Selling a Home to Someone with Dementia - What Would You Do?

Services for Real Estate Pros with CMG Financial and Expansion Marketing Services FA100050874

Today I Googled “Selling a Home to Someone with Dementia” and there were dozens of articles about WHEN to sell the home of an elderly family member who has dementia, how to prepare them for a move into a nursing home or assisted living facility, but NOTHING about selling a home TO someone that has signs of Dementia.


This topic has really put a lot of wheels-a-turning in my head and I am sure that the comments I receive from this blog will be completely mixed. I myself have not decided what I think is best.


We were recently introduced to a lovely woman who has been working in the same job for almost 20 years. She is probably in her mid to late 60’s (perhaps even early 70’s) and has a great smile. She wants to buy her first house. She is single, no children, and has some cash stashed away that she would like to invest in her very own real estate. We love this new client and enjoyed our first showing outing with her. The thing is … I think she may have a little bit of dementia. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but there was just something a bit “off”. She repeated herself a number of times, asked some odd questions that really came out of left field, and just seemed to be a bit dazed and confused during SOME of the time we spent together.


Yesterday I left her a message telling her we had found another property for her to look at – she just called me back and seemed slightly confused as to who I am and why I was calling her with potential homes to buy. Once I reminded her she was so eager to get out to the place and check it out! She is really sharp most of the time as we have seen so far, but has this small moments. 


Finding myself in this situation is very difficult and very sad. My grandmother had dementia and as she grew older it became worse and worse – eventually she was unable to identify her family members, was not sure where she was, had terrible daymares and nightmares and could not care for herself. My family stepped in to help her as best they could, eventually selling her home and moving her into a nursing home was the only option. She passed away about 2 years ago now.  It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans are living with dementia/Alzheimer’s and 1 in 3 seniors will pass away from it.


I know that our new client is not at this stage of the sickness, or maybe she doesn’t have it at all, but something is just telling me it’s not the best idea for her to buy a home at this stage in her life. On the other hand, who am I to make that call .. maybe this is just part of her natural character and I would feel remiss for assuming something different.



What would you do if this were your client?  

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Marc McMaster
RE/MAX Centre Realty - State College, PA
Putting my clients before myself

If you have a suspicion that she is unable to contract legally then you shouldn't ask her to write an offer on anything. 

Oct 02, 2013 02:42 AM #10
Jay & Michelle Lieberman
Keller Williams World Class - Agoura Hills, CA
Creating Calm in the Buying and Selling Chaos

Erin, as some have said already I would ask a bunch of family questions in the light of the fact there will be a lot of paperwork and such and it may be a good idea for someone in her family to help her through that process.  If she does not have any family or any trusted person, I would continue to ask a lot of questions, essentially testing your suspicion.  If the antenna are still up, you may have to make a tough choice.


Oct 02, 2013 02:53 AM #11
Wayne Johnson
Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS® - San Antonio, TX
San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale

Erin-No simple solution in this case. Sounds like your intuition is leading in the direction you should lean. When the time is right, you'll know what to do.

Oct 02, 2013 02:55 AM #12
Cheryl Ritchie
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Huntingtown, MD
Southern Maryland 301-980-7566
I would have everything run past her Attorney to make sure everything is legit!
Oct 02, 2013 03:22 AM #13
Karen Feltman
Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA Lepic-Kroeger REALTORS - Cedar Rapids, IA
Relocation Specialist

I agree with most of the other comments.  I think that probing a little deeper into her "advisory panel" of sorts, whether it be a trusted friend or family member.  At any age, it could just be a characteristic of her personality, but you are right to be cautious.  You don't want to get her into a situation where she is in a legal binding contract and have something happen.  Good luck to you.

Oct 02, 2013 03:22 AM #14
Heather Littrell
Keller Williams - North Concord, NC
ABR,GRI,SRES Cabarrus County NC

I actually had this happen to my father.  He was in another area and did not know what he was doing and a pretty agent convinced him of a Good Deal and he signed a contract on a home.  He was a month or so away from assisted living.  I was horrified that she claimed she thought he was competent when he was no where near it.

Oct 02, 2013 03:31 AM #15
Corinne Guest, Managing Broker
Barrington Realty Company - Barrington, IL
Barrington, a Luxury, Country Suburban Lifestyle.

She likely doesn't know she has it, maybe not diagnozed yet. I would suggest she brings a family member and you go out for coffee before showing more homes.

Oct 02, 2013 05:21 AM #16
Susan Jackson
America's Network Realty Group, Inc - Sandy Springs, GA

This is a really tough situation.  The only suggestion I would have, is the same as many other commerters here.  See if there is a family member that can come into the situation.  She could very well back out of the contarct, at a crucial time, and it would suffer the penalities.

Oct 02, 2013 05:37 AM #17
Suzanne Otto
Six Twenty Designs - Lansdale, PA
Your Montgomery County PA home stager

Tough situation. I know what I'm about to say goes against all real estate agent's work ethic, but I wouldn't try too hard to find her homes. I would initially give her a list of homes and then let her call you. She just might forget all together, but you don't want her "waking up" one day not knowing how she got into the house.

My grandfather had Alzheimer's. Towards the end he didn't even recognize his own wife of 56 years. Very sad.

Oct 02, 2013 05:49 AM #18
Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi
NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656 - New Lenox, IL
708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience

Is it possible to find who she is close with?  A friend?  A Pastor?  Someone that could provide insight into her capabilities and health?  Maybe that would provide a clear cut path of action for you.  Or at least place your mind to rest and you could find some peace.  Let us know how this turns out ... so very sad ...


