04 Jun Success Interview with Matt Sullivan
Interviewed by Gene Guarino Feb 2018
Gene had the opportunity to visit with Matt Sullivan at his RAL home Southern Grace Assisted Living. Located in Kentucky where the state meets Illinois and Tennessee. Southern Grace is in a Frank Lloyd Wright design inspired home built in 1975. Gene returned to the office very impressed with the exceptionally peaceful feeling that the home and caregivers emanated. Recently, Gene interviewed Matt for our Success Interview Series where Matt talked about some of the challenges of updating a large unique home to a residential assisted living home.
Kentucky uses a social model so there is no licensing, just state certification once you meet all the rules and regs, but the state does require larger rooms (minimum 10×20 feet) with an attached bathroom for every resident’s room, although bathrooms can be shared between rooms (i.e. a Jack and Jill bathroom). Like most SFH to RAL conversions Matt had to do some rehab and the state requirements did pose some challenges because even-though the home was 5000 square feet, it only had three bedrooms. He was able to take the master bedroom suite and turn it into three bedrooms, and a den turned into two more bedrooms. There was also a sunken living room that needed to be raised, Matt was a bit sad to lose the beautiful hardwood floors, but he said that it was worth it. As Gene says, “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do,” and this rehab was no exception. After touring the home, Gene said you couldn’t even tell that it had been raised and a new floor installed.
The home had been purchased for $360,000 and sat on 3 acres of land. The rehab was $700,000 completely gutting the home side-to-side. Matt said he could stand on one side of the house and see all the way through to the outside on the far side. At this point, Gene will tell you, “Don’t think that all renovations cost that much!” This was a unique case of renovations, additions, a lot of bathrooms, and some high-ticket items required by the state including a water line out to the street, grease trap, triple sink in the kitchen along with double washers, and everything in the remodel done was with high end materials.
Saving Grace is a mixed 12-bed home of singles and doubles and could net around $12,000 to $15,000 per month when full, but Matt realistically calculates some vacancy and budgets a net of $10,000 to $12,000 per month consistently. In addition, he plans to raise the rates as the word gets around and a waiting list develops.
One of Matt’s challenges is educating the surrounding population about residential assisted living. Many people are just not aware of what it is. One way he has increased awareness is with his ‘Photo Stop.’ If you are in the RALA Inner Circle Facebook Group you may have seen Matt’s great idea for creating a buzz around Southern Grace Assisted Living. He is well known for creating holiday ‘sets’ where the public can take pictures of themselves on the front lawn that corresponds with the current season or holiday. Matt says that it has caused people to slow down and SEE the home, basically become aware of the home, and even stop to take pictures at his ‘Photo Stop.’ In each ‘set’ he makes sure that the Southern Grace sign can be seen or the actual home is in the background. The kids really love it and it creates brand awareness.
Matt is a Worship Pastor at one of the larger churches in the area and along with his wife and son, consider Southern Grace a form of ministry. Running your own RAL gives you the ability to create the culture that you are passionate about without worry of offending a customer or your boss, since you are the boss. The right people will come to your home because you offer unique services that meets their needs. Quite often this is a critical time in the resident’s and the resident’s families lives so Matt and his staff take prayer requests from residents, resident families, and the care giver staff, prayer is said before meals, and many of the residents and staff will join together in bible study and help with prayer groups. The residents love it.
One of the greatest things about owning an RAL for Matt is the moment when a family member comes to him and expresses how having a home like this has changed the resident’s and the resident’s family for the better. Matt tells a story of one moment where the daughter of one of the residents came to him and told him about one of their newest residents – the mother had lived with the daughter for 15 years and was never happy, then went to the other daughter and lived with her, but still wasn’t happy. The daughters had never seen her really happy. One week after moving into Southern Grace, the daughter asked her mother how she liked it (fully expected complaints about food or not it being home). Instead the mother said, “It’s great. All the people are friendly, and the food is so good. It’s normal, good, food!” The daughter who lived 3 hours away said, “Matt you don’t know what that means to me, that my mother is happy in a place like this, it means the world.” Matt says that to hear things like that from the relatives that express that they can go home and not constantly worry about their parents and that we are making a difference in their parent’s quality of life has been unexpected and makes it really worth doing – even more than the money.
This was Matt’s first home and he made sure to use RALA support and watch every YouTube video that Gene ever made, “over and over again,” he jokes. He has worked in a corporate environment in the past, but never as the boss and he said that he had a lot to learn. His biggest piece of advice is to ‘keep on keeping on’ because there will be some challenges. Matt says that when doing something the first time there will be challenges and looking back he wouldn’t consider starting without the consulting that Gene and RALA provided. He learned at the 3-Day Live Assisted Living Business Accelerator course that in this business if there is a problem, identify the problem, and find a way around the problem, and then take action.
As we say around here, ‘the first home is the hardest’ but after that it gets easy. By just taking it one step at a time you will get there. As for Matt, he is already looking for his second home and considering creating a memory care home near Southern Grace. He loves that RALA has shown him a way to make a difference in the world while also creating a strong financial legacy for his family.
Matt is a great example of Doing Good and Doing Well and we couldn’t be prouder of his success!