Overcoming the challenges of selling your home
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” And for those who have lived in their homes as long as 40 or 50 years (or longer!), these words especially ring true. Which makes the thought of leaving the home we know behind terribly difficult.
Home is what we know
However, as we age, our homes may no longer fit our needs. What was once an ideal setting for raising children is now a burden to navigate. The dwelling that used to be a safe haven for our children is now a liability for us.
The prospect of selling and relocating from a longtime home can be downright frightening. Aside from the physical stress, there is often emotional stress as well. While many seniors have bought and sold property in their lifetime, there are a number of challenges that are unique to the senior population, says Judy Miller, a certified senior real estate specialist and former financial planner.
Seniors sell homes for a number of reasons, such as moving closer to family, downsizing, increasing safety, or joining a retirement community.
The bottom line, Miller says, is that senior sellers must arrive at the difficult conclusion that their overall abilities are diminishing with age. They may not be able to do the tasks that used to be second nature.
“The real underlying issue is a loss of control in the seller’s eyes,” Miller said. “Once you leave your home, it usually means that at some level you have to say, ‘I can no longer do these things. I’m getting older.’ None of us finds that to be an easy admission.”
For that reason alone, many seniors are prone to what Miller calls “resident inertia.” Those with resident inertia are no longer safe and secure in their homes but aren’t ready or willing to leave. Yet, with life expectancy increasing, more Baby Boomers and seniors must plan for current and future lifestyle needs, and Miller poses three questions for her clients to consider:
Is your current home conducive to you?
Are social services, such as Meals on Wheels, able to reach you? Can emergency personnel respond to your home quickly? Can you navigate the home safely? Are you able to have friends and family visit, or are you able to visit others for purposes of socialization?
How taxing is your current lifestyle?
Miller addresses three “accounts” everyone has: a physical account, an emotional account, and a hard-dollar/savings account. How much does your current lifestyle take away from your physical and emotional accounts? Is going to the grocery store a burden? Is climbing stairs a hassle? If so, would you rather spend your precious energy elsewhere? The balances in all three of your accounts should be considered.
What are your future needs?
Picture yourself in 10-20 years: Will you need a wheelchair? A walker? The ability to use public transportation? Consider relocating to a home that better matches your future needs. Moving doesn’t necessarily mean you must downsize – just find something that suits you better.
Appealing to buyers
Seniors suffering from resident inertia usually believe the best solution is to modify their home to fit their current needs. Changes can be as minor as adding a wheelchair ramp or as significant as adding a bedroom on the first floor. Miller cautions against making any such modifications.
“Very few people think about the impact on home equity – the dollars they expect to get out of the home when they sell it,” Miller said. “Buyers will want the home for the same reason the sellers wanted it 30 years ago. If the seller substantially alters the feel of a home, it can create disconnect for the buyer.”
Miller recalls one potential buyer noticing a wheelchair ramp when they arrived to look at the house. The buyer’s immediate response was, “Don’t sell me a house like that. That’s an old person’s house.”
If seniors move to a home that is better suited for their current and future needs, instead of modifying their current home, they maximize their home equity dollars while maximizing the ease of their lifestyle.
“It’s really a win-win,” Miller said.
Senior sellers can attract more buyers by understanding what they want. You probably decorated your home to your liking and tastes, but are your tastes congruent with the majority of buyers today? Updating the home to have a more modern look and feel can have a major impact.
Consider replacing flowered wallpaper with a more temporary color or replacing older carpet and fixtures. Miller also advises sellers make minor adjustments like removing raised toilet seats or the second walker in the garage.
A whole new world
Another part of Miller’s job is educating seniors about the new age of real estate. “Real estate information used to be hard to come by,” Miller said. “That’s no longer true today. When I list a home, it’s on 54 additional internet sites within 24 hours. And 94 percent of buyers start on the internet.”
Once the home is listed, there are three key pieces to reach a sale. The first is price of the home, the second is condition of the home, and the third is marketing. Agents handle the third piece while sellers are responsible for the first two.
“I often have to make sellers aware of the fact the pricing has to be right,” Miller said. “You’re not going to have a white knight who’ll just be waiting to buy your home if it’s priced $25,000 to $50,000 over market value. There’s so much information out there that you can’t hide anything from anybody.”
During the selling process, Miller advises seniors to vacate their home, if feasible, to avoid the emotional and physical toll of maintaining a show-ready home at all times.