Oct 02, 2013 06:55 AM #19
Erin Bates
CMG Financial and Expansion Marketing Services - Aurora, CO

Thanks for all of the great comments. Unfortunately our client is alone, doesn't really have anyone helping her out except us and her mortgage banker. I am really loving Scott's comment - This may be a dream of hers and I hope she can really truly enjoy whatever quality time she has left, be it 5 years or 35 years. 


Oct 02, 2013 06:57 AM #20
Erin Bates
CMG Financial and Expansion Marketing Services - Aurora, CO

Heather - I cannot believe that happened to your father! It is so sad to think what some people are willing to do to make a buck! I hope he is doing Ok! 

Oct 02, 2013 06:57 AM #21
Barbara Altieri
RealtyQuest/Kinard Realty Group, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale
Erin -- she sounds very much like a family friend who was just diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. 90% of the time she is fine but that 10% recently took her on a walk a mile away from her house and missing for 4 hours. Also, it's possible she could have a close family member or friend but selectively chooses to say she is alone. My husbands uncle said that years ago and he had two daughters and many nieces and nephews who cared about him.
Oct 02, 2013 12:03 PM #22
Jerry Lucas
ABC Legal Docs LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Mobile Notary Colorado Springs, CO Notary Training

You mentioned that she has been working in the same job for about 20 years.  That indicates that she is able to function enough to earn a paycheck.  Do you know her occupation?  Does it require lots of mental awareness, knowledge or proficiency?  Her boss and co-workers are likely to know if her health is declining.  If she has no family or attorney, her advisors may be her insurance agent, financial advisor, accountant or tax preparer.  If she has a hobby or interest, she may have some friends that know her.

If a mortgage lender is willing to make a loan, that indicates some confidence in her ability to repay the loan.  If she has been forgetful, her credit score is likely to have dropped if she has forgotten to make payments on time.

As a notary public, I am often called to hospitals and nursing homes to notarize for senior citizens.  I am not a medical professional, so I don't make any medical diagnosis.  Notaries are required to use reasonable care to verify ID, to determine if the signer understands the purpose of the document, and that they are signing voluntarily.

If the signer can carry on a normal conversation, and can answer open-ended questions about the document, and no other unusual behavior or information is observed, the signing may proceed.  But, if the notary is not convinced that the signer is aware of the nature and consequences of the document, the notary should not proceed.  The signer should not be under the influence of any drugs that affect reasoning or judgment.   Some documents also require witnesses, who also state that they believe the signer is of sound mind.

Some people have unusual or eccentric behavior or personalities.  My concern is do they know what they are signing.  I have declined to notarize for people with brain tumors, stroke, low IQ, and mental impairment.  Dementia and Alzheimer's situations depend on how far the symptoms have progressed.  Some conditions may be treatable.

I am a state-approved Colorado Notary Training instructor and we discuss situations like this in my training class.  Notary training and an exam have only been required for new notaries in Colorado since May 2010.   Many notaries appointed before 2010 have never taken a training class or exam and are not very knowledgeable.

You may want to get legal advice from an elder law attorney.

Oct 03, 2013 01:53 PM #23
Toni Weidman
Sailwinds Realty - Trinity, FL
26 Years Selling Homes in New Port Richey, FL

Perhaps see if you can ask about family members, Erin, get a contact for her. Some people are just naturally vague but it's hard for non-medical people to tell. If it continues that way, I think I would opt out of the search.

Oct 03, 2013 09:54 PM #24
John G. Johnston
John G. Johnston & Associates, LLC - Westcliffe, CO
An Exclusive Buyer's Agent ~ Westcliffe, CO

Erin  WOW!  What a great question.  I disagree with almost everyone above as a family member without power of attorney might have 'other' interests at heart.  The ONLY person I would accept their advice is their doctor.  I have taken closing docs to a hospital room only to listen to family members begging the person not to sign a contract.  Their doctor said their patient was competent and the patient (my client) signed with medical staff as witnesses.  The patient commented "I may never leave this hospital but I like the thought of knowing I have someplace to call home".  Think about it!

Oct 04, 2013 07:19 AM #25
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

Oh boy, oh boy. This is a tough one for sure Erin. I'm not sure what the right answer is for this one. I do think I'd try to find out if she has family around. They might be helpful - or not. One never knows!  Be sure to follow up on this one - I'm curious as to how you resolve it.  A true dilemna.

Oct 05, 2013 05:17 AM #26
Jerry Lucas
ABC Legal Docs LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Mobile Notary Colorado Springs, CO Notary Training

Medical records are confidential and protected by HIPAA laws.  Be careful not to violate any laws out of curiosity or detective work.  Medical professionals should not be releasing patient information without written authorization.

Oct 05, 2013 10:08 AM #27
Elyse Berman, PA
Best Connections Realty, Inc. - Boca Raton, FL
Boca Raton FL - (561) 716-7824 - CRS, ABR, GRI

Erin,  I read through all the answers and there are some very good suggestions, but I am most inclined to agree with Cheryl.   If she has no family but holds a job and is approved for a loan, I would talk to her attorney.  If she doesn't have one, she needs to get one.   My mother has dementia.  It is possible that she's having a negative reaction to medication.    We just don't know.  I would give her the benefit of the doubt until you've probed further.   Good luck!

Oct 14, 2013 11:14 AM #28
Jerry Lucas
ABC Legal Docs LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Mobile Notary Colorado Springs, CO Notary Training

In Colorado, the definition of an incapacitated person is:

  • Incapacitated person-  An adult person who lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning that person's physical health, safety, or self-care, even with appropriate and reasonably available technological assistance.

There is some good information on dementia and Alzheimer's disease at the Alzheimer's Association website


Oct 16, 2013 09:39 AM #29
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