by Victoria B. Hathaway, Guest Contributor, Director of The Silver Group of The Bob Lucido Team of Keller Williams Integrity
Did you know that over the next two decades, “Boomers” will swell the nation’s older adult population by 30 million, and an estimated 16 million older adult households will be moving in the next decade?
If you are an older adult who is thinking about downsizing your possessions and your home, doing the downsize, preparing your home for sale, selling your home and deciding where to move can feel like a very daunting project. Knowing what to do first and having detailed information about vendors and resources are the keys to a safe and successful experience.
When I am called upon for a consultation, the area expert real estate agent from my team and I both attend. We cover a wide range of topics, usually spending at least two hours, and frequently longer, in order to answer all questions and to provide specific resources.
Let’s take a look at the process, step-by-step, to examine how you, the home seller, would experience a listing consultation!
Choosing The Right Agent
I recommend that if you have the time and energy, you should take advantage of having multiple presentations by agents. The benefit of understanding that different agents have different personalities, experience, expertise and marketing budgets cannot be underestimated for the good of you as the seller. Listing a home is a specialty all its own, involving guidance for pricing, preparing the home for buyers, marketing it, advocating for the seller through the home inspection and appraisal, and negotiating the contract against the buyer, which is totally different from the specialty of being a buyer agent. Make sure to ask what makes the agent “different” and what makes their firm “better”?! Marketing budgets, accolades and awards, years of experience, value-added services such as free staging and moving trucks, and researching the length of the listing contract (the range from a 24-hour cancellation policy to several months locked into the contract are the norm) are specific items that can and should be deciding factors when you are making the decision about whom to hire for this very important process.
In a home visit, the agent will be able to personally assess the condition of your home (it may be out-of-date, fully updated or something in between) as well as any structural improvements, additions or needed repairs as they help to guide you in pricing your home accurately. You should not use your tax assessment or Zillow to determine the selling price of the home. Seeing your home enables your agent to share guidance about various paths to selling, including selling as-is, refreshed, or completely renovated, and the pluses and minuses of each. This is the time when the agent should make specific recommendations for what to repair and replace and help you to understand how each of these paths affect pricing, expectations for the selling timetable, and how buyers are most likely to behave when making offers in each of these formats. Perception is reality, so for example low-ball offers are common with as-is properties, and multiple offers with bidding wars are common for homes that are updated and renovated. Care should be taken to determine what is best for the you as the seller, your unique situation and needs.
Market Analysis & Pricing
As the seller, you should be presented with a detailed market analysis of the home, showing all recent market activity (usually up to three months back in time and in close proximity to your actual home) including pricing for homes that have sold, are under contract, or are currently on the market. Out of this array, a close examination of which homes are most like your home (square footage, age, condition, improvements) will help your agent to assist you with recommending the right selling price for your home.
The agent should be knowledgeable about the timing of your home sale, educating about how the time of year may impact the process and create predictability around the buyer. For example, many families with school-age children are shopping in the spring and early summer in order to be settled prior to the start of the school year. Winter shoppers tend to be serious buyers and know they are coping with reduced inventory at that time of year, which is good for you as the seller. Another aspect of timing the sale is for your agent to play close attention to your requirements for your move timetable. If you are under contract with a senior living community, it is usual to have a structured timetable and occupancy date for the move. For example, your agent should inquire if you must sell in order to be able to make the move or if you are able to move first and then sell.
Once you have determined your home’s pricing and timing for the sale, the next step should be a visit by your real estate agent’s professional stager, who has specialized training in visual merchandising, current color palettes and finishes (cabinets, hardware, lighting, trims, walls and flooring) most in demand by buyers. The stager will help guide you in preparing your home with the greatest possible appeal to your buyers. Working to declutter and to use what you already own, rearranged to best effect, should always be the goal.
Although most sellers are in residence during the home’s selling period, many times older adult sellers have already vacated the home and this is absolutely fine! Homes that are both vacant and/or empty do not present a selling challenge and the your needs as seller should always be paramount.
Where are you going? This is one of the first questions your agent should ask in order to understand the overview of your needs and to create your best path. Different and common scenarios include moving to a condo or single-level home, in with adult children, moving out of state to retirement meccas such as Florida and Arizona, or moving to local retirement communities. One of my passions is making sure that sellers are as educated as possible about all of the choices available to them. Many people don’t know the very important differences between 55+, CCRC, Independent or Assisted Living communities and the health and financial formats for each can vary greatly. For example, some communities require health as well as financial clearances, some have buy-in fees and some do not. Some are fee-simple ownership and some have leases, even if they appear to be similar. If you are moving to a location that has not incorporated safety features found in “universal design” construction, be sure to ask for resources for the specialty companies who install grab bars for example, as these can literally be life-savers. Sometimes in-home care is needed if your loved one has been ill and needs help in the interim before the move. I take pride in being able to share these resources as well.
