HOW CAN WE REDUCE THE EMOTIONAL STRESS FOR A SENIOR WHEN SELLING THEIR HOME?
Now, for the details...
Stress? What Stress?!
Why do elderly homeowners typically suffer more stress than younger persons when selling their homes? Selling a home is easy, but "letting go" is painful. Here are some key ways to help them deal with it.
Over and over we find that older persons encounter more stress when selling their home than younger people. But why? Often, because the home was more than a home base. It's where they raised their kids (and provided a place where a parent could assess who the kids were hanging around with). It provided equity for second mortgages to help finance the kids' college education. It defined a neighborhood, where "it takes a village" to provide the broad cultural environment to shape a young child's attitudes about others.
After about 30 years in a home, it's no wonder that elderly parents begin to regard their home with the same loyalty and admiration as if it were one of the family! One of the most unique and stressful aspects of selling a home for seniors is due to the mis-match in how they view their cherished family home, but real estate buyers will view it dispassionately as simply a product for sale.
So, what is "senior friendly" when it comes to home sales? What are the more common causes of stress for older people when selling their home? Here are some of the most common factors we see among the cases we take:
- Family/siblings and friends' disputes over who gets the heirloom (china set or collector painting or bedroom set or gold watch or ...) when downsizing
- Overwhelming myriad unfamiliar decisions to make
- Costs to prepare the home for sale ("But it was fine for us!...")
- Saying goodbye to long term neighbors, the parents of the kids their kids knew
- Not knowing what the uncertain future holds (I urge seller clients to regularly attend meals or activities at the senior housing community they're moving to, before listing their home for sale)
- Not knowing if the home sale will yield enough money to live on the rest of their lives.
How Can We Understand the Root Causes of Stress and How Can We Control It?
We have found it helps to view senior clients' home-sale listings broadly, much as any professional would approach "case management." That is, a holistic attention to factors of psychology, sociology, physiology, and finances.
Stress has been so common among our seniors clients that we have adopted this phrase as our branding by-line: "Low-stress home relocation for seniors." When meeting with an elderly client for the first time, who wants to downsize or move to a seniors community, we emphasize to them and their family members that everything we will do to help them, centers on helping them achieve a "low-stress sale" of their home.
By the way, we always try to engage the sons and daughters in an elderly clients' home sale. For multiple reasons. One reason is to have as many team players as possible working as an advocate for the client, providing "moral support" and an alternate set of eyes to examine paperwork, marketing plans, home-sale preparations, and decisions in general. A second reason is to soothe the feelings of distant family members who regret not being able to "be there" in the same town with Mom or Dad, to help them through this process. A third reason is to protect the success of the real estate transaction, that is to get as much money as possible out of the property as soon as practical, to provide for their next phase of life. (In other words, we would rather have family in the tent rather than outside critiquing.)
But, It's Not Really About Just "Selling a Senior's Home"
Here's a big A-Ha! ... Many seniors' home sales are not really about selling a home! Not the epicenter of what's going on. Home sale is almost always a by-product of some even larger milestone in life. Divorce, job loss, retirement, medical event, driver's license, etc. Therefore, we treat home-sale listings as "case-management", just like medical, psychological patient treatment.
Coincidentally, we also discovered that those same "life events" that create the need (or opportunity) to sell a home seem to be much the same as the list of disease-causing stressful life events that form the basis for The Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale. This scale was developed from research into different stressors that can contribute to greater disease and physical/psychological declines while aging. 1
Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale
OK, But Given All That, What Is the ONE BEST THING We Can Do to Reduce the Stress?
A-hem...please allow me a bit of candor in answering this. Here is The One Best Way to reduce stresses when selling a home for seniors: "Disolve the hoard!" OK. I said it. We've been told to call it "lifelong possessions." And getting rid of it is "prioritizing."
