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Ask Dr. Real Estate
How Do I Work With Seasoned Citizens?
by Dr. Kenneth W. Edwards GRI

 

QUESTION:

I recently got a listing of a classy little older home in a great neighborhood from a very nice widow lady. I'll call her Mrs. Wiggs. My broker actually referred her to me, since she was a long time friend of the family and I'm the most experienced agent in our office. She had lived in the home for over 30 years and she and her late husband had raised their family in it. I choked up on my first tour of the home when she showed me the pencil marks on the wall where she had measured the heights of each of her children on their birthdays.

My first job was to convince her that her home, for which they had paid $30,000, was now valued at well over $300,000. She simply could not believe it was worth that kind of money. Once I showed her comparable homes that had sold in that range, we got it priced realistically and submitted to multiple. We got a full price offer almost immediately. The only little glitch was that when I presented the offer to Mrs. Wiggs, she broke down crying and told me there was no way she could actually leave her home while she could still take care of it. She said she never really wanted to sell in the first place, but that her children kept after her. My broker let her cancel the listing - a course of action with which I wholeheartedly agreed. I guess we could have pressed for our commission, but that would have seemed insensitive, and we really didn't spend that much time on the listing. In over fifteen years in the business this has never happened to me before. Any guidance on how I might avoid such situations in the future?

ANSWER:

There are an increasing number of REALTORS® who find that working with senior citizens is a very rewarding career niche. Typically, those who are selling their homes have quite a lot of equity in them and are absolutely delighted and amazed (sometimes to the point of disbelief) to learn how much money they will walk away from closing with. The news gets even better since they almost always qualify for the great capital gain tax exclusion for primary residences. If they are going to purchase another home, they are obviously going to be in a position to buy just about anything they decide upon. There are, however, some special challenges.

It's Worth What? You've already recognized one fairly common misunderstanding. If folks who have lived in their homes for many years have not kept up with the real estate market, they sometimes express utter disbelief that their little bungalow could be worth six figures. As you demonstrated, this is a fairly easy one to handle, assuming you've got good comparables to share with them, present the information in an understandable format, and are patient. The closer the comparable sales are to their house and the more current the sale, the more effective they will be in making your point.

How Motivated (Really) are the Owners? This is a judgement call, and it will take some gentle probing and astute investigation to determine. In some instances, such as the one you encountered with Mrs. Wiggs, there was a sincere motivation to sell - unfortunately, it was on the part of the Wiggs' children, not her. In working with folks who have deep emotional ties to their homes (an understandable and common situation with many senior citizens), you will need to make clear from the very first that the objective of the entire process is to sell the home and move out of it. You might ask what actual moving plans have been made, and volunteer appropriate information if little or no planning has been done. You should certainly inquire as to future living arrangements, since that's an excellent indicator as to how serious a seller you have, and it could obviously result in more business for you. By all means establish contact with others who may be influencing (or actually making) decisions, such as children, attorneys, bankers, accountants and family friends. Complete and present a simulated offer to purchase using hypothetical figures and assumed closing dates. If, as a result of any of these actions, you detect a tendency on the part of the homeowner to panic at the actual prospect of moving, then you need to back off and do more counseling before you actually take the listing and put it on the open market.

Special Senior Concerns: It would be a mistake to assume that senior citizens are a homogeneous group who all share the exact same attitudes and beliefs. However, having worked with several during my active selling days and having had several in my real estate classes and home buying seminars in the past few years I will venture these observations. To further add credibility, I'll also reluctantly confess to being a very slightly seasoned citizen myself . First, many seniors are very trusting. Once you establish rapport and gain their confidence they often tend to treat you as an old friend and confidant. This places more of a responsibility on you, since they may make some important decisions based almost solely upon your recommendation. Second, they dislike gimmicky sales pitches and high tech psycho babble. Keep it simple, honest, and understandable.

Find a Niche and Fill It: If you are looking for a stimulating and rewarding niche in which to operate, the "over 55" market offers some tremendous opportunities. Folks are living longer and enjoying productive and active lives. You may have also noticed that the Boomer Generation is now qualifying for Social Security. The National Association of REALTORS® has a Specialty, Senior Real Estate Specialists (SRES®). You can check out the requirements for the program at www.sres.org. In working with Seniors, just do your research, understand your market, and press on. And without getting too schmaltzy, treat your customers and clients as you would like to have another REALTOR® treat your mom and dad.

Expanding Your Horizons - Generational Housing: If you would like to expand your knowledge on dealing with specific generations, let me recommend the book Generational Housing: Myth or Mastery by Carmen and Lloyd Multhauf. It's a comprehensive and well researched discussion of the attitudes and tendencies of the various generations in our American society. The book's Amazon.com link has a Search Inside Feature that will allow you to browse. There's even a professional designation Generational Housing Specialist™ (GHS™) that the Multhauf's provide. You can check that out at www.GHSDesignation.com.