June 23rd - 2017

Working with seniors and boomers

Seniors and baby boomers are becoming a bigger segment of the population, and their real estate needs differ from those of other clients. Three Ontario REALTORS® discuss the joys and challenges of working with an aging demographic.

Seniors and baby boomers are becoming a bigger segment of the population, and their real estate needs differ from those of other clients. Three Ontario REALTORS® discuss the joys and challenges of working with an aging demographic.

The baby boomers are aging, and the needs of this growing population differ from those of other clients. Three REALTORS® discuss the joys and challenges of working with aging adults and share their insights on how to work with them.

As they begin to reach their senior years, the baby boomers will form a large segment of the market. The people born after the Second World War, from 1946 to 1964 – form the biggest chunk of the population in North America. Skills and sensitivity are helpful when dealing with this demographic, the Realtors say.

Working with boomers and seniors requires a special touch, says Susan Bodie, a Toronto Realtor who has been in the business for 28 years. They can be emotionally sensitive about a real estate transaction for different reasons, and therefore compassion is a necessity when dealing with them, she says.

“If they are moving from a home they have lived in for years where they raised a family, it can be hugely emotional, especially if the change is being forced by an illness,” Bodie says. “There can be strong feelings of loss and sadness.”

Patience is another important trait in working with seniors, Bodie says. “You don’t just sign an agreement and go,” she adds. “These are more complex and delicate negotiations, especially if the person has cognitive issues. As well, other family members often want to be involved and it can be complicated getting everyone on the same page.”

The term “seniors” can refer to anyone from 65 to 95, says Debbie Vernon, a Muskoka Realtor with 18 years’ experience who spends much of her time working with seniors. She describes the town of Bracebridge, where she is based, as “predominantly a retirement community.”

The needs of the client depend on their age and health, she notes. “Depending on the person’s stage of life, transactions may involve a few more people than other real estate transactions would. These include family members, care providers, lawyers or financial planners. Usually, I try to get clients to pinpoint one person to consult with on real estate matters; otherwise, they’ll be pulled in different directions.”

In addition to patience, good listening skills are a must when working with seniors, says Jo-Ann Gilbert, a St. Catharines Realtor. She has 15 years of experience in a region that, according to Gilbert, has the most seniors in Ontario.

“It can take two or three visits to get things moving,” says Gilbert. “I want them to feel comfortable, well-represented and not rushed into a transaction. It’s important to make sure they are well looked after.”

Vernon tells of a client who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had been given only months to live. He had a beautiful lakeside home that he loved, but he realized he needed to move to a facility that could provide the care he required. Without selling his home, he did not have many financial resources. Since his medication often made him confused, the client suggested that Vernon work closely with the person he designated as his power of attorney to get the property listed.

“The client was looking at various care options and we convinced him to pick the nicest place with the best food, because he deserved a high-quality situation at this stage of his life,” she says.

There were bumps along the way, because the client’s roof sprung a leak prior to the move, and the power of attorney had to step in with funds to fix it. In addition, the client was angry about having to leave his beloved home even though his health demanded it.

“It was hard to be there when he was venting, but all we could do was listen, let him get it out of his system and get on with the plan,” says Vernon. “It taught me to keep calm, listen and keep moving forward. It was important to focus on what needed to be done so that change could happen.”

Less than three months after moving, the client passed away. “I thought he’d have longer, so it was a bit of a shock,” Vernon says, “but moving was an important thing for him to do; he needed a situation where he could get care and would not be alone.”

On a happier note, Gilbert says one of the joys of working with seniors is learning about their lives. “They are so interesting to talk to, and they have lots of life experiences and stories to share,” she says.

Bodie gets real satisfaction from “helping seniors through important and delicate life transitions. They appreciate the time and support that we can provide.”

Along with the satisfaction come challenges, Vernon says. “It takes an emotional toll, because I tend to get attached to my clients. It can also be emotionally tiring, especially when there is infighting among family members over the estate, because that conflict can get in the way of doing what’s best for the senior.”

Seeing her mother and other friends and relatives in retirement residences makes Bodie aware that aging will happen to everyone. “It’s vital that we have compassion and empathy for those who were our role models,” she says. “In my personal and professional life, I try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. Seniors deserve that particular care.”

Vernon believes Realtors can play an important role as advocates for seniors, especially since situations arise where people try to take advantage of their vulnerability.

“I ran into a situation with a gentleman who had a care provider move in and then shuffle him to the basement,” she says. “This caregiver asked him to sell the home to her. His sister asked me to provide an opinion of the market value of the home, and it was worth much more than he world have sold it to the caregiver for. The caregiver hoped for a deep discount in exchange for the friendship, but the house got multiple offers and sold within a week. Once he moved into a home, the caregiver never visited him again.”

Each of these Realtors has a roster of resources they can share with seniors who need assistance or information. Chief among them are consultants who help people downsize their homes and weed out possessions they no longer need or want. They also know how to advise seniors to connect with the Local Health Integration Network and health care support services, as well as lawyers, accountants, handymen and taxi services – anything that might make their lives a bit easier and facilitate a smooth move.

“You need to keep an open mind with seniors,” Vernon says. “It’s not always about making a sale. Sometimes it’s about putting supports in place so they can age at home.”

Many steps can be taken to enable seniors to stay in their homes, with adaptations to make the property safer, more comfortable and accessible. A publication called Low Cost and No Cost Home Modifications for Seniors and People with a Disability [https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/inpr/bude/acho/upload/low-cost-no-cost-home-modifications.pdf] was recently published by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Realtors who want a better understanding of working with seniors can take advantage of two training programs: the Accredited Seniors Agent (ASA) designation [www.thesenioragent.com] and the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) [www.seniorsrealestate.com/Toronto.cfm]. These courses focus on this demographic group and strategies for working with seniors. The programs 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 courses. For more resources, visit www.seniors.gc.ca.

Tips for working with the seniors’ market

  • Take time to get to know the seniors: what they want and where they want to go.
  • Make sure that what happens is what the senior really wants.
  • Don’t expect a quick sale.
  • Have patience. Seniors may need time think about possibilities.
  • Be prepared to do a lot of listening.
  • It’s worth establishing a relationship and building a good, trusting rapport.

Story by Elaine Smith

Sources: Susan Bodie, Jo-Ann Gilbert, Debbie Vernon.

The REALTOR® EDGE newsletter is produced 11 times a year by the Ontario Real Estate Association. The newsletter aims to provide practical and useful news and information about the real estate industry to members of the association. The opinions expressed in the newsletter are not necessarily those of the publisher. We welcome submissions from the real estate community, including letters to the editor, opinion pieces, events and news. The newsletter reserves the right to edit, based on space restrictions and/or suitability, and/or to refuse submitted material for inclusion in the newsletter without reason. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written permission of the publisher, OREA, is prohibited. Contents are copyright of the Ontario Real Estate Association.

Editor: Mary Ann Gratton

Contributors to this issue: Elaine Smith, Robert Hulley, Merv Burgard, Mary Ann Gratton

Senior Web Editor: Shade Lapite

Web Specialist: Damond Rawls.

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