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3 Keys to Serving Senior Sellers

Despite having completed graduate degrees in both gerontology and psychology, it wasn’t until recently that I began to fully understand the underlying issues ultimately responsible for the variety of challenges our course members and coaching clients have been experiencing as they assist mature clients with late-life moves from long time homes.

While these challenges sometimes surface as objections to pricing, staging, de-cluttering, repairing deferred maintenance, leaving for showings, etc., they may show up as hours of repetitive story telling and procrastination. What is really going on, however, are the workings of two deep-seated developmentally appropriate conflicts.

For professionals who take stock of these subtle messages and begin to see the senior seller from a different paradigm, the frustrations can hopefully be replaced by more than just financial compensation: specifically by the far more valuable commodities of personal satisfaction and a sense of occupational pride.

Here are three key elements in effectively serving older adult home sellers as they work through the process of downsizing, simplifying, rightsizing or otherwise moving into a new place of residence after many cherished years in a place they call home.

1. Slow down
2. Place service over sales
3. Offer a turnkey one-stop approach

Hit the pause button!

REALTORS generally live life on the fly. I can say this because I have been in the business as a real estate agent, broker, manager, or coach for over two decades now and I have observed on a daily basis the haphazard, spontaneous, and erratic lives the industry spawns.Not only is it not healthy for the real estate professional, it certainly doesn’t align with the best way to serve a mature adult client. Instinctively we all know that seniors need people to slow down, but why exactly?

Consider this: 

In later phases of life, people begin working to resolve what Erikson proposed as the eighth stage of psychosocial development known as “Integrity versus Despair. During this stage of life senior adults spend more time reflecting and taking inventory of life’s events. It is during this inventory that they attempt to resolve any unresolved negative emotions (regrets) and establish a sense of satisfaction (integrity) about their life.

Today we often hear people talk of “leaving a legacy” after they die. This is essentially the process mature adults are going through, however, it is not as much about a purposeful outward act of doing insomuch as an inward sense of being. The process requires massive emotional and psychological energy to accomplish, and it requires people to slow down — literally.

I have heard too many people describe this slowing down as a perceived reduction in cognition, when in reality it is a new way of life that is developmentally necessary and appropriate. It’s not a disease process or a reduction in brain power. It’s the brain’s way of preparing us to leave this life with integrity.

Think Service, Then Sales

Another natural instinct for sales people, programmed upon induction into the world of real estate sales, is to “ close the deal.”

While it typically makes good business sense to assume the sale and to make every attempt to get a contract signed when a buyer or seller is ready, it doesn’t always make sense to “sell” when a senior homeowner isn’t ready. More times than not, older adults are formulating and assessing their options when they call a REALTOR for the first time and they aren’t necessarily ready to sign on the dotted line that day.

What they often need and want from an agent is information. Unfortunately, what they frequently get is a hurried salesperson who has a thirty minute block of time before their next client and who rushes through a series of “must do’s” before heading out the door (iPhone vibrating incessantly).

Remember Full-Service?

Full service is a concept with which most from my generation are unfamiliar. We grew up in a world of fast-food dining, self-service gas stations, and drive-through banking where the mantras are “faster is better” and “time is money.” Conversely, older generations took pride in the service they provided a.k.a. “full service.”

I remember my small town having full-service gas stations where it would take my grandpa nearly a half hour to refuel while he chatted with the owner about the weather while having his oil checked, windows washed, and tires aired — no extra charge. And oh by the way, no tip either. It was all part of the deal!

Why is full service all but gone in today’s world? My flippant answer is that it takes time, energy, and work. Remember earlier in my post what I said about the lifestyle of an agent? Unfortunately, quantity over quality usually wins out.

My other response – and probably more in alignment with reality in most cases – is that no one is taking time to educate agents about the needs senior home owners have. When I say “no one” what I really mean is the industry associations and broker managers. Until these “powers that be” grasp that the Senior Tsunami stands to have the single largest impact on the real estate industry in decades (past and future) beyond any other factor, they will continue to place their focus on other priorities (i.e. investment properties, luxury homes, first time home buyers, and green construction).

OK… End of Soapbox!

For those agents out there who have read this far and are raising their hands saying, “Hey, I want to offer turnkey services,” here are a few things you will want to do to better serve your more mature sellers.

First, the best thing you can do is hook up with and refer to people who can hold your client’s hands during the preparation phase and downsizing process. Here are three must-have’s:

  • Professional Senior Move Manager
  • Estate liquidator (a good one)
  • Moving company specializing in senior moves

Second, you owe it to your senior clients to do two more things. Acquaint yourself with senior living communities in your area — independent living, assisted living, and Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC).

And third, learn more about ways to help people age in place. The vast majority of seniors don’t want to move. Many will do what they can to modify their homes so that they can stay there as long as possible, so if they choose to do that…help them. Give them resources for home modifications and then stay in touch.

The reality is that after a certain age, people begin to need more help than they can get from their own home. They then decide or find it necessary to seek alternative arrangements.

Lastly…if you are an experienced real estate agent looking for a way to make a positive difference in the lives of others AND are attracted to the idea of serving senior adult home sellers, we invite you to join the Seniors Real Estate Institute community and become a Certified Senior Housing Professional.

Register today for a course in Success in Seniors Real Estate!

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