Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Senior-Friendly Homes and How to Sell Them

A married couple in their 50s intend to put their one-story suburban house on the market soon. Proceeds from the sale will fund an active retirement involving boating, skiing and traveling the world.

The listing agent in this true story is optimistic about the couple’s chances for a successful sale. As she says, many people in their 60s and 70s are scouring the couple’s popular neighborhood in search of a single-level house, a rarity in an area where most properties are at least two stories high.

“Lots of older people hate climbing stairs because their knees cry out with arthritis pain. But they also hate the idea of moving to an apartment where they fear feeling boxed in. So, downsizing to a one-story house in the same area where their friends are still living is tremendously appealing,” says Sid Davis, a veteran real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide for Buying a Home.”

“If they can’t find a single-story house, at least they want a house with a first-floor master suite with a full bathroom,” he says.

Dorcas Helfant, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Realtors, says many seniors try apartment living and then reverse course, heading back to a traditional detached house.

“They don’t want to have to get into an elevator to go outside. They want more personal space and a little land around them, including possibly a small garden,” she says.

Are you seeking to sell a property with features that would make it suitable for older buyers with health issues or people with disabilities? If so, these few pointers could prove helpful:

-- Evaluate the market supply of senior-friendly houses in your area.

If you’re planning to sell one of the rare senior-friendly houses in your neighborhood, Davis says it’s conceivable your place could fetch a premium price of up to 10 percent more than houses of like square footage that lack these features.

But he cautions to make sure that the supply-demand ratio is in your favor before putting a price tag on your property.

“It’s always unwise to overprice your home, especially when it first hits the market and buyer interest is at its peak,” Davis says.

-- Consider adapting your house to make it more appealing to seniors.

To cater to the burgeoning senior market, some sellers are tempted to renovate their vertical houses to make them more user-friendly. But Davis says such a major investment is usually a mistake, unless you intend to enjoy the improvement for several years before you move.

“Spending too much on a pre-sale basis is overkill. Normally, you can’t expect to get any more than 60 percent back for a major addition when you sell,” he says.

Still, there are some less expensive steps that could be justified by would-be sellers who have the senior market in mind. For example, you might wish to replace shag carpet with laminate flooring to make your rooms easier to navigate by those in wheelchairs.

Also, home sellers who are already planning to redo a kitchen might want to incorporate some easy-to-use features with the senior market in mind. These could include wide low kitchen cabinets and countertops, as well as wide doorways.

“Many people don’t wait until they have health problems or need a wheelchair to think about buying a more accessible house. Once they hit their early 60s, they start preparing for their future needs,” Davis says.

-- Underscore your home’s senior-friendly features.

Any home placed on the Multiple Listing Service can be easily tagged by a listing agent to reflect its senior-friendly features. Because of this, any agent searching on behalf of senior buyers can do a computer run to locate nearly all the available one-level homes in a neighborhood, as well as those with a first-floor master suite.

But as Helfant says, the listing agent for a senior-friendly house can do much more than identify its features in the MLS. Ask your agent to highlight your home’s special features through various types of marketing -- including all types of social media, as well as newspaper and online ads.

“With so many older people now in the home-buying population, it’s totally in your interest to trumpet whatever features you have to draw in senior buyers,” Helfant says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at