September 2014 Article

Working with Single Elderly Sellers

When elderly couples decide to sell their home, it’s often because one of them wants to, or has to, move into senior housing, and his or her spouse is going along with the decision, although sometimes reluctantly. If your seller is a single senior, however, you might be faced with a less obvious conundrum. I’ve listed homes owned and occupied by widows or widowers, and they all had one thing in common: mixed feelings about moving.
“Mixed” is putting it mildly. Putting their home on the market often makes elderly single people face one of the biggest dilemmas of their lives. They can’t stay because of health, physical abilities, finances, or adult children who worry about them living alone; but they want to stay in their home because it is filled with decades of memories about raising a family, celebrating holidays, and seeing loved ones depart.
When you are the listing agent for an elderly single person, your watchword should be patience. Don’t hurry the process. Plan to spend time listening to your client reminisce. Ask how he or she feels about moving, and respond to those feelings with understanding. This is not just a business deal to them. It’s the passing of an important era of that person’s life, and a possible loss of valued independence.
Elderly sellers might feel anxious about strangers coming through their home at first, especially if they are living alone. (Oh, and by the way, were you heartlessly planning to make your elderly seller leave his or her home during every showing? If so, shame on you.) Explain that all buyers will be with a licensed agent, that those agents have to get permission from your company, and that your company will confirm the showing with the owner. This will give your client a feeling of security and control.
Contact your client at least once or twice a week, even if you don’t have much to report. Just asking how he or she is doing might be enough. The point is, don’t make them wonder what has happened to you, because that will lead to worrying and stress.
When an offer comes in, don’t expect your client to be happy about it. Remember, there’s a side to him or her that does not want to leave that home. Because of that, the offer might never be quite good enough—and that presents you with a dilemma: if the negotiation fails, the seller has not solved his or her problem. You can’t push your client, but you don’t want to frustrate a qualified buyer into looking for a property elsewhere.
If the negotiation of an offer made in good faith becomes hopelessly deadlocked, you might suggest that the seller ask a family member or trusted advisor to help with the decision. I’ve worked with adult children of elderly sellers, and in one case, I worked with a trusted family attorney. These advisors understood the elderly person’s sensitivities, as well as his or her need to move. The advisor can weigh the terms of the agreement, evaluate comparable sold properties furnished by you, and help you give the seller reasoned—and trusted—recommendations.

To learn more about counseling sellers with special needs, see if our 3-hour online CE course, “Seller Counseling: From Listing to Closing” is offered in your state.

By Jim Luger, CDEI
Certified Distance Education Instructor
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