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A live-in experiment in senior housing

Kathy Bryant, Spokane real estate broker, grew up an Army brat; she attended 13 schools by the eighth grade.

Bryant, 55, believes it’s no accident she ended up in real estate. Homes represent stability and security.

She knows how hard it can be for older folks to “unroot” from a home where they’ve dwelled for decades.

So for one week each month this year, Bryant will unroot from her South Side condo and live in 12 different retirement communities.

“In the end, of course, I hope this helps my business,” said Bryant, who has sold real estate for eight years through Keller Williams Realty.

“But I also really believe there are so many people out there sitting frozen in their homes they’ve had for 40 years, and they are afraid to do anything. So they do nothing until it has to be done for them.”

The idea

About five years ago, Bryant’s mom was living in a good apartment – as long as her mother stayed indoors.

“It had an outside entrance, concrete steps,” Bryant said. “Her garage and laundry were downstairs.”

Bryant talked her mom into considering a move to a more user-friendly place. Together, they toured about 10 apartments. Her mom hated every one of them.

“And my mom is not a hateful person,” Bryant pointed out.

“Finally I got to the point where I said, ‘Just forget it, mom. You’re on your own. You’ll find a place when you accept it’s really time to move.’

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe I was like that to my sweet mother. I see that it’s time for her to move. But she doesn’t think it is.’ “

Bryant realized that the dynamic with her mother was playing out in families throughout the United States.

“As much as my mom wanted my help, she wanted to do it on her own terms,” Bryant realized. “That’s why my philosophy is: ‘Your move, your terms.’ “

When older clients seek Bryant’s help selling their family homes, they often ask her to recommend a retirement community. To better do so, she came up with the idea to live in 12 retirement communities in 2011.

First stop: Moran Vista Senior Living, 3319 E. 57th Ave. on Spokane’s south side.

The live-in experience

On Monday, Jan. 24, Bryant, along with her golden retriever, Willie, moved into a one-bedroom apartment at Moran Vista.

She dwelled in the independent living section of Moran Vista, though the community also offers assisted living and Alzheimer’s/dementia care units.

Bryant will live rent-free in each of the dozen retirement communities.

“They’re not paying me, and I’m not paying them,” she said.

Bryant will move into independent living units in communities on Spokane’s south and north sides, in Spokane Valley and in Coeur d’Alene. She’ll live in pricey developments and in less expensive ones.

The cost of living in an independent unit at Moran Vista ranges from $1,595 a month for a studio apartment to $3,095 for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a balcony. Three meals a day are included, as well as utilities, cable TV, weekly housekeeping and social activities.

Bryant set up her computer and a video camera. She had taught herself (with help from a colleague) how to blog and videotape her thoughts on her blog, www.kathythroughthelooking

She worked at her real estate business during her Moran Vista stay, but she ate most of her meals there, took quilting and writing classes, played bingo, did Wii bowling and got her hair done.

She checked out the library, the billiards room, the theater room and the Internet café.

At mealtimes, Moran Vista residents sit with their established table mates. People new to the community are given spots at established tables to integrate into the community. Residents order off menus.

Bryant circulated among several tables. Most of the residents she met were in their 80s and 90s; most were women.

Bryant’s day-three blog entry read: “Today I was lucky enough to sit with three amazing women. One is a self-published author who has started a writing group in the community. She is 91 and bright and articulate.

“Another lady teaches bridge and told me about a fun date she had yesterday with a gentleman caller. She is 93.

“The final lady was a young 81 and a retired nurse.”

In these table conversations, some residents told Bryant they’d wished they moved in sooner.

“They held onto their homes and were consumed by the things in their house and in the end, all that stuff didn’t matter,” she said.

Bryant said the thought of getting rid of decades of stuff collected in basements often paralyzes older folks, as does fear of change.

Some residents, however, admitted missing their lifelong homes.

“Part of their life is gone, and there’s still a bittersweetness,” Bryant said.

The next stop

Bryant ended the first week of her live-in experience at a wine and cheese party in Moran Vista’s activity room.

She invited her mother, now 83. After the failed search five years ago together, Bryant’s mother eventually did find another apartment and later moved in with Bryant’s sister.

But she’s in transition again. Bryant’s hoping her mother will choose independent living.

Bryant isn’t pushing this time, though. The week at Moran Vista reinforced her “your move, your terms” philosophy.

She said: “When the senior has done the research and made the choice, the transition is always better.”

Bryant’s next live-in experience will be at Good Samaritan retirement community in Spokane Valley. She’ll move in Feb. 21.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I’ve missed somebody else doing the dishes!”

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