Hey, I'm a senior, too. Well over 60 years old. So I can admit: "Albert! We have met the enemy and he is us!" as Pogo the cartoon character said famously in the 1950's. Thirteen years ago my grown son and daughter converged on my new home. I had erected an entire wall of storage tubs resting upon industrial strength shelving in the garage. Each tub was clearly labeled and tagged with it's precious contents. The tubs, in alphabetical order, were crammed with prized possessions. Highly valued things like robotics control computers from when I used robotics as a professor in making mobility prosthetics for disabled people. Scuba gear from when I took the family diving in the Carribean. Maps of towns all over Europe that my daughter and I used when we played hookey from college and went on a father/daughter tour together.
Problem is, most of that stuff was already 20 years old, or more. And you know what? I haven't even looked in 1/3 of those tubs in the 13 years since I showed them off. Now, that is a hoard!
We all do it. These well presevered icons of the past are like 3D photo albums that we seldom look at. Here is the essence of the problem... It's not that we are keeping the hoard...we just won't discard it. The value of an old photo isn't the paper it's on. The value is in the memories that the icon triggers in our minds.
And we normally haven't seen many gender-based differences, either. We guys tend to have a basement full of old lawn mowers we're going to repair someday, a broken picture frame the wife asked us to fix five years ago, a bunch of old aluminum tubes waiting to be made into that nifty sun shade for the patio. When we men downsize, we watch our future being carried out the door one unfinished project at a time, never to be addressed. Hoard disposal makes us face the reality that there is more life left to live than perhaps we time to live it. (I'll let the ladies speak for yourselves in the comments below, about those unfinished sculptures from that class you took, etc...).
"Hoard disposal" means facing a certain mortal future while letting go of things past. It's really tough, driving into the future without those rear view mirrors to help reminisce about the past. Like they say, "Old age ain't for sissies."
We've observed that part of this is also due to the fact one cannot stop a lifestyle on a dime. Some of us devote decades to developing skills and resources for accumulating possessions that stroke our ego, fuel our rememberances, enhance conveniences, enable dreams, foster connections with others. So when we get older, don't be surprised that it can take a few months to discard what took decades to accumulate.
When a realtor, or son or daughter, or a friend says to elderly persons, "Hey, Mable, maybe you should shuck that "stored hoard" of old stuff before you list your home for sale," what they actually hear is "Now, Mable, it's time to let go of those memories."
Wronnnnng. Not gonna happen. Not for one second.
They react with "Iff moving to a new home in the future means letting go of my memories, then I'm staying put!" Or at least, "I will not let go of these memories until the last minute, after the home sale goes under contract."
That would be a bad decision. What we need to do is learn how to respectfully and lovingly preserve past memories, while realistically letting go of the physical icons that trigger those memories. And it needs to be done at a comfortable pace, on our own schedule, without someone breathing down our neck, looking over our shoulder at where we decided to "disperse" every treasured memory-minder.
But if the senior home-seller waits until the last minute, after a sales contract is agreed to and a deadline has been set to pack and move out, then we are relingquishing control and privacy of how we "discard the hoard"... make the emotionally difficult transition to remembering the past without the krutches of these stored reminder icons.
It takes a lot of time and a lot of emotion to make that transition. We can greatly reduce the stress of selling our senior-owned home by simply addressing the "dispersement of the lifelong possession-collection" before ever publicly advertising the home for sale. Here is a Ten-step Plan for Disposing of Aging Parents' Possessions When Selling Their Home.
A good, senior-devoted real estate agent, such as a Seniors Real Estate Specialist, can help a lot. He or she is trained (and hopefully dedicated enough) to understand that seniors real estate cannot be rushed. It takes time, patience, respect, empathy, family involvement, heart-felt sensitivity (and absence of greed!) to do "seniors real estate" right.
And besides, a really good Seniors Real Estate Specialist can use that time very wisely, by getting a whiz-bang home-sale marketing campaign all geared up and ready to hit the ground running, once the home is "groomed" as a "product for sale."
OK, now it's YOUR turn. What one thing do you believe is the most helpful way to reduce stress for senior home-sellers?