Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Appealing to the Lucrative Senior Market

America’s residential real estate is entering a seismic generational shift.

Many millennial homeowners, born between 1981 to 1996, are aching to move from the starter homes they bought in recent years. As their families grow, they hanker for more space.

Meanwhile, numerous baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are entering their elder years and looking for a smaller, one-level house with low upkeep.

Real estate specialists say what’s logical -- and starting to happen -- is for millennials and boomers to, in effect, swap properties. They say many young adults who wish to sell a starter home in order to trade up are wise to focus their marketing efforts on downsizers of their parents’ age.

“One of the absolute hottest of all properties in the current market is the small, detached house in excellent condition. Because boomers dislike stairs, this type of house is doubly appealing if it’s on a single level with a first-floor master suite,” says Merrill Ottwein, a longtime real estate broker and past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (

Sid Davis, the author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home,” says newly constructed one-level properties are especially marketable because they’re in short supply in many areas.

Dorcas Helfant, a realty company owner and former president of the National Association of Realtors (, says some seniors try apartment living and then reverse course, heading back to a traditional detached house.

“We’ve had people who’ve come out of a high-rise condo after trying it for only a year. A traditional house is part of their cultural heritage and where they feel at ease,” Helfant says. She says they also miss the privacy and convenience of a detached property.

“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.

Here are a few pointers for those seeking to sell a senior-friendly house:

-- Assess the market supply of such 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% 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.

-- Investigate the cost of adapting your house to senior needs.

To cater to the burgeoning senior market, some sellers are tempted to renovate their vertical houses to make them more user-friendly. For example, they contemplate adding a first-floor master suite. 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% 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 for those in wheelchairs.

Also, 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.

-- Stress 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