Senior Housing Transitions: Reducing the Stress

When children are in their 60s or 70s and parents are in their 80s or 90s, downsizing decisions can be especially challenging.

By Betsy Philips

There comes a time in your clients’ lives when they must make decisions about where and how they will spend their later years. Or, they may have to assist a family member with these decisions.

Sometimes a house becomes too much to maintain, the stairs too hard to climb, or the taxes just too darn high. Often, more hands-on care is required due to a growing medical concern or perhaps social isolation may be an issue. As a senior housing professional, I’d like to provide some insights into having a discussion with your clients who are facing this situation themselves or helping an aging loved one.

The decision to stay or to move should be made collaboratively among the individuals, their families, and professionals, such as doctors, financial advisors and estate planners who look after the client’s best interests. What are the legal and financial ramifications of selling a home? Can they, or how can they, afford assisted living? How do their medical conditions figure in? When I start working with a client, I make sure all their needs are taken into consideration.

Telling Mom and Dad what they should do will likely lead to them digging in their heels and refusing to consider housing alternatives. The worst-case scenario, which is unfortunately very common, is that a decision is delayed until there’s a crisis. The family is forced to react, instead of being able to execute a plan that was previously agreed upon.

Legacy coaching can help

The best thing that we can do as professionals is to shift the conversation from what the client can’t do or what they should do to what they want to do, where they want to be, and how they would like to be remembered. These kinds of discussions are known as legacy coaching.

I recently met a couple in their 70s who were also taking care of the wife’s aging mother in her 90s. Most everything about their current situation was difficult. The daughter spent a large amount of time taking care of her mother. Her husband was unhappy that, during their golden years, they couldn’t travel because of his mother-in-law.

The woman’s mother showed signs of depression and was isolated except for visits from her daughter. Their young grandchildren, meanwhile, lived an hour away, making it difficult to see them on the spur of a moment.

This is where, over coffee, I asked the wife, “What if?”

“What if you could spend more time with your children and grandchildren and have your mother living in a safe place where she could enjoy activities for the remainder of her life?” I asked her. “What is holding you back?”

Could rightsizing be an option? A ranch home for the couple near their children and young grandchildren, maybe, and appropriate housing for the 90-year-old with care available and lots of socialization.

Hopefully, this kind of questioning and time to process the situation without pressure will help the family get over some of the trauma of leaving a home that they’ve lived in for decades.

Another example

But change is hard. Recently I worked with a client who was very grumpy, had health issues and needed to live in a community. His care manager found housing for him, and I coordinated his move.

I was very concerned about whether it would be the right fit for him. After about a week, I visited and was so happy to find him smiling, gaining weight and engaging with friends and activities.

Planning is the key

I never push someone to sell their home.

I only ask them to think about their options and to prepare for the future. They may be able to age in place with some home modifications. In that case, I’ll refer them to specialists that I have vetted, who are experts at aging in place home enhancements.

If a move is necessary or desired, the key to a successful transition is to find what I call the next new home — a place that will bring a senior some joy. Finding the right fit is critical, whether it’s a senior apartment, assisted living or even a continuing care community.

“Finding somewhere new to love is the best way to help seniors move forward without fear or reluctance.”

A good specialist will take the time to learn about what their clients love. Maybe they crave access to nature or opportunities to socialize. Maybe their priority is to find an apartment that will allow them to keep their pet. It’s easier to let go of the past when the future is bright. And it’s preferable to do so while you still have control, rather than during a time of crisis when someone else will decide for you. Finding somewhere new to love is the best way to help seniors move forward without fear or reluctance.

Downsizing needn’t be overwhelming

The thought of downsizing, preparing their home for sale and worrying about what to do with “their stuff” keeps many seniors from planning their future.

Another common worry seniors have is that they’ll have to make expensive updates to their home before they can put it on the market. I rarely suggest this except for urgent repairs. Making expensive cosmetic improvements to a long-time homeowner’s home is usually not a good use of time or money. Proper decluttering and minor staging will often do the trick.

Many seniors are overwhelmed or physically incapable of sorting through decades of belongings. However, a senior real estate specialist has vetted relationships with professional downsizers and other providers who will do the heavy lifting.

Additional Reading: Even Millennials Should Think About Senior Housing

I just met with a family that had a lot of stuff in their home. I talked to them a lot about the house, their memories and how meaningful it was to them. The husband complained that the children didn’t want their cherished things and they couldn’t even give them away.

I explained that I would refer them to someone who would help them get the most money for the items that could be sold and that she would do her very best to rehome and repurpose everything else.

Finding the right professionals

When vetting partners such as downsizers or packers, I look at how they communicate with seniors and their families. I look for partners who are both skilled and compassionate about their trade and the community they serve. They need to lead with their hearts, and not their pocketbooks.

It’s also helpful to work with a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP). Real estate professionals who earn this designation, through the Seniors Real Estate Institute, have received special training and experience in assisting long-time homeowners. We understand the emotional and logistical challenges, and we are familiar with all the best partners to ensure a smooth journey that will leave our clients overjoyed, and not overwhelmed. [Another designation, Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is offered by the National Association of Realtors.]

While many clients dread for years the prospect of downsizing, doing it correctly, they often surprisingly find, evokes a sense of freedom, joy and satisfaction.

Betsy Phillips is a Certified Senior Housing Professional®, Seniors Real Estate Specialist® and Accredited Buyer’s Representative® with Compass in Glenview, Illinois. Contact her at or [email protected].



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