Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Downsizers Can Mean Big Deals

A retired diplomat in his late 60s was compelled to leave his spacious family home due to an injury. Hence, he and his wife moved to a retirement community and put their three-story colonial up for sale.

Located in a plush neighborhood where available properties are still scarce, the house attracted multiple bidders. It was soon acquired by a married couple of engineers who were anxious to move up to the prestigious community that featured strong schools and a popular dog park.

Fred Meyer, an independent real estate broker and appraiser who sells property near Harvard University, doesn’t know the diplomat in this true story. But he’s not surprised by the tale because an increasing number of owners from the baby boom generation -- born between 1946 and 1964 -- are finally selling their homes, often after a health crisis.

Indeed, Zillow, a Seattle-based firm that tracks housing markets throughout the country, is now predicting a “silver tsunami” as an increasing number of older owners put their properties on the market.

The company estimates that roughly 730,000 U.S. homes owned by those over 60 are now sold annually. But by 2027, that number should increase to between 920,000 and more than a million per year, according to its research.

Would you like to sell your current property in favor of a larger one where your family could thrive? If so, these few pointers could prove helpful:

-- Look for highly motivated sellers.

The owners of upscale homes are no different from any other category of sellers: Some are a lot more driven to sell than others, says Dorcas Helfant, a real estate broker-owner and former president of the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org).

Some owners have no particular timeline pushing them out the door. Such “discretionary sellers” would like to liquidate but are willing to delay their plans in hopes of obtaining a better price later.

Conversely, motivated sellers have well-defined reasons for moving. Besides financial and health issues, there are positive reasons why some boomers seek to sell quickly. For example, the birth of a first grandchild can intensify their desire to move closer to their grown children.

As a move-up buyer, why should you care if the owners of a home you like are in a rush to sell? Because hurried sellers are much more likely to negotiate in earnest.

If you question sellers on their reasons for moving, many will give you or your agent candid answers to polite inquiries.

-- Don’t exclude from consideration homes that have gone “stale.”

On occasion genuinely motivated sellers hold out longer than they should, reducing their overly high list price only after becoming desperate.

“Even in premium neighborhoods, people who overshoot on price and then fail to sell for many months can be forced to drop their price below market value after buyer interest drops off,” Helfant says.

Their problem is that homes that linger too long on the market become stigmatized.

“It can take a while for some otherwise motivated homeowners to realize they’ve been asking way too much. But if you’re willing to wait, you might be rewarded for your patience,” Helfant says.

-- Consider communities where inventory is increasing.

Despite the likelihood of greater availability of property due to more boomer sales, there are still a number of tight markets where sellers continue to rule. As would-be trade-up buyers, you could do well to prioritize areas where For Sale properties are more abundant.

“You’ll do better if there’s a great deal of inventory, which translates to more competition for the sellers,” Helfant says.

-- Stay focused on your ultimate goal.

Among those hoping to take advantage of low mortgage rates to better their housing situation are parents with school-age kids who clamor for sleepovers and a large rec room where they can enjoy time with friends. Many move-up buyers also hanker for such luxury features as large gardens, at-home fitness centers and customized garages to house motorcycles or sports cars.

Striking a favorable financial deal is always a positive for buyers. But for many seeking to move to a larger habitat, acquiring the exact place they want -- whether that be a city loft, a suburban manse or a country estate -- obtaining the home of their dreams can be even more important.

“Remember, when you trade up, you’re buying for lifestyle. You’re looking for that perfect location, that perfect view or that perfect refuge from the world where you can find peace. For that reason, it’s more than just price alone that counts,” Helfant says.

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