- A big house is the American dream: three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a yard—maybe even a pool. But kids grow up and move out, and unless they move back in as adults, that dream come true can become a liability. Elderly parents can end up with a lot of unnecessary, and possibly dangerous, space on their hands.
When our aging parents wind up rattling around in a big old house alone, you might find when you come to visit that things have gone downhill. The refrigerator may be empty or prescription medications haven’t been taken. Worse case scenario, cognitive or physical abilities have declined to a point where staying in the home is no longer safe.
The first step is to open up a conversation, gradually and with as much sensitivity as you can muster, suggesting alternative housing options. You may be inclined to move them in to your home and that might work out great. That choice will also likely affect other family members’ lives, so be sure to rope everyone into the conversations. And there will be a whole lot to discuss including the type of care your parents need, finances, each family member’s responsibilities during the transition, and all of the possible residence options.
If the best choice turns out to be moving to a smaller and more manageable home, a real estate agent who’s experienced, skilled, and compassionate is vital. The prospect of moving house can be debilitating to parents who are emotionally attached to their home and neighborhood. Even if they are amenable to at least discussing a move, it’s hard to know where to start—and once you do, there will be inevitable speed bumps along the way.
San Francisco real estate agent Meryl Bennan has worked with many families looking to downsize, and is familiar with the difficulties that often come with selling a family home. Knowing when it’s time to start thinking about a move, and having some idea of what to expect during the process can make it go a lot more smoothly. Check out my interview below with Meryl for some tips on a smooth transition to a smaller and safer space for mom and dad.
What are the most important things to consider when choosing a new home for aging family members?
“Mobility is huge. Not only is it important to find something that is single story on the inside, but the fewer steps to enter the better. In addition, finding a home that has a walk-in shower stall (with a safety bar if necessary) rather than a shower over tub is ideal. Condos that are professionally managed are great for elders as maintenance is baked into the dues. For those in urban areas, doormen or security are, well, added security.”
What’s the best way to handle issues that might come up during the process?
“Be patient. If an elder really does not want to move they will dig their heels in and stay. It’s better to present a number of alternative properties and ideas over a longer period of time and let them sink in. Eventually, the idea should come from them. One caveat to this is simply that if they are at a serious risk and cannot think clearly, it is important for family to intervene with a unified plan.
Also, sometimes the fear of moving is remediated once the aging party learns that a lot of the busy work will be done for them. A good realtor will help organize what needs to be done, from scheduling donation and trash pick-ups to fixing up the property for maximum sale.”
Have you ever had a family back out of a sale because the elderly family members changed their minds (or for another reason)? Or has this almost happened but you were able to ease their nerves?
“Yes, in fact. Cold feet can happen. This said, the way the contract is written in San Francisco, sellers really do not have an out clause. I have had this happen and typically it really is just a matter of talking it through and remembering that the seller is going through a huge transition. Patience and understanding again go a long way to ease that.”
Any other tips for making the transition as smooth as possible?
“I actually just presented to an elder couple yesterday and I was surprised by how much work they expected to have to do themselves. Once we talked, they really seemed excited about the prospect of downsizing and not having to care for space they didn’t use. If you sense that your parents or elder friends are ready for a change, set up an appointment with an agent who you trust and they will walk them through the process. Research the agent yourself and make sure they’ve worked with elders and have sensitivity, treating this as a transition, not just a transaction. Like any field, there are some professionals better suited for this circumstance than others. Get references and make sure to set them up for success.”
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to work with Meryl, you can reach her at 415.637.7059, or shoot her an email.