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Smartmoves: Tips for home-selling retirees


At a pre-retirement bash thrown for a columnist at a big city newspaper, the writer enthused about the travel he and his wife would start just as soon as they sold their big colonial. But it took them more than five years to get that house ready for market.

Why the holdup? Because the couple, ambivalent about leaving the place where they’d raised their children, sorted through their belongings at a glacial pace. The biggest barrier involved several dozen crates filled with the columnist’s newspaper clippings.

It took a lot of nagging from the columnist’s wife —along with a flood that ruined many of the clips — to solve the purging problem. Yet once the purge was done, the house sold promptly, finally giving the couple the funds needed to fulfill their travel plans.

Dorcas Helfant, a veteran real estate broker, has worked with many would-be retirees who’ve found it equally difficult to prep their properties for sale.

“For lots of these folks, one big problem is the vast number of possessions they’ve acquired during their tenure in the property,” says Helfant, a past president of the National Association of Realtors (

Donna Clark, a real estate broker affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (, says another issue that can slow the sale of a property involves older homeowners who push back against the need for upgrades and repairs.

People of retirement age often have a strong desire to sell yet a resistance to taking the necessary steps. Here are a few pointers:

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Retirement dreams vary widely. But staying focused on retirement plans should help keep your spirits up as you do the hard work of preparing your property for market. To maintain your focus, Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “Adding Value to Your Home,” says you may wish to take a brief vacation to the area where you’d like to live, whether that’s a foreign country or a nearby town. A less costly approach is to attach a photo of your ideal destination to your computer monitor where you can keep it in mind.

Visit a few model homes.

Have you lived in your current home for many years? If so, you’re likely very comfortable with your interior design and see no need to update it. But that’s usually a mistake, says Clark, who’s sold homes for more than 30 years.

One way to picture the sort of decor that contemporary buyers prefer is to tour model homes in new subdivisions.

“This is a shortcut to seeing the kinds of colors and designs younger buyers look for. You’ll also see how well a house can look when it’s free of clutter,” Clark says.

Itemize the improvements that could help you sell well.

Would-be retirees who are eager to sell their properties should view key improvements as a wise investment rather than a needless sacrifice, according to Clark.

Obviously, you’re unlikely to recoup your outlays for major improvements — like putting on an addition or installing a new fireplace. But Clark says several less expensive upgrades could be extremely helpful in promoting the sale of your home.

For instance, she says you’ll want to refinish hardwood floors if they’re beat up. And you’ll want to replace carpeting in an out-of-date color.

“I had some clients with bright teal carpeting in their living room. It was clean and perfectly serviceable. But buyers who looked at the house couldn’t get past all that teal. After the owners replaced it with light taupe carpeting, their house sold right away,” Clark says.

Likewise, she says most sellers with vibrantly colored walls are well advised to repaint them in neutral tones.

Avoid playing pricing games.

Many people heading toward retirement and the proposed sale of their home reject the pricing recommendation of their listing agent. In pursuit of more money, they decide to “test the market” with a higher price than their agent has proposed. After all, they reason, they could always cut the price later if necessary.

But this seemingly logical idea usually backfires, Clark says, because most buyers are acutely sensitive to housing values. They respond negatively to an overpriced property and may become so annoyed they won’t even visit the place.

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The entire team at this KW office did a wonderful job in helping us navigate the tough housing market in Chattanooga. We specifically worked with Chris. He was a great resource, very knowledgeable, and proactive.
Katie M