a lot of flag flags that said retirement residents. And that’s how people found out about us. But yeah, I think you lose the fact that when you’re under construction, the whole world knows that you’re building that.

Hanh Brown: [00:20:01] What would you, you say your biggest challenges in the, uh, conversion.

[00:20:06] Uh, on both projects.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:20:08] this is an Ontario thing. And so in each, wherever you are, there’s building codes, there, there that pertain to what is required in a time at home. When we did our first one, the building code was one thing when we did the second one, it was something else. And a lot of things that it just changed along the way was just a small example.

[00:20:35] Was a surprise to us in the hotel. You leave your suite, you close the door, it locks behind you. Currently the code in Ontario says it in the residential setting, you have to be able to go back into the room. It can’t lock behind you because if in case there’s a fire, you’re in the. Hallway, you need to get back into your suite, but it got locked behind you.

[00:21:00] So we had to actually replace all the locks. We didn’t expect it. So there are all those small things that have to do with building code that you’d now have to watch for. Is this, if this is an. Old hotel. It there’s many areas where you may not be up to the new fire codes. And those of course, the most important thing is, is it sprinkler if it’s not got a sprinkler?

[00:21:28] So, and yeah, I would say. And the biggest challenges is to make sure that you’re buying something that would be appropriate for conversion and that you understand the building cogent implications and what you will actually need to do in order to convert it to a retirement home.

Hanh Brown: [00:21:50] Great advice. So for the residents, what role do the staff and the sense of community play as opposed to like a physical place that they live in ?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:22:00] Oh, this is my favorite, a preaching point. I always say it really doesn’t matter. You can have the prettiest building and the most beautiful amenities as, but the most important thing in a retirement residence is the team. The people there. The atmosphere that they create. When you walk into the building, do you feel a positive vibe?

[00:22:26] Eh, the, the, the, the, the team, the, the frontline team in a retirement home, they are your extended family. They are the one who are there when you’re happy. When you’re sad, they’re there in Christmas. They’re in there on mother’s day. They are. Your your extended family. So they make or break that the retirement home.

[00:22:49] And, and I think during the COVID outbreak, there was way more talk about the importance of the frontline team and taking care of the seniors. But we know that anybody in the sector knows. The important role that they play. And again, from my experience, every time we ran resident satisfaction survey. When you ask the resident, what’s the thing that you love most about it here?

[00:23:16] The team, the staff providers. Yes, they are the most important thing. The walls, the, the pool. The furniture, the lipstick. Yeah.

Hanh Brown: [00:23:29] That is important. And it’s the culture and the people, the caring side of it. Yeah.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:23:34] Yes. And I’m a preacher for company culture, but at the end of the day, it’s the culture of the people on the ground.

[00:23:42] It’s the retirement, the specific retirement, the team that works there, they need to be. Engaging and they need to be happy and they need to be caring and then everything else just falls into place.

Hanh Brown: [00:23:55] So how do you instill that? I am in full agreement. It’s a task to instill that in the people. So how do you do that?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:24:05] So from my perspective, the way I always handled it is a, that was the team was my number one concern. So as the president, the CEO, you care about the team, they care backs it. So I would always put the team as my first consideration. If they were aware, I concentrated it. How can we make their lives better?

[00:24:33] What do they need and concentrate on making sure that they have all the tools that they need, that they feel engaged, that they feel appreciated. We all love feeling appreciated. I would say to any leader, your team, and they will make you or break you. And so. Give all of your attention to your team. And I, I truly believe that when you invest in your team will invest back in you.

Hanh Brown: [00:24:58] Absolutely. It’s full circle, isn’t it?

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:25:01] Yes. Yes.

Hanh Brown: [00:25:02] And it will show through the residents

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:25:04] a hundred percent. You can feel it when you go into a home where the team is happy and they smile at you. When you tour people stop and say, hello, you’re in the right place.

Hanh Brown: [00:25:16] You’re very blessed. Sounds like you hit a very exciting journey and a lot of learnings in the conversion.

[00:25:22] Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Miri Hadas Koller : [00:25:26] I have been blessed. I worked with some amazing people. I learned from everyone I met along the way and everybody in the sector has something to share. And I believe in sharing of knowledge, I truly think that we all need to work together. There’s no competition.

[00:25:42] We’re all. Serving seniors and let’s do it together.

Hanh Brown: [00:25:48] Thank you so much. Take your time. I think this is very inspiring because it’s still an well, at least in my, from what I see, it’s still a new undertake that people are locating high schools and hotels. I think more and more are doing new development, but I think due to COVID.

[00:26:08] And the complexities that come with it, the construction during this time think more and more people will be looking for high schools and hotels and the location accessibility. So that’s great. And thank you for being here to inspire them.

Miri Hadas Koller: [00:26:26] Thank you. It was my pleasure.

Hanh Brown: [00:26:30] Thank you so much for joining us this week and boomer living TVs podcast.



Miri’s Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/miri-hadas-koller-a4723619/
Yee Hong Seniors Living: https://www.yhsl.ca/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mirikoller

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