REALTOR® Gives Care, Comfort to Seniors and Their Pets

Priyanka Johri isn’t really a people person. She prefers dogs.

In fact, Johri, AHWD, SRES, broker-owner of The Woodlands Eco Realty in The Woodlands, Texas, says she started her company so she could make money to fund her nonprofit, Pure Mutts Animal Sanctuary, dedicated to the care of dogs who are elderly and have special needs. “I got into real estate to pay vet bills for my dogs. I believed it to be my calling to help dogs,” she says.

In the course of her nonprofit work, Johri realized that helping elderly dogs often meant helping their senior owners, too. “Every year, I’d get dogs from people who had to go to assisted living,” she says. “In 2017, I got eight calls in one month. I realized the universe wanted me to do something.”

After a quick Google search, Johri found about 25 assisted living facilities in the area that advertised as pet-friendly. She started calling them, looking for space for the seniors and their pets she was helping. “I just thought it was so wrong that people had to lose their companions just because they needed senior care,” Johri says.

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But she found that none of the 25 facilities were as “pet-friendly” as advertised. “When I called, every one of them had the same story: The senior could bring their pets so long as they could take care of the pets themselves,” Johri recalls. “How was that going to work? They were going to assisted living because they couldn’t take care of themselves, let alone their pets.”

So, she resolved to start her own assisted living facility. As a real estate investor, Johri thought she’d have to build a facility—but, it turns out, she didn’t. “Not long after, someone literally walked into my office, and we got on the conversation of assisted living facilities. They explained to me that I could offer assisted living services in a home setting.”

Johri liked the idea, and it just so happened that a home near her real estate office met the requirements for an assisted living facility license. Johri bought the property and embarked on the licensing journey. While working through the licensing requirements, she started looking for someone to manage the facility. She wanted someone experienced and well-versed in the assisted living sector. “The plan was that I’d be pretty hands-off and hand the facility over to the manager,” she says. “But while we were going through licensing, Hurricane Harvey hit, and I just didn’t like how the manager was handling things.”

Johri didn’t want a status-quo facility. She wanted a place where seniors and their animals could feel at home and cared for as though they were family members. “I shut the home down for a month, and I told myself that I was going to do it my way.”

In November 2019, Johri reopened the doors of the facility. She used her staging experience to make the space bright and inviting. In 40 days, the facility was at capacity. Then, a local doctor called and told Johri that he wanted his mother to have a space at Johri’s facility. So, Johri set out to expand by purchasing another property, and Acorn Manor Assisted Living—which now includes five properties—was born.

But a new challenge was on the horizon: On March 11, 2020, the doctor called Johri and told her she needed to put her facility on lockdown immediately. “The pandemic was coming, and he had already gotten word, so he went to his office and brought me gloves and disinfectant and hand sanitizer,” Johri says.

Johri went home, packed her bags and moved into the facility. She wanted to be there in case anything happened—and she didn’t leave for two years. “Until then, I never had a senior person in my life—no grandparents, etc.—and I didn’t know what it was like until I started living in the facility. It was the best thing that happened to me. I fell in love with taking care of seniors like I fell in love with rescuing dogs.”

She wants her seniors to live happy, content lives in their final years, and she does what she can to make that happen. “We throw a lot of parties,” she says. “I have one resident who hadn’t put her feet in the sand in over 20 years, so we brought in some sand. We’ve had pool parties, we set up a restaurant once, and we’ve had a fair-inspired party where they played games and ate fair food. I get into the shenanigans with them, so they think of me as their friend.”

In 2021, Johri started getting an influx of calls from seniors who needed to sell their homes but didn’t have the financial means to update their properties. They and their family members were looking for a quick turnaround. “Essentially, when someone in this position is calling me, it’s because something has already happened with their loved ones, and they need to move,” Johri says.

She wanted to help these seniors maximize their profits so they had money to take care of themselves. So, she devised yet another plan. Leaning on her industry partnerships, Johri enlisted contractors, interior designers and storage facilities to help her renovate the homes for her senior clients. All of those who participated agreed they wouldn’t get paid until after the home sold. To maximize the comfort and safety of her senior clients, Johri set them up with temporary living arrangements at Acorn Manor.

The need continues to grow, though, and so does Johri’s senior-specific program. She’s partnered with local assisted living facilities to help provide temporary space for her clients while their homes are being renovated.

“So now, I’m a senior expert, I suppose,” Johri says.

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