Buying or selling a home is a complex, complicated process at best. But when the transaction involves working with senior citizens, the complexities are likely to increase exponentially. How should Realtors prepare to meet these challenges?
The best choice, especially if you already live and work in a community that is attracting large numbers of retirees, is to make this market niche your specialty. You can join the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council. You can study to obtain a Senior Real Estate Specialist designation. Savvy seniors and boomers who are looking to buy, sell, or relocate will often search for specialists in advance. So if this is an area that interests you, take time to get yourself prepared.
Conduct an honest self-evaluation before you go all out in this direction, however. If you are not long on patience and handholding, this may not be the market segment for you. If you do decide to make this your specialty, consider these five mistakes that seniors often make and learn ways to steer them away from these pitfalls.
- Landing on the fast track. Often seniors procrastinate on the selling decision until an emergency forces them into it. This can create time pressure and a high level of emotional stress. If you get a client who’s in this situation, try to slow them down if possible. Perhaps they have had a panic response and selling is not even their best option. If the pressure is financial, a reverse mortgage might resolve the problem. If there are medical issues, perhaps some temporary in-home care would buy them a little time.
- Adopting the Family Plan. At this stage of life, buying and selling decisions frequently involve other family members. Often, these are adult children who feel they know what’s best for Mom and Dad and fully intend to take charge of the decision-making. This can be emotionally devastating for older seniors, who may already feel a loss of personal power. Learn how to defer to the older folks’ wishes. Always include them in the conversation and let them feel that the final decision is theirs. Work to make the children your allies throughout the process.
- Putting it in reverse. Especially in a somewhat slow market, people may think they need to plan on a long selling cycle and suddenly. . . the house sells and they have no place to go. Try to head this scenario off by encouraging your clients to focus on finding another property and putting those wheels in motion before they list their home for sale. If you do get caught in a bind, try to negotiate with the buyers for a longer-than-normal closing.
- Getting stuck on Memory Lane. Face it—seniors have “stuff.” Lots of it. And they don’t want to part with it either. Trying to sell a home that features that cluttered, lived-in look, with family photos and keepsakes covering every available surface, can be very challenging. Your best bet is to bring in an expert in de-cluttering and downsizing. Do this even if you have to give your office assistant a temporary promotion to “Organization Consultant.” Work with the sellers to remove some of their furnishings, collections and heirlooms. You can suggest an estate sale or place things in temporary storage. An even better solution is to start sharing those treasures with friends and family who will appreciate and care lovingly for them.
- Looking for love in all the wrong places. Senior buyers (and others too) may be distracted by the visual appeal of a property and disregard the qualities that make it unsuitable for their needs. Sure, it may have a great view of the lake or the mountains. But does it have multiple stairways that may become difficult to negotiate? Yes, it’s peaceful out in the country, but where is the public transportation if they can no longer drive? Are there medical facilities and other support systems they need in easy proximity? When you’re interviewing senior buyers, especially those who may be new to your community, spend plenty of time getting to know them and their unique, personal needs. Resist showing them any property that you know may be unsuitable now or in the future.
Seniors are a tricky demographic to serve, particularly when it comes to selling their longtime (often lifetime) home and possibly losing years of independent living. Both physical and mental issues may affect the outcome of your transaction. Some seniors have difficulty hearing or are visually impaired. Some like email, smart phones and iPads while others prefer face-to-face communication with their Realtor over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Some are ready for a change and looking forward to an exciting adventure. Others are being dragged kicking and screaming into an unknown and uncomfortable way of life.
Your success in the boomer and senior marketplace depends on your ability to be patient, empathetic, and calm in the stormiest of circumstances. If you can do those three things, you’ll earn your share of gold from the golden years.