If you’re keeping up with statistics and demographics these days, you obviously know that the population is aging. Depending on your location, this could present a huge opportunity for you. And with that opportunity will come some challenges.
In an earlier article, we talked about the mindset and emotions that many seniors have about selling and buying homes at this stage of life. Now let’s get down to some more specific strategies. Here are five important tips to keep in mind if you choose to make real estate marketing to senior buyers and sellers your specialty.
1. Don’t just say you’re a specialist—be one. Being a licensed Realtor with an aging parent or in-law does NOT make you a senior real estate marketing specialist. So the first step is to get yourself designated as a Seniors Real Estate Specialist® by the National Association of Realtors.® This involves taking a two-day course and earning at least 80% on the final examination. You will also be required to join the SRES Council® and maintain active membership as long as you use this designation.
2. Become the complete authority. Working with seniors involves much more than just buying and selling properties. What do you know about aging-in-place, shared housing, elder co-housing, or accessory housing? What you don’t know, find out. You’ll also need to be knowledgeable about reverse mortgages, have readily accessible connections to senior moving specialists, financial planners, health care advocates, and whatever other appropriate resources your community provides.
3. Know the decision-maker. Very often senior buyers and sellers will involve other family members, particularly adult children. Or those adult children and others will involve themselves, whether they are asked to do so or not. Be prepared. At times you may feel more like a family therapist than a senior real estate specialist. But the secret here is that you have to listen to all sides and you have to play no favorites between the different audiences.
One of our recent clients told of searching for just the right home for her mother. The Realtor® essentially ignored the actual customer—the mom—and only tried to sell the property to the adult child. She ended up alienating both of them. Result? No sale. Remember the old saying: “If Mom isn’t happy, nobody’s happy.”
4. Acknowledge the “I’m not ready” syndrome. Many, if not most, of the seniors who make a move do not feel “ready.” They may have lived in their present home for 20 or 30 years or more. It holds a lifetime of memories and traditions. It is home to their “stuff,” literally and figuratively. It is here that you might meet some resistance from adult children as well. Even though they haven’t lived there for years, they are sad to see their childhood home being occupied by strangers.
The key here is to be helpful and supportive while focusing on the future. If you are not involved in the new home part of the transaction, find out as much as you can about it. Ask them to share photos and brochures. Help them picture the new scenario in a positive light as often as possible.
5. Help them develop downsizing strategies. As mentioned above, many seniors who are moving are also downsizing drastically, leaving behind not only a familiar environment but a lifetime of memories. In these, situations, many people tend to cling to their possessions to avoid dealing with other issues, like stress and fear. This is not the time for hurry or pressure. Never tackle the whole house all at once, and give your clients plenty of time to get used to letting go and saying goodbye to treasured possessions. A few other helpful tips to remember:
- Focus on the future, not the past. Help them to see their possessions in the light of their new home. What will fit? What will make the new place look like home?
- Say “no” to “maybe.” When they are going through possessions, it’s either “yes, this goes,” or “no, it doesn’t.” No in-betweens or save for later. These tactics make decision-making endless and painful.
- Utilize electronics. No, they can’t keep shoe boxes full of old photos or trays of slides for the now-defunct carousel projector. But you can find someone to transfer at least a sampling of these to a DVD. Photograph some of the best treasures and have the photos made into a keepsake book.
- Make it a giveaway. Encourage downsizing seniors to find wonderful new homes for the things they treasure. This could be anything from giving an antique chest or a set of crystal to a favorite niece to contributing half their wardrobe to a women’s shelter or other local charity. When they visualize the things they love bringing joy to someone else, it puts a whole new light on the act of “giving it up.”
- Don’t do-it-yourself. There’s enough stress and trauma associated with this entire process already, so don’t compound it by trying to hold the world’s largest yard sale. Call someone who specializes in estate sales. It’s worth the commission to get the job done by experts. Encourage your clients to go away for a relaxing weekend while all this is happening.
Needless to say, you don’t need to do, or be involved in, all these things yourself. But you do need to have the connections to every one of them, and more, readily accessible in your database. Marketing real estate to seniors demands patience, empathy, understanding and a great network. If you can keep these qualities on the front burner of every transaction, you will truly be a seniors real estate specialist.