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Stressed WomanWell, the short answer is:  "Don't just treat the symptoms of stress, but focus on the social, psychological, physiological and financial factors underlying the stress." 

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

Older woman stressed about selling home





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?  



Posted by











Re-Blogged 6 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Kathy Streib 06/11/2013 12:39 PM
  2. Rain Silverhawk 06/11/2013 04:16 PM
  3. Pam Hills 06/12/2013 01:29 AM
  4. Gijs Van Breugel 06/12/2013 08:12 AM
  5. Cheryl Ritchie 06/12/2013 11:59 AM
  6. Kaye Swain 03/31/2014 11:51 AM
Home Selling
Seniors Real Estate
Advice for Sellers
55+ Active Adult Communities Specialists Public
senior citizen
seniors real estate specialist
sell a seniors home

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Jill Sackler
Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500 - Long Beach, NY
LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate

This post is chock full of information and all of it I've personally experienced with my clients.

Jun 12, 2013 03:29 AM #32
Lee Alley
Pro Mobile Photo - Snohomish, WA
DIY Your Own Expert Smartphone Photography

Many of the U.S. realtors are about the right age to have our own parents who fit the scope of this blog.  And the ability to empathize really comes through, in terms of transferring that sensitivity to our elderly clients.

This sure has struck a chord of conscience and empathy among fellow agents nationwide.  I am proud to be among fellow professionals who display such sensitivity to the more vulnerable elderly consumers.  Thank you to you all.  Particularly those like Pam Hills who have similar experiences with your own parents.


Jun 12, 2013 05:03 AM #33
Michael Blue
Home Smart Realty West - Encinitas, CA
REALTOR - 760-889-8877, Encinitas/Carlsbad
This is a lot of information, the graph helped me the most to understand the possible hardships.
Jun 12, 2013 05:19 AM #34
Donna Elliott
REMAX equity group, Vancouver, WA - Vancouver, WA
Realtor - Certified Residential Specialist - Vanco

Thanks for your post - I too am focusing on the needs of seniors as a Senior Real Estate Specliast.  It does take a great deal of patience and empathy - and I am learning first hand with having to help my mom make choices on where she will be moving and addressing her possessions/memories.  PS - my son is in the Air Force - stationed at Ellsworth AFB.

Jun 12, 2013 05:21 AM #35
Joetta Fort
The DiGiorgio Group - Arvada, CO
Independent Broker, Homes Denver to Boulder

I love working with seniors, and it seems the stress is way higher when it's the lady who has been left alone to make decisions, often for the first time in her life.  It's a tough job, congratulations on learning how to do it well.

Jun 12, 2013 06:55 AM #36
Kimo Jarrett
WikiWiki Realty - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

Why not inspire and challenge the senior seller to rekindle the adventure and excitement of their continuing life's journey, exploring new places and meeting interesting and exciting neighbors, new friends and learning new skills or just volunteering their time and energy on issues that are meaningful and eventful?  

Regardless, your post was interesting and compassionate, so thanks for sharing your perception.

Jun 12, 2013 08:48 AM #37
Valerie Zinger
House Proud Ottawa-Ontario-Canada - Ottawa, ON
Home Organizer

Lee:  Making sure that the clients have enough time to work through the process is key.  It is so difficult if one of the couple has to go into care and the house is being sold to help support the cost of care.  As the saying goes....  Growing old is not for sissies.  congrats on the Feature.

Jun 12, 2013 09:48 AM #38
Charles Stallions Property Manager
Charles Stallions Real Estate Services - Pace, FL
Pensacola, Pace & Gulf Breeze Property Management

Good post but seems like all the same things that would make anyone stressed out.

Jun 12, 2013 01:57 PM #39
Lee Alley
Pro Mobile Photo - Snohomish, WA
DIY Your Own Expert Smartphone Photography

Thank you again to everybody who is participating in this discussion. It seems one of the most prevalent comments has to do with patience, pacing sensitivity, going slow, etc.  That certainly is consistent with my seniors-oriented practice.  

But one problem is, we realtors are compensated short term to incentivize haste.  It really does take personal passion to be willing to take longer for each sale with seniors clients.  Simply because the number of sides per year does seem to be fewer (in my case, at least).

Are some of the others reading this finding ways to preserve an income that is comparable with "regular" real estate agency cases?  Chime in, please.


Jun 12, 2013 01:57 PM #40
M.C. Dwyer
Century 21 Showcase REALTORs - Felton, CA
Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

Lee, thank you for this very thoughtful post about working with seniors.    I'm currently assisting a senior who is trustee for their parents, who need to sell their vacation home.    Not only is the transaction stressful for the trustee, but also their spouse- which I hadn't anticipated because that's "only" an in-law situation.    Turns out that "in-law" relationship has been simmering for a while and this sale is bringing it to the boiling-over point.     Reading your blog is going to help me counsel them better going forward.   Thank you!

