Agent

5 ways to talk to senior clients about downsizing

It's not always what you say; sometimes it's how you say it
  • Don't dance around issues or imply; be direct but gentle.
  • Understand the shift that your client is undertaking.

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There is a bluntness to life that many of my peers are afraid of using when discussing downsizing with their clients and their adult children.

We, as people, tend to sugarcoat things. We want people to like us. We don’t want to offend or accidentally come off as rude. We don’t want to look like we are in the business of making a profit when dealing with sensitive issues, such as seniors selling the family home.

I can’t tell you the amount of great information I have for this demographic that the media has been afraid to discuss out of these same fears.

Here’s the thing: People appreciate honesty, and we all know that none of us is going to live forever, so why are we afraid to discuss this when making life decisions?

I specialize in senior real estate. I have clients, and their children come to me and dance around the issues related to this transaction. Life happens. We have to adjust our lifestyles from time to time, be it for a marriage, new baby or because of medical issues that require us to pivot how we live.

Here are some ways you can adjust your approach in order to cater to this niche.

Be frank and honest

When it comes time to help a client downsize a home, being frank and honest is one of the biggest takeaway tips I can offer.

Don’t nudge; don’t suggest; be open and realistic about each housing consideration because these are, in fact, major life decisions.

There is no place to be discreet and hope the family catches on when you’re suggesting a community or addressing finances and long-term possibilities with different living situations.

Be knowledgeable about what clients’ ideas will mean

Being a vocal and knowledgeable advocate for my clients and their families is part of my job.

If I get to know a family and they start kicking around an idea to downsize from a family home to an assisted living facility that they can only afford for two years, well — it needs to be addressed before the transition happens.

What happens when the two years are up? Maybe if the house isn’t sold but rather rented, that same facility then becomes an option, or maybe a condo is purchased with in-home help on a part-time basis.

Ask the hard questions

There is no cookie-cutter template for helping a family or a senior downsize. We are all unique, but the conversation about all the perceived uncomfortable talks do need to be addressed.

I find that my clients usually appreciate me bringing up the subject first, something I always recommend to my peers. You have to ask the hard questions to get to know your client’s situation better and what is important to the client.

You need to have this conversation in order to assess need versus want when pulling different lifestyle options and communities to look at. Money isn’t the only consideration when working with downsizing; most of the time, medical or transportation issues also come into play.

At the same time, have tact

Having tact is important. Remember, it isn’t what you say but how you say it.

With seniors and their families, a time of downsizing and transition can be emotional and stressful.

There are attachment to memories made in the home. There are concerns over money. Physical health may be causing concern for family members — even guilt that their parents can’t come live back home with them for a variety of reasons.

How you fashion your questions and responses when broaching these issues is very important.

If you’re blunt and almost crass, well, you can lose the contract and tarnish your reputation; but if you’re blunt but provide insight and options, you can make your reputation while offering a hero’s service to the client and their family.

Understand the shift that your client is undertaking

Remember: Downsizing the family home means letting go of independence and one’s identify to explore an option of more help, or less work around the house, along with discovering a new chapter in the senior’s life.

It’s like your first day on the job. You went through school; you knew the time would come when you would launch into the real estate world, but the first day is scary and no one can really prepare you for those emotions.

The same goes when a senior decides it is time to downsize. It is a new day, a new identity, and often under stressful circumstances that can be planned for but aren’t fully realized until the client has arrived within them.

Remain patient, remain calm — and don’t be pushy. Answer questions honestly, to the point and without being too delicate.

It is a time of transition that should be viewed as factual and with a positive approach — not something to be danced around that could cause fear or hesitation with the client.

Sam Benson, SRES, is a real estate broker in the greater Walnut Creek, California, area. You can follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Email Sam Benson.