by Neil Jenman
READING TIME: 7.5 minutes apx
Earlier this week I spoke with a 75-year-old homeowner. I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting his name, Doug. He asked me: “Do you have any thoughts on elderly folk selling their homes and moving into retirement homes?’
I replied that yes, I have strong thoughts about older folk selling their homes.
Elderly folk are the saddest and most reluctant home sellers in our society. I believe all of us have a duty, where humanly possible, to help the elderly keep their homes, not sell them.
Uprooting elderly people from homes in which they have lived for decades is akin to uprooting a tree that’s been in the ground for decades. The tree doesn’t like it. The shock can kill the tree.
The elderly – especially the widowed – can love their homes as deeply as they love people – indeed, often more deeply. Their family homes are the source of a lifetime of cherished memories.
It often seems that the main time that elderly people get attention from their younger peers is when the elderly folk represent something to the young. If not, most of us forget or ignore the elderly.
In this modern society where so many people are determined to increase their wealth by any means, the elderly are often seen as a great way to increase wealth. Whether it be the children who haven’t seen a parent for years but are in the agent’s office putting their homes on the market within days of their passing; or the agents who are called in while the elderly are still alive to assess their home for sale, the elderly enrich the young. These are times when the young pay attention to the elderly.
A lot of people may sneer at this next statement, but I so believe it to be true: If you want to enrich yourself through dealing with the elderly, do what enriches them. Place their interest ahead of yours. Make them happy. It feels good.
To the elderly, financial goals are seldom their main concern. What they hunger for is happiness. And what makes many elderly folks truly happy is finding a way to keep their homes – not sell up and move to a retirement home and become, almost literally, like dairy cattle who get milked financially every day for the rest of their lives.
The main reason that elderly folk sell their homes is because they find it hard to keep going with the maintenance of the home.
Recently, I had a talk with a man in his late 70s. He told me about the wildlife that came into his garden, everything from his favourite magpies, lorikeets and kookaburras to the wallabies and bandicoots that hop onto his lawn from the bush behind his home.
How could he possibly be happy leaving such a delightful scene? If he sells up, misery awaits him. And regret. But, every time he mows the lawn and uses the whipper-snipper, his back aches for days.
There are easier solutions than the drastic step of the elderly selling their beloved homes. I shared one solution which this gentleman. I calculated the cost of selling and re-buying. A few taps on the calculator and I told him, “For the same cost as selling and buying – which, of course, means losing the home you love, you could hire a gardener to mow your lawn and do your whipper-snipping – for the next 31 years.”
He laughed and said he’d be 108 in 31 years. I asked him to consider it carefully. Three days later I got a joyous email from him. He’d decided he was staying in his home.
When I was an agent, I often figured out ways that the elderly could keep their homes. Even if it meant calling their relatives – sons and grandsons – and saying something such as: “Your grandma doesn’t really want to sell. Moving at her age will make her so unhappy. Considering that, one day, you’re going to inherit this home, surely you could use some of your youthful fitness to help her maintain and keep her home.” Many times, this strategy worked.
Sadly, it’s younger relatives who often push elderly folk to sell their homes; but these are the people who should be helping the elderly to keep their homes.
If you have any elderly relative who’s one day going to leave you a home worth a million dollars or more, surely you could help them clean their gutters? Don’t have time? Too busy working in your own career and looking after your own young family? Okay, well how about throwing in some of your huge income and help pay a maintenance contractor to help your elderly relative?
As for you agents who see the elderly folk as one of the easiest sales you’ll ever make – which will give you one of your juiciest commissions – why not try another approach that will enrich you emotionally rather than financially? Help them keep their homes.
Here’s another common scenario that happens with the elderly in the real estate world: They live in a large city. Often, they will have decided to move to a sleepy coastal town they’ve been visiting for years. But visiting is not the same as living.
Thousands of elderly folks sell up in a big city, move to a small town and then the shock hits them. No friends, they are all back in the city. So too their family, back in the city. Sure, they said the family would visit or they’d visit the family – but it doesn’t happen. They have made a huge mistake.
Unfortunately, for many of them, they don’t have enough funds to sell up in that little town and move back to the city.
Here’s what I used to say to people before they made the often-irreversible decision to sell in the city and retire in a far-away town. “Rent out your home in Sydney and then go to your little town and rent a home for a year. Within a few months, you’ll know if you’ve made the right move.”
Many people took my advice. And guess what? Most chose not to sell.
There is something inherent in all of us about our roots. It’s allegorical. Read the story of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and you’ll know what to do.
Most of the points I have made in this article were raised in my talk with Doug. To my shame, he told me of many services that are available to help the elderly these days – and yet I was unaware of them. If you want to stay in your home instead of selling it, check out what help is available to you. Like me, you may well be surprised.
Is there anytime where we deserve happiness more than in our twilight years?
If you’re elderly and feeling pressured – by what or who, it doesn’t matter – to sell your home and move somewhere “easier for you”, resist that pressure. Stand up for yourself and say, “I don’t want easier, I want happier. And I am happiest in my own home where I have been happy for many years, thank you.”
And never mind what your relatives tell you. They’ll stay with you. As the old saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative.”
The people in real estate who always make me smile are those who, once they reach about 60, start to repeat the same statement about their family home every time they are asked if (or when) they are selling: “They’ll carry me out of here in a box.”
Surely that’s the perfect way to leave the home you love – in a box.
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