Typical Saratoga Oaks townhouse, Saratoga CA (Silicon Valley) - living space over garageOne of the hardest things that adult children must sometimes do is to assist their parents in downsizing.  Most of the time, this means also getting the parent(s) to agree to sell the home, perhaps also to move into a seniors facility (independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care) or perhaps to move in with one of the adult kids. Very often, leaving the house also means leaving a good deal of memories and perhaps independence.  It can be terribly difficult for everyone involved.

Sometimes our older family members can live at their own home until they die, which is what they want and what makes everyone happy.  It may also be the most economical thing to do.   As they age, there are services which can come to them (gardening, cleaning, meals being prepared or dropped off, errands being run, driving services provided when reflexes slow or eyes fail). One company has invented a medicine dispenser which is timed and will alert family members if the meds aren’t taken!   It may be good to utilize some sort of safety device in case there’s a fall.  If you can get all the bases covered, it can be close to worry free for everyone.  In those cases, perhaps worrying about real estate can wait.

For others, though, either medical needs or social needs drive the change to a place with many other seniors. For some, this infusion of new friends can be an emotional lifeline that greatly improves the quality of life.  Particularly for those who lose the ability to drive and move about independently, a transition to a seniors facility can mean a reconnecting with others which was lost due to lack of independence.  I have seen that with some of my own relatives.   Or when a beloved spouse dies, sometimes the loneliness is compounded by remaining in the same home and being mostly alone.  A move can be a big help, and the companionship of others is no small part of it.

In my family, I have worked with many elderly relatives as they’ve made the progression from their own house to a place with more care, whether it’s just meals being prepared and house work being done or much more.  It is never easy and it is always riddled with emotion. It sometimes coincides with the loss of the driver’s license – so there may be multiple “losses” happening at once.  My grandmother, who lived to be two days shy of 100 years old, often quipped that “growing old is not for sissies!”

One of the biggest real estate challenges with some serniors may come with dementia. At what point is the parent able to handle the contractual work involved with selling a house or condo?  I once was asked to list a house for sale in Santa Clara by the son of the home owner.  I met with her and she appeared to me to go “in and out” mentally.  One moment she was coherent, but the next, she was mentally unclear and confused.  In my professional opinion, she was incapable of the mental capacity legally required to sign a contract and that she appeared to lack the legal capacity to enter into a contract.  I suggested that he get a power of attorney to assist her with this.  He didn’t like my response to the situation, and said that he “wanted her involved”. I explained ways in which she could remain involved, but have him do the actual paperwork since it was beyond her ability at least some of the time (and unpredictably).  He was upset and informed me that I was the second Realtor to tell him this, but he didn’t want to sell her home this way – so he was going to find another salesperson!

What can an adult child do to prepare for this time and to help with this challenging transition?

Perhaps the hardest part is bringing up the topic long, long before the move is even necessary – when it is just a faint glimmer on the horizon.  (Not so long ago, our 21 year old son asked me what we intend to do at that point in our lives, and we are only in our 50s.  He is thinking ahead!)  Most families find it difficult to broach the subject of the declining years – it is almost an anathema topic, like sex or religion or politics in some circles.  But if the conversations about when to end driving, or when to end independent living, can happen earlier, I do believe that the transition will be easier. It is not entirely unlike seeing the family attorney to draw up a will or trust.  Plan it out, “just in case”, and things will be smoother.

It is also helpful to involve the senior in the decision of where to go and when to recognize the signs that it’s time, too.  Jim and I have found that sometimes the change that we dread the most is the one that makes our family member the happiest once we get through it.  Some relatives respond very positively to not having to clean or cook, to having company, rides, entertainment, help remembering vital medicines and caring on a really regular basis.  And even with dementia care,  going to smaller quarters with more group activities can alleviate some of the tension in the senior’s life.

Some real estate agents (yours truly included) have gone through special training to work with seniors and their families.  One designation for help along those lines is the Seniors Real Estate Specialist, or SRES.  Since I had so many older family members who downsized repeatedly, I decided a few years ago to do the training too.  Although I had learned a lot through experience, I did glean some good info through the training, too.  So if you are looking to help a parent or grandparent to sell the family home and move in with a relative or to go to a seniors facility, you might consider hiring someone who is an SRES or who has extra experience in working with seniors and their family members.

Interested in learning more about retirement communities in Silicon Valley? Call me or drop me a line and I’ll share with you my own experiences with various places in and near San Jose, Los Gatos, and Saratoga.


Related reading:

Selling a home when the owner has a serious or terminal illness