You’ve all heard the saying, “the riches are in the niches.” To differentiate themselves in today’s competitive environment, many real estate professionals are looking for that niche to help them stand out from the crowd. Given the large number of baby boomers heading into retirement — 28.6 million in Q3 2020 alone — more agents than ever are eyeing senior real estate as a rewarding sector, both financially and personally.
According to Stacey Cohen, president and CEO of Co-Communications, effectively communicating your personal brand and answering the question, “Why choose me?” is of paramount importance in establishing your bona fides with the senior market.
“There is a tremendous opportunity to build thought leadership and become the ‘go-to’ in the senior market by developing relevant content and implementing a multichannel approach (websites, blogs, social media, print collateral, ads, email blasts),” Cohen said.
Cohen suggests building a “consistent and compelling image” by sharing “positive client testimonials, achievements, success stories, content (both curated and self-published)” and through professional speaking and earned media opportunities.
To build that reputation for success with the senior market, you’ll need a track record of optimal outcomes. As a senior real estate specialist (SRES), your role is not only to help seniors, and often, their family caregivers sell their house at the best possible price. You’re also there to help them navigate the selling process in a way that makes them feel confident as they embark on the next stage of their life’s journey.
Having the right mix of soft and hard skills plays a critical role in being a leader in today’s senior real estate industry. We asked successful senior real estate specialists to share with us their most important insights and strategies.
Know that patience is more than a virtue
The most important characteristic of any real estate professional who works with seniors is patience. An SRES functions more as a counselor than as a salesperson. Senior clients are often navigating a difficult life choice and need someone with the skills to help foster a relationship and help them think through all of the pros and cons of this next step.
According to Allison Jaffe, owner of Key Real Estate Services in New Rochelle, New York, “An SRES will wait out and help facilitate the legal, logistical and emotional hurdles that must be overcome before getting to the sale of a long-time home … which may well be the easiest and quickest step.”
Chris J. Henry, a broker with Estate & Investment Realty Group of Marin and the San Francisco North Bay, turns his first meeting with seniors into a teachable moment. His company provides a “full education” to senior clients and their families with a visual presentation and handouts.
“We discuss and review areas they should address first: some financial planning and taxation as well as what to do with personal property,” Henry said. “We then review all the basic steps to a real estate transaction.”
Finally, Henry discusses with clients their goals for after the sale to create a path forward. “When the big puzzle is broken down into small easy pieces, everyone is much more comfortable with the speed and steps of a transaction,” he said.
According to Beth Little of Northville, Michigan’s My Total Move, patience and empathy are key to working with senior clients. “Fear of change and the unknown plays a large role in their decision-making process, so feeling heard and understood by myself and my team is essential in order to make the process go smoothly for all.”
Little finds that relationship-building helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and simplifies the process for agents, senior clients and their families. Also, it’s important to be mindful of the challenges that are precipitating the move.
“This kind of client does not like to be pushed or sold to, as they are sometimes selling when they don’t want to if a health or financial situation forces them to,” Little said. “Using tactical empathy and always being upfront and honest is the best method for working with this demographic.”
Leverage your network, it’s your net worth
Realtors who help seniors need to have access to a trusted team of advisers — financial planners, lawyers, accountants and others — to help meet their older clients’ specific needs. By providing referrals, advice, and guidance throughout the buying and selling process, these agents and brokers offer their clients the comprehensive attention they need and deserve.
Jaffe emphasizes the importance of collaboration because the SRES might become part of a team that can include an attorney, financial planner, geriatric care manager, caregivers, daily money manager, assisted living in-take manager, designated power of attorney and others.
According to Henry, the real estate agent has a role to play in facilitating household help, which might include people to help with organization and clutter removal and painting, plumbing, and gardening.
His team might be called on to coordinate and handle property improvements, make introductions, and provide information as needed to help senior clients with the logistics of downsizing and moving.
“The saying ‘it takes a village’ is essential when building a senior-based real estate business,” Little said. She takes time to get to know local vendors and tour senior living facilities so that she knows she will be giving referrals to people who will care for her clients’ best interests.
Negotiate from a win-win perspective
The buying and selling process should be a win-win for both parties and the family members who will help provide care and guidance to the senior client. Focus on solutions and how to overcome hurdles, and don’t give in to the temptation to fall into an adversarial relationship with the other agent in the transaction.
An SRES needs to act as an objective guide throughout the sales process, Jaffe said. Transactions for seniors require “respect for conflicting emotions between parents and adult children, spouses, siblings and even extended families.”
Little’s style of communication focuses on the individual and his or her personality type. When working with older adults, she uses techniques including tactical empathy — a recognition and understanding of their feelings — and mirroring. “If a client feels listened to and understood,” Little said, “they are more open-minded to what I am advising them on.”
Strategize staging and sales
An SRES needs to help seniors and their families determine the necessity of staging by asking the right questions and helping them think through the pros and cons. Is it necessary? Do I have the time? Do I have the resources?
According to Little, even in a seller’s market, staging, along with professional photos and extensive marketing, is “very necessary to get the best price for the home.” To facilitate staging for clients working with a limited budget, Little prepays for staging at no cost to the seller as part of her comprehensive, high-end service.
“I like the seller to know I’ve got ‘skin in the game’ when selling their home to reinforce the understanding that we are a partnership in selling their most valuable asset,” Little said.
Henry believes that staging is important since it provides a higher return on investment than selling the property as-is. “Buyers want to see how spaces can be utilized, and staging brings a space to life,” he said. For senior homeowners with a limited budget, Henry said that many stagers will accept payment from the sale proceeds, or virtual staging can be used as a less costly alternative.
“All that said, if a property is severely dilapidated with an abundance of deferred maintenance, lipstick on a pig doesn’t work,” Henry said. “Buyers see right through it, so it’s best to just focus on the right buyer group, generally contractors or flippers.”
Adapt and adopt new technologies
To keep everyone safe and maximize convenience for senior clients, make open houses and home tours virtual as much as possible. Do a better job than your competition at showcasing homes for sale and making information accessible.
When working with senior clients, be mindful of their varying levels of tech aptitude. “Every senior is different on their understanding of technology, and I usually assess what they feel comfortable with during the initial consultation, “Little said.
Little sets expectations with her team on the preferred method of communication, whether phone calls, texts or emails, and determines whether they should go to the house for in-person signing and a quick tutorial on electronic signatures. Taking this time upfront “cuts out a lot of confusion and stress for everyone.”
Most of all, according to Jaffe, show deference and respect when working with senior sellers. “An SRES has an opportunity to respect a senior homeowner’s autonomy — perhaps the most commonly distressing loss in aging — by showing deference to that owner to sign documents, receive updates, review offers, participate in negotiations, and be present for in-person closings so long as they are of sound mind and wish to do so, despite others authorized to stand in.”
Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.