Jun 13, 2013 02:05 AM #41
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

This is a great post.  I do a lot of work in out 55 plus community and considered a reblog aimed at them.  But this is for the agent, not the client.  Thanks for the thoughts.

Jun 13, 2013 03:39 AM #42
Annette Thor
Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT - Westport, CT
Residential & Commercial Real Estate Broker in CT

I love your post Lee.  I have been trying to coax my own parents into selling their home for more than 5 years to no avail. The pile of belongings in the basement and garage are the largest obstacles in the way.

Thats quite a challenging niche you chose.  I used to work for a home builder selling to an over 55 community. You sound perfect for that kind of a position, I had a very nice salary with benefits. And I was able to collect half my commission before the closing, the rest after. 


Jun 13, 2013 03:45 AM #43
Rebecca Howard
Seay Jolliff & Beck Realty Company - Orland Park, IL
Recognized | Respected | Recommended
Hi Lee. This is a sensitive subject with me and my family as many are maturing at the same time. Unless one experiences the changes seniors go through first hand it's difficult to describe what happens and how to deal with those changes. Thank you for highlighting the need to be aware and the need to adjust to this evolving segment of our communities. .
Jun 13, 2013 04:17 AM #44
Lee Alley
Pro Mobile Photo - Snohomish, WA
DIY Your Own Expert Smartphone Photography

Well, thanks again, to all the additional colleagues who are contributing even more ideas and offering encouragement.  Your insights from your own experiences are a story in itself!

Jun 14, 2013 11:05 PM #45
Helen and Larry Prier- Re-Max Gateway - Residential Real Estate
RE-MAX Gateway- Residential Real Estate Sales - Anacortes, WA
Anacortes & surrounding Skagit & Island Counties

Lee, Just wanted you to know that I featured the post in my Favorite Posts for the week. great job

Jun 17, 2013 01:23 AM #46
Lee Alley
Pro Mobile Photo - Snohomish, WA
DIY Your Own Expert Smartphone Photography

Thank you, Helen and Larry, for featuring my post.  It is wonderful to be able to share tips-n-tricks that help other seniors.  

Jun 17, 2013 01:35 AM #47
Mary Sheridan
Keller Willliams - 1033 Hamilton Place,Johnson City TN 37604 - Johnson City, TN
Creative Marketing, Buyer Agency 423-943-7655

One thing that helps is to make a lot of pictures of things that won't be able to move to the new place.   I've had people tell wonderful stories about the things I was photographing.   

Finding a good home for things eases letting go of them  - ideally family members or friends, but someone who will need and appreciate the things that don't need to be moved.

The older I get, the more I can empathize.   

Jul 24, 2013 05:18 AM #48
Lee Alley
Pro Mobile Photo - Snohomish, WA
DIY Your Own Expert Smartphone Photography

I think that is a real fine idea, Mary Sheridan.  I recently saw a post somewhere that claimed a psychologist suggested it is a matter of the person departing needing at least some kind of physical icon to touch and see.  And for some, providing a photo album somewhat displaces the loss of the home (and its contents) as the remembrance icon.

 This week, I am photographing a lot of remodel projects and special features that an ex-builder had performed on the home he and his wife shared for 50 years before he had to move to assisted living.  He kept talking about all the improvements he had made and how the couple were "leaving them behind."   Before you buy it, it's a "house."  After awhile it's a "home."  After 50 years it's a member of the family.  It hurts to leave family behind.

Jul 24, 2013 05:31 AM #49
Wayne B. Pruner
Oregon First - Tigard, OR
Tigard Oregon Homes for Sale, Realtor, GRI

Many seniors homes need a bit of maintenance done. I help them make the most cost effective repairs before listing.

Jan 31, 2014 10:36 AM #50
Kaye Swain
Keller Williams Real Estate Roseville CA - Roseville, CA
Your Roseville Real Estate Agent

AWESOME article. What grand points all the way through. Especially the part about decluttering (Being a baby boomer, I got that from Don Aslett's great books like Clutter's Last Stand LONG before all the hoarding shows started up ).

I still remember going through all my tubs in the rented storage space I share with one daughter. It is hard work physically. But even harder emotionally! We did get rid of several tubs, but many more to go.

And come to thing of it, that can be a great option for seniors who want to downsize but aren't ready to get rid of everything - rent a storage unit and "buy more time" for the whole process. 

Thanks again for so many great ideas AND for the reblog option. I'm off to share this here and at Pinterest + . Have a grand week. 

Mar 31, 2014 11:24 AM #51
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