How to Get Buyers to Bite on Homes in Retirement Communities

By ForSaleByOwner

If you know what kind of buyer you’re trying to attract, you need to take steps both large and small that appeal to that buyer.

At least that’s what by-owner seller Paula Tiller thinks. And as far as she’s concerned, when it was time to sell her two-bedroom home in a retirement community in Cape Coral, Florida, and move to a new retirement development in Georgia, the large steps were already obvious. “We were selling a beautiful small home on an 18-hole golf course in Florida to anyone 55 and older,” says Tiller. “There’s a certain demographic for that market, obviously, so you really don’t have to stretch too far.”

Tiller is in good company. The largest group of home sellers in the country are ages 55-64, according to the National Association of Realtors 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. When it comes to buyers over age 50, 14 percent of recent purchases were homes in senior-related housing or active adult communities.

But when Tiller spoke to and visited with friends who had difficulties selling their homes in the same community, she noticed a pattern. “All of them made their homes look exactly the same,” Tiller says. “Tropical prints, Florida-style furniture and incredibly boring walls. They went out of their way to take out their homes’ personalities.”

So Tiller took a different approach and didn’t worry about home staging backlash. Sure, she says, she had a similar tropical theme running through her home, but unlike her friends, she chose to keep her personal items on display. In fact, the 72-year-old grandmother says she went out of her way to place photos of her grandchildren on the mantle, the bookshelves and the nightstands. And she didn’t hesitate to dress up her refrigerator with a few colorings and drawings from her daughters’ children, as well.

After all, Tiller says, she was living in a retirement community and was appealing to buyers who were also retired and looking to move to Florida for a new chapter in their lives after years of winter and work. All of that makes sense in theory, but Tiller knows the one thing most new retirees struggle with is leaving behind their children and especially their grandchildren.

“I’d be dishonest if I said my grandkids back in Chicago would keep me from staying down here permanently, but there is definitely a period of adjustment. It was certainly the biggest factor when I thought about moving to Florida. It’s the one thing I could never really resolve until I just bit the bullet and moved,” Tiller says. “I have four beautiful granddaughters and two handsome grandsons. When I moved down here, the youngest was 2 years old. It was hard. I know it’s something people struggle with when they think about picking up and moving somewhere 1,000 miles away.”

Knowing that most of the retirees who looked at her house probably had grandchildren, Tiller did all she could to give them that warm-and-fuzzy feeling when they walked through her house. “I know it goes against the ‘plain-and-simple’ philosophy of making a room look as boring and bland as possible, but I wanted someone who was a grandma or grandpa to buy my place,” says Tiller. “I wanted them to see my grandchildren and their little art projects because my guess was that if they bought my place, they’d put the same kind of drawings up on the refrigerator and the same little framed photos up on their bookshelf.”

Tiller also made sure to throw out a few subtle hints. “I have a large photo of me and my grandkids sitting at the pool that I hung on the wall near the living room table,” she says. “Everyone asked about it, and that gave me a chance to remind people that they can see their grandchildren when they came down here on vacation. That’s the best part of being a grandparent, right? You play with the grandkids for a few days and then you get to send them home.”

Tiller’s strategy paid off. She sold her home to a couple from New Jersey who was looking to begin that second chapter of their life. “The couple who bought my house actually looked at it when my daughter was here on vacation with her children,” she says. “They had kids and grandchildren of their own, and I’m sure they were struggling with that a bit. But you throw a couple of cute kids who start talking a mile a minute about how much they love the pool, and you’ve got yourself a sale.”

Read more: Dos and Don’ts of Selling By Owner