Senior Living Search
Did you know that there are specialists who can help with your research into the various kinds of senior living communities? Life Care Managers are able to help guide you to the communities that would be your best fit and are also able to provide assessments for level of care, family counseling, and to be a part of the conversation between legal and financial advisors for families when a move is happening quickly or unexpectedly due to health events or the loss of a loved one. Sharing this resource with my clients is often a life-saver for families when events feel overwhelming and an expert is needed.
Downsizing possessions is your next target. Ideally you have been chipping away at this task well ahead of time, as it can be a lot to tackle simultaneously with preparing your actual home. You will want to have a grasp of the square footage and storage you’re leaving and those figures for where you’re moving to, and you’ll also want a space plan to help you decide what you will want to take and, more importantly, what will fit, look great and serve you in your new home. Once you know what you’re taking, decide what you’d like to offer to family and friends if treasured heirlooms or larger pieces just don’t work in the new space. Hold on to everything else in order to research and have the best outcome from a potential estate sale. The more items you have, the larger the sale, the more likely you are to have a higher-dollar final sale, so don’t let your items be “cherry-picked” prior to having a professional consult with an estate sale expert. Then you can identify what items aren’t saleable and arrange for donation and maybe a tax benefit. Finally, you may need your home to be “cleared” of any last items, which can be done by friends and family or by a professional hauler.
If it’s been years since you have moved, you should rely on your agent for recommendations for a trusted professional mover who is well-established and also offers short and long-term storage. For short-distance and smaller moves, some real estate firms offer free moving trucks as a convenience and cost-savings to their clients. Move Managers, also called Transitioners or Downsizers, are a relatively new type of moving service and they can be a boon to you if you are overwhelmed, busy, distracted, and in need of “more” than what an ordinary moving company is able to provide. These providers can help coordinate work being done to prepare the home for selling, estate sale processes, space planning the new home, sorting, packing, the actual move, unpacking and setting up on move-in day. Think boxes gone, pictures hung, clothes in closets and beds made. They are an amazing resource and the best ones work closely with your agent.
Power Of Attorney:
I have many stories about the problems my clients have faced when they did not have a Power of Attorney in place. Many clients have one that turns out to be non-functional due to being old or “stale” or written without sufficient detail such that it is not enforceable. Make sure you have one, and make sure it’s recent and air-tight! Unforeseen health events that cause homeowners to be unable to complete contracts during the home selling process have caused a lot of heartache, trouble, expense and complete destruction of planned-for timelines in the sale/move/purchase timetable. Consulting your current attorney, or better yet, upgrading to an elder law specialist, is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your spouse, and your family.
Even though the demands of selling and moving make you extremely busy in the short term, this is still a time when it is ideal to revisit or create the best financial structure for your future. Think both big and small picture. Having guidance for the savviest ways to handle your home-selling profit, your retirement community’s buy-in expenses, understanding capital gains, etc. are important opportunities to design the best outcome for the long term. For the day-to-day, I like to make sure there is awareness of professionals called Daily Money Managers. They are exactly what they sound like and are an important resource for people who no longer want the tasks associated with managing their finances, who are struggling to maintain them due to health reasons or the demands of technology, and perhaps most importantly for spouses who are at sea if the managing spouse becomes ill and is no longer able to maintain the household accounts. I strongly encourage all of my clients to consult with a Daily Money Manager as part of their pre-crisis planning, and if health issues are already looming, do not wait to learn about this service and put it in place. The opportunity for teamwork between the professional and both spouses is a golden one, and early intervention means that the ill spouse can be a part of the hand-off, and that a non-managing spouse can have peace of mind should anything unexpected occur going forward.
In the spirit of understanding there’s a lot going on when you’re selling your home BUT you don’t want to miss out on any resources to which you are entitled, please know about the Veteran’s Administration’s “Aid & Attendance Benefit” which can provide monthly income for Veterans and their spouses at the Assisted Living level of care. Having an elder law attorney who is certified to guide you on eligibility and the chance to learn about how he or she can help you to structure your assets to better position you for eligibility is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Again, think pre-crisis research and planning!
For the past several years, twenty-five percent of all home sellers in the U.S. have been 65 years old or older. Being a home seller is a powerful position to be in both as a group and as an individual! I believe in harnessing all of the resources available to my clients with an emphasis on educating and supporting them along the way. My goal is for my clients to have the smoothest transition possible, with the clearest path to an organized, relaxed, risk-managed new and easier lifestyle!
Victoria Hathaway is the Director of The Silver Group of the Bob Lucido Team of Keller Williams Integrity. She is a Realtor, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP), Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES), President of the Coalition of Geriatric Services (COGS), and serves the Aging Studies Advisory Board, Johns Hopkins University. She may be reached at 410-979-4284 or via email at Victoria@BobLucidoTeam.com.