Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Helping Elderly Parents Move

When it comes to statistics, housing economists are hyper-focused on two age groups: millennials and baby boomers. A look at data makes it obvious why this is the case. Each year, 12 percent of millennials move, and 3.4 percent of boomers move.

Lost in the statistical shuffle are those age 75 and older. Why are they so often overlooked by real estate analysts? Because each year, just 1.6 percent of people in this age group move.

“A large portion of elderly people are aging in place rather than moving in their later years,” according to Taylor Marr, a data scientist for Redfin, a national real estate brokerage and data analysis company.

But when older seniors do move, the transition can be wrenching, especially for those who’ve long resided in a property chock full of possessions and memories.

“For elderly people, a move often constitutes a crisis ignited by a health or financial reversal,” says Joan McLellan Tayler, a longtime real estate author and realty company owner.

Tayler says elderly people typically turn to grown kids for help when moving. But even if the parents don’t ask for help, the kids often interject themselves, usually with the best of intentions.

“But the grown kids are no substitute for a really skillful and empathic real estate pro,” she says.

One agent specializing in assisting senior sellers of all ages is Diana Gaydon. She recommends helping elders by lining up listing appointments with at least three agents and then sitting in on the interviews.

“Look for an agent who’s empathic and a great listener,” says Gaydon, who holds the designation of “Seniors Real Estate Specialist,” conferred by the National Association of Realtors.

Here are a few pointers for those helping elderly parents make a major move:

-- Honor your parents’ attachment to their home.

“Young people are accustomed to casting off possessions when they move ... But their grandparents weren’t raised that way,” Tayler says.

For the elderly, sorting through possessions can be exhausting.

“What’s a treasure and what’s junk? Separating items into those categories can be tremendously tedious,” Tayler says.

But while the children of elderly parents can be very helpful in a housing transition, Tayler says it’s unwise for them to become involved in the sorting and culling process.

“Family members are never totally objective. That can result in heated arguments that are painful for all concerned,” she says.

Instead, she recommends that senior home sellers engage the help of a professional organizer. One source for referrals is the National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net). For a lesser fee, (perhaps $10 to $20 an hour), your parents can likely find an energetic college student or recent grad by posting a classified ad.

-- Promise your parents you’ll respect their prized possessions.

One way to help smooth the transition for your parents is to guarantee you’ll safeguard their valuables during the interim period in which their home is shown to the public, Gaydon says.

“For example, you might tell them you’ll take those coveted photos they have hanging on the wall and place them in a nice box ... until their house is sold,” she says.

-- Show sensitivity in helping parents dispose of excess belongings.

Conducting an estate sale to break up the family household might sound like a good idea. After all, the professional firm holding the sale will give your parents a percentage of the revenues they bring in.

But the unsentimental manner in which such a sale is conducted could easily hurt your parents’ feelings. It can be painful to overhear strangers haggling over the price of items you’ve owned and valued for decades, Tayler says.

As an alternative, she recommends you ask your parents for the names of their favorite charities and arrange to have their giveaways taken there. (Valuable antiques and art can be sold through a dealer or an online company such as eBay.)

“Donating to a charity you believe in can be a positive experience,” Tayler says.

-- Use tact when addressing your parents on needed home updates.

Those who’ve lived in the same home for a long time are often very comfortable with their décor, no matter how dated, and think prospective buyers should feel the same way. But their grown kids typically agree with the listing agent that the home should be updated to more contemporary standards before it goes on the market.

The problem is that you could face a lot of resistance if you try to push your parents into replacing their still-functioning burnt-gold refrigerator. Likewise, they might rebuff you if you demand that they have their 20-year-old turquoise carpeting torn up and replaced with a neutral beige carpet.

Instead, try quiet reasoning and persuasion in hopes of convincing them to follow your recommendations and those of their listing agent.

“Never attempt to belittle or shame your parents into the home improvements needed for a successful sale. That can backfire big time,” Tayler says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)