By Joanne B. Simms
Selling a primary residence, whether downsizing or otherwise, can be a daunting experience, especially for folks who haven’t done it in a long while. This is typically the situation with older adults, who have been in the “family home” for 40 or 50 years.
Carolyn Ambrose is a Certified Seniors Real Estate Specialist focusing on transactions that involve seniors, their children and their families. Approximately 75 per cent of her clientele are over 50 years of age. She understands the needs of seniors and draws upon the expertise of CPAs, estate planners and lawyers.
“It’s all about understanding the features of each generation,” she says. Each has to be treated with a different type of marketing and communication.” She says younger seniors tend to be comfortable with cellphones and messaging, while older ones tend to be technologically challenged. “They don’t text. They prefer to communicate by speaking on the phone or face-to-face. My job is to simplify the process as best I can, so I ask them how they’d like to communicate.”
Next, she evaluates the nature of the transaction. Downsizing and moving into a smaller less demanding residence is oftentimes the case. Maintaining the old home becomes too challenging physically and financially. Also, compelling health issues demand a change in lifestyle.
Organizational and physical tasks associated with planning and implementing relocating can be complicated and unnerving for the entire family. “With people like that you have to be very careful,” says Ambrose. “They sometimes feel they’re losing their independence, so it’s a very emotionally charged situation.” Senior Move Managers typically enter the picture at this juncture. They are specifically trained to assist older adults and their families during “aging-in-place” and/or residential downsizing and relocating.
Options is the pivotal issue with their clients. Few seniors and their families are familiar with the varying nuances and selections of independent or assisted living communities when the need arises. Ambrose partners with Senior Move Managers to provide detailed comparisons within the senior clients’ parameters, such as location, amenities, lifestyle, cost, services levels, medical care, etc. All are certified members of National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), which has 985 branches in the USA and Canada.
Oftentimes, adult children will accompany their parents in an advisory role. While Ambrose acknowledges the kids extra support, she says most of her clients want to make the financial decisions on their own and she respects their wishes.
“That’s something I ask my older clients when I meet them for the first time. Do you have your family’s support in this move and would you like them involved in the process? Ultimately, if that 74-year-old, who has hired me to do the job for them doesn’t want family interference, I can’t involve the kids and/or other family members.”
Ambrose says she keeps that thought in mind even when one of the children has Power of Attorney. “That Power of Attorney is involved in every stage of negotiation, every conversation and every signing but, ultimately, it’s the owner you’re representing and you don’t want them to feel they’re being left out of any conversation.”
At Walker-Hamm Realtors, Gwen Williams and her partner George Price, too, have a large senior clientele. They emphasize that “later-in-life transactions require extra care and consideration.” You have to be mindful of the history they have in their home,” says Price. “Their kids were there too. There’s an emotional connection to the home and this is a big deal to all parties involved.”
“What do I do next?” is a familiar refrain, says Williams. She tells her older clients to tidy up the place and clear away the clutter. And that often means sifting through family mementoes, keepsakes and photos. This is an emotional and time-consuming process when the kids and/or the rest of the family can pitch in. “I always caution people that it’s going to take longer than they think,” says Williams, “because they run into sorting and packing. Everything has a story. You’re making decisions on who gets what and where it goes.” They also have to be mindful that the children aren’t necessarily desiring their parents’ furnishings, etc. They’ve established a lifestyle of their own.
When it comes to negotiations, Price agrees with Ambrose. It’s common for parents to bring their children to the real estate office, often with mixed results. “Lot of times, they ask for advice and some children are really good. They step back and say, ‘Mom and/or dad can deal with this.” On the other hand, you run into the ones that are trying to push parents in a certain direction and there’s resistance. They’re pushing for a decision and they’re impatient. With seniors, I find you need to give them space and time to make the decisions.”
The children can be overly argumentative in the mistaken belief they are protecting the parent. “Sometimes, I’ve had to go and have a private conversation with the children because ultimately my representation is to the owner on the title, which is usually the parents.”
Gloria Phillips represents Reed Homes Realty. Like the others, half her clientele are 50 years of age and over. She starts seeing kids advising their parents at a later age, when the parents are in their 70s. “That’s the biggest obstacle that we come across – the children being very protective of Mom and Dad . . . and I’m exactly the same way,” says Phillips. “I’ve got my 78-year old Dad with me and I’m very protective of him, so I understand their concern. You do have to work with the adult children, but the adult children have to understand that, by law, we have to deal with the people who are the owners.”
“I believe everybody needs to be treated with respect,” adds Ambrose. “Everybody has an opinion. It’s a conversation. If their adult child doesn’t like my style or my pricing, they’re free to get another quote.”
As for seniors surviving these later transactions, “I think they should ask a lot of questions and take their time making decisions,” says Ambrose. “And, above all, they shouldn’t feel they’re being rushed. Good communication is absolutely critical and we need to trust each other,” she says. The Senior Move Managers and I work with have the highest of ethics and compassion for our clients.”
*Joanne B. Simms is a Certified Health Advocate. She specializes in older-adults care. She applies her many years of practical field experience to teaching others how to navigate the landscape of older adult healthcare and senior housing.