Don’t Let Seniors Abandon Homeownership

Many older homeowners are eyeing the hassle-free lifestyle of renting, but that means you could lose a lot of clients when it comes time for them to downsize. Use these methods to show them the opportunities that come with repurchasing another home.

With people over the age of 55 becoming the fastest growing segment of renters, it’s clear that not all seniors are interested in living out the rest of their days in a home they own. The low-maintenance, amenity-rich lifestyle of apartment living is attractive to downsizing baby boomers—but the switch to rentals among this cohort will have big implications for your business. Real estate professionals nationwide could lose more than 5 million customers by 2020 if the trend follows Freddie Mac’s prediction.

Still, buying remains more affordable than renting in most U.S. markets, and it’s important to spread the word to older clients who may be thinking about future housing options. How can you target your services to seniors and keep them from giving up on homeownership entirely? Here are a few key strategies.

Know the Properties Boomers Want

Every client has different desires, but in general, most boomers seek a single-story home, ideally in a setting with minimal maintenance and yard work. Condos, patio homes, or elevator buildings are good options. Some boomers may want to relocate to a senior community with amenities that support an active lifestyle, such as swimming pools, golf courses, and social activities. The point is to let your older clients know there are plenty of purchase options that can fulfill their lifestyle vision after retirement.

Be ready to help boomers who foresee spending equal time in two locations, says Ali Whitley, CRS, GRI, a sales associate with Cutler Real Estate in Akron, Ohio. “Many of my boomer clients like to purchase a condo in their hometown, which can serve as a home base where they can come for the holidays and to visit family and friends. But then they also buy another condo in their preferred retirement destination—whether that’s Florida, Arizona, or elsewhere—where they can spend their winters,” she says.

Advise on Aging-in-Place Modifications

Some seniors may not want to give up their family home, even if it no longer suits their needs. This is a crucial moment for a conversation about whether renting or owning is best for your client moving forward. Either way, you can assist by giving older clients guidance on upgrading their property with more accessible features so they can safely remain in their home for as long as they’re physically able. Talk to them about the budget they would need to move and how to reapply that to home modifications, from installing higher toilets and grab bars in the bathroom to adding a walk-in or roll-in shower, says Kaye Swain, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Roseville, Calif.

You also may need to assist clients with locating service providers—landscapers and lawn care companies, housecleaners, and handymen—who can perform day-to-day tasks around the house. “You want to be able to help your clients create a network of services to simplify their lives so they can age in place as long as possible,” says Kelly Maly, ABR, SRES, an associate broker with The Kruse Company, REALTORS®, in Madison, Wis.

And though smart-home technology might seem to appeal more to younger buyers, you also can show seniors how smart security systems and lighting, for example, improve their safety. Many of these products are becoming more affordable as the price of smart-home systems falls, and they’re relatively easy to install. “In the past five years or so, it feels as if boomers are catching up to millennials in their interest in home technology,” says Fred Zeilner, ABR, SRES, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker in Flossmoor, Ill.

Network With Service Providers for Seniors

The daunting task of moving can be doubly difficult for seniors who have amassed decades’ worth of belongings. You can help clients by providing a list of contractors you know who specialize in sorting, liquidating, and moving possessions, says Dayna Wilson, SRES, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Many real estate professionals join or establish networks of local senior-focused service providers, which can include movers, home retrofitters, nursing home and assisted living representatives, insurance agents, and financial advisers. Cathy Saunders, CRS, SRES, an associate broker with Long & Foster, REALTORS®, in Richmond, Va., is an active member of her community’s Senior Resource Group, which meets twice monthly to share presentations on innovations in various service areas. Networking in this way, Saunders says, has helped her establish a resource list of trusted senior advocates, allowing her to address her clients’ needs quickly and effectively.

Focus on Face-to-Face Marketing

Boomers and seniors tend to respond best to face-to-face marketing, says Whitley, who routinely meets and networks with prospects at community centers, senior centers, and community fairs. She takes the meet-and-greet approach one step further, hosting a free monthly seminar on senior housing issues at her local public library. “We started with 35 or 40 [guests] and now have about 70 people a month coming,” Whitley says. “People are bringing their neighbors and friends. I stress ways people can be the captain of their own retirement living. It’s all about showing them their options.”

Use the opportunity to extend your messaging to family members of seniors as well. In some cases, their children or grandchildren may be assisting in their real estate decisions. Zeilner says he is working with service providers in his area to plan a summer symposium on senior services, featuring 50 to 60 presenters and exhibitors that will be geared toward both boomers and their younger family members.

Be Patient

You must realize that working with seniors takes time. Often, they want to fully explore all their options before settling on their next ideal property. “I have some senior clients who I’ve been working with for two to three years,” Maly says. “Many times, they’re being proactive and looking ahead, but they may not quite be ready to move. Working with this demographic can require a little more patience than some other groups.”

Whitley agrees: “They may plan two years out or even further. You have to be willing to build that relationship with them ahead of time so that when they’re ready to move, you’re able to lead them and guide them in the right direction.”