Selling a Healthy Change for Seniors

April 1, 2006

There comes a time in the lives of many seniors when staying in their current home is no longer a safe or wise choice. But the decision to move is often delayed—or avoided altogether—because of the myriad emotions surrounding the transition.

To work with seniors, you must be able to recognize situations in which emotions have led to decision-making paralysis and be prepared to guide your clients and customers through a clear, rational assessment of their current living arrangement.

For many seniors, just the thought of selling stirs up fear and anxiety about leaving their home, neighborhood, and friendships for unfamiliar territory—so much so that they often convince themselves a move isn’t necessary.

Here’s a common scenario: A senior couple begin the process of downsizing and preparing to put their home on the market, even putting down a deposit at a senior community. Then doubt and confusion set in, and the next thing you know, they cancel the move and ask for the deposit back. All this happens usually within a few days. Or, you might meet a woman who’s lived in her home for more than 30 years and whose husband has passed away, leaving her with the responsibility of maintaining a home that’s aging and in need of improvements. She’s on a tight budget and doesn’t have the resources to upgrade the home, but she still clings to the comfort and familiarity of her neighborhood.

There’s a great need in the senior market for education about options. So seminars and newsletters are a great way to offer information and find prospects. And through your Web site, you can provide links to financial, legal, healthcare, and other services aimed at seniors.

You also might identify potential senior sellers through their adult children. The children might be concerned about their parents’ current living situation and can possibly be a conduit for discussing a move.

Once you find potential senior sellers, offer to guide them through the decision-making process. Pose these questions to seniors to help them better assess their situation:

  • Does your home provide the best environment for the physical needs you have?
  • Have you isolated yourself from friends and family because your inability to maintain your home has left it in disrepair?
  • Have you had trouble finding workers to take care of maintenance?
  • Are finances keeping you from enjoying the home you’ve loved for so many years?
  • Do you feel you have adequate security and access to care where you are?

If seniors can answer yes to more than one of these questions, they’re candidates for change.

If you’re serious about working with this segment of the market, you’d be wise to pursue some specialized training. For instance, I earned the Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES®) designation conferred by the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council. Additional education and experience will help you become a valuable adviser to seniors on real estate-related matters.

The training can help you put a move into perspective for seniors. For example, many seniors experience a debilitating sense of dread when they imagine trying to fit all of their belongings into smaller quarters. Many people, however, use only certain areas of their home the majority of the time. Measure the square footage of the areas the seniors currently occupy the most—say, the living room or den, kitchen, bath, and bedroom—and compare that with the square footage of the apartment or other living arrangement they’re considering. In some cases, the sellers might actually gain space.

Here are some additional steps you can recommend to help seniors overcome their fears.

  1. Visit senior communities and apartments in the area. Seniors might not be aware of the many choices available. Marketing directors often will be happy to give tours of their facilities and explain the different types of senior housing. Among them: Senior apartment complexes cater to older adults, but residents must be able to care for themselves. Retirement communities are self-contained residential complexes with support services and recreational and social amenities. Continuing care retirement communities offer three levels of living environments—independent, assisted living, and skilled nursing. Become familiar with all the facilities in your area so that you can speak knowledgably to seniors.
  2. Talk to trusted advisers. Clergy, an attorney, relatives, a physician, or a best friend are all excellent sources of unbiased advice. Counsel seniors to discuss their feelings with their advisers and describe how their current situation is affecting their view of life. Encourage them to divulge any difficulties they’re experiencing, such as physical hardships and anxieties, such as loneliness. Then suggest that they let their advisers help guide them with love and concern to the right decision.
  3. Make lists of benefits and objections. Tell seniors to list on one side of a sheet of paper all of the reasons a move would be good and to list on the other side all the negatives. Suggest they put the paper away for a couple of days, then reread the answers. After reflection, the right path to take could become obvious.

Working with seniors is challenging but rewarding. When the transaction is finished, you will have not only sold a home but also helped change the lives of folks who truly need a guiding hand.

Bruce Nemovitz, ABR®, CRS®, of Realty Executives Lakeshore in Mequon, Wis., has worked with hundreds of seniors and their families during his 29-year real estate career. He’s written a book entitled Moving in the Right Direction. You can reach him at 262/242-6177 or at