Selling the Family Home

Selling ones home after thirty, forty, or fifty years of homeownership is one of the most anticipated events of retirement. It involves not only the sale of a home, but also the enormous task of downsizing a lifetime of belongings. There are legal, financial, and health matters wrapped into it, and important decisions about future care needs.

Real estate agents assisting older homeowners play a significant role in the outcome of this major life step. Unfortunately, many intensify their clients stress and anxiety during the selling process by being insensitive to their specific needs and limitations. They make outcome, speed, and efficiency of the sale their first priority. Older clients can experience a high-stress ordeal that drains them emotionally, physically, and financially. The home sale can become traumatic.

Here are six mistakes that many Realtors make when working with older clients:

1. Creating a lengthy to-do list Well-intentioned brokers often provide a long list of tasks to prepare the home for market. This can backfire, especially for homeowners without the resources, outside assistance, or physical strength to carry out even a few of the listed items. Such a list might as well say, Reasons Why Moving is a Bad Idea, because it can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis.

2. Under preparing the mature seller for the Internet-driven sale process Homes were once sold through newspaper ads and Open Houses, now the Internet provides an Open House 24/7 to the world. So much has changed that even a homeowner in her eighties, connected to family via e-mail and Facebook, can feel anxiety throughout the immediate and impersonal electronic home sale process.

3. Guiding clients towards aggressive timelines Sorting, packing, and downsizing after decades of homeownership can take several months, and even a couple years. The massive task of emptying an entire house happens concurrently with the stressful process of searching for the right next home, with legal and financial decisions weighing on each step. Real estate agents ready to make the sale may urge their client to list the home before they (or the home) are truly ready.

4. Lack of awareness of the homeowners emotional journey Most older homeowners have a strong bond of familiarity and comfort with their home. Each room offers reminders of memories, stories, relationships, and events in their life. The home can be as beloved as a family member, and selling it creates profound grief. Agents accustomed to working with younger clients are not used to seeing this deep emotional attachment to a home and may dismiss it in their hurry to complete the sale.

5. Unrealistic expectations of their client I attended a seminar where a real estate agent was addressing a room full of retirees: When a buyer comes, she instructed, get all your pets into your car and go somewhere. I winced, thinking of all of my senior clients who could no longer drive, or used a walker. There are many similar examples: Bake a pie before a showing. Sweep the walkway every day. Eliminate all pet odors. Depending on the age and ability of the homeowner, some of these may be impossible.

6. Not Enough Communication Retired homeowners, even those with active schedules, have more time to worry than their grown children who are still working and raising a family. Lack of communication intensifies the homeowners anxiety during an already stressful time. They imagine the worst has happened with the sale, or they feel their needs are unattended.

Selling your home after decades of homeownership is a significant life event. If managed poorly by the real estate agent it will become a permanent negative experience. Choose a real estate broker with experience, a strong reputation, and a proven track record of professional, quality services to older homeowners. You deserve an outstanding home sale experience.

Rebecca Bomann is Founder and CEO of SASH Senior Home Sale Services. SASH was founded in 2005 to provide custom-designed home sale services for older adults and their families. Ms. Bomann has managed hundreds of home sales for SASH clients, as well as for her own older family members, and is a passionate advocate for improving the senior home sale experience.