January 24th - 2013

Preparing for the booming seniors' market

The baby boom generation forms a demographic bulge that has reshaped society as it passed through.

It’s been called a pig in a python.

Boomer couple working with REALTOR®The baby boom generation forms a demographic bulge that has reshaped society as it passed through. This group is making a huge impact on the real estate market and redefining what it means to be a senior. More than 9.7 million Canadians are now between the ages of 48 and 66, part of a birth rate that peaked between1946 and 1964.

“This group can’t be ignored,” says Surina Hart, a broker from Brighton, Ontario and instructor with the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA). “In sheer numbers, boomers have had a huge impact on society and we’ve watched the changes they’ve made as they progressed through it.”

Understanding the needs of boomer and senior clients can help you provide the service they need and grow your business. Some boomers are still working while others are retirees who zip between home and vacation spots. Some have elderly parents while others have college kids, young children, or all of the above.

Many boomers today comprise the middle layer of the “sandwich” generation, supporting young people and aging parents. This is a heady responsibility for those who will soon be seniors themselves. And unlike previous generations, these clients sometimes make real estate decisions with multiple generations of their family in tow.

“Boomers have a range of challenges, so it’s up to us as REALTORS® to be sure we understand their real estate needs,” says Hart. “My approach is to ask a lot of questions and probe deeply, because sometimes what they first say they want is different from what they end up wanting.”

For instance, a couple in their sixties that has lived in a big multi-level house for three decades may say they want a quiet, one-level condo. “But if the husband spends hours puttering in the garage workshop and the wife gardens all day, they may be bored stiff in a condo. Early on in the process I ask how they plan to replace those activities. A residence with a community garden and lots of clubs and activities may be a better option.”

A client-focused approach means REALTORS® should make the time for thorough discussions with older clients, ask follow-up questions, and provide a range of options so people can make informed decisions, says Hart.

“I advise my students to treat a senior client like they would their own mom or dad,” she says. “These individuals have worked all their lives and contributed to the economy, and we should help make this transition as smooth as possible for them.”

Walking with assistanceEmotional ties to a house are much stronger with older clients, she adds. “Selling a home you’ve lived in for 40 years is quite different from other real estate transactions,” she says. “Some people don’t want to move but their bodies are telling them they must change their lifestyle. They can no longer handle the stairs, shovel snow or do yard work.” 

Canadian brokers and salespeople who wish to learn more about the boomer and senior demographic and its impact on the marketplace may be interested in two programs that provide more specialized education in the seniors’ market.

The Accredited Seniors Agent (ASA) designation and the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation are two programs that provide lessons and strategies for working with this demographic. Those who have taken the courses report enhanced confidence and expertise in dealing with clients over the age of 55.

Both programs provide an enhanced level of understanding of this market. The lessons address the practical and emotional concerns of senior clients while teaching you how to earn their trust as a professional.

“Not everyone in real estate understands the unique problems and challenges of this age group,” says Barry Lebow, a Toronto broker and founder of the ASA program. “Learning more can boost your chances of thriving, because if you don't capture this market in the next few decades, your business won’t survive – it’s that simple.”

A support team is vital for doing business with seniors, says Barbara Brindle, a broker from Barrie, Ont., and SRES program instructor. “When we work with seniors, we don’t just list their home – we’re dealing with contents and helping figure out their next home,” she says. “It can also mean working with other professionals and multiple generations of a family, which makes for a longer process.”

Senior clients have different motivations than their younger counterparts, says Lebow. “You may have to wait longer and invest more time, so it’s important to be patient.” 

Many seniors move due to circumstance rather than choice, he says.  “They’re dealing with health issues, financial troubles, or estate issues after a death.  At this stage, you're not selling them a home – you’re selling a lifestyle, or sometimes a change of lifestyle.”

Financial planners, trust and estate tax specialists, hospital critical care teams and retirement community intake teams all have a role to play in meeting seniors’ real estate needs, says Brindle. “Many of our senior clients need these resources yesterday,” she says. “And sometimes it takes a village to bring a listing together.”

The ASA program was started in 2009 and has 1,100 members across Ontario, Quebec and B.C. with plans to expand into Alberta. Its content is distinctly Canadian and was built from scratch. Members can access additional tools such as newsletters, online seminars and articles that extend the value of the program beyond course work.

The SRES program was adapted to Canada from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) in the U.S. The Canadian version launched in 2007. It was built from the American model and now boasts full Canadian content. And because NAR® is the world’s largest professional real estate organization, the program has gained popularity in Canada.

Many real estate professionals take both ASA and SRES to develop their niche in boomer and senior markets. Both programs are increasingly popular and are offered only under the sponsorship of a real estate board or brokerage. The financial, emotional and practical needs of seniors are covered in both offerings. The ASA program stresses immediate and practical application of its lessons and how they benefit your business, says Lebow, who also holds an SRES designation.

Students in ASA learn about the size and specifics of the seniors market, details about market share in their community and province, and how to conduct statistical research on neighbourhoods to determine where seniors are concentrated to help focus marketing and promotional efforts.

Both programs stress the importance of building an outside team of experts to respond to questions beyond your scope in real estate. Professionals in tax planning, estates, probates, capital gains and auctions can be part of this support team, as can experts in family conflicts, physical mobility and mental capacity issues.

The SRES program reviews demographic profiles and helps students understand the mindset, rationale and expectations of seniors. It also looks at ways of communicating with each age group, Brindle says. The course covers financial content and social issues including elder abuse and physical components like housing design for those with mobility issues. It also examines various living options and everything from downsizing and independent supported living to retirement communities and nursing homes.

“Fewer than 10 per cent of retirees live in nursing homes,” says Brindle. “It's the choice of last resort. Most people want to age in place and they need real estate professionals who understand what’s involved.”

Limited mobilityBrindle stresses that she became much more confident representing seniors after pursuing this specialized education. She learned more about their unique issues and available resources such as grants for physical improvements that enable elderly people to stay in their homes through the addition of features like safety grab bars, nonslip flooring and raised counters.

She advises her students to develop expertise on alternative living arrangements in their local area and to get to know the teams involved so that they can speak authoritatively and build a family's trust.

Aside from helping clients, this education led Brindle to complete her own will, take charge of her personal estate planning, and communicate with friends and family about her own wishes for the future. “As REALTORS®, we need to lead by example.”

For details on ASA, visit www.thesenioragent.com. For details on SRES, visit www.seniorsrealestate.com/Toronto.cfm. For more free resources, visit www.seniors.gc.ca.

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