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Seniors, boomers 'right-sizing' their homes

They are legion. They are aging. And they'll be changing addresses in droves in the coming years.

After holding down the family homestead for decades, thousands of American seniors are charting a course to "right-size" their lives.

In fact, the U.S. is expected to have 116 million adults aged 50 and older by 2010. And studies are showing that a huge segment of this influential group will soon move after retirement, and not just to Florida or a traditional retirement facility.

As new medical technologies extend seniors' independence, many will opt for active communities, condos or apartments, small-lot homes or varied assisted-care offerings.

But they will need help getting there.

About half of all U.S. homeowners 65 or older have lived in their houses for 25 years or more, says the senior advocacy group AARP, and many will feel like strangers in a strange land when it comes time to move.

"They are sitting in their homes, where they have been for decades, and they don't know who to trust or where to turn," said Ted Field, founder of Edina Realty Senior Services near Minneapolis. "And they hear stories about all these seniors who have been taken advantage of."

That's where Field, one of growing number of Seniors Housing Marketing Specialists (SHMS) in the country, comes in.

Specialists for older home buyers
The SHMS designation, created five years ago in California, was launched to help agents shepherd the growing number of aging homeowners through the daunting process of selling or buying a home, and with sensitivity and patience. "It's a major life change that you have to handle with respect," Field said

Currently, only about 1 percent of real estate agents have an SHMS designation, despite projections that the number of U.S. seniors will double to 70 million over the next 30 years, Field said. That's in part because seniors are viewed as "move-down" buyers who relocate only to rental units, effectively knocking agents out of half their commission, agents tell Field.

One of the biggest challenges for the older seniors is to depart their existing homes with a sense of independence and the assurance they are doing the right thing in the right way, Field said.

But Fields says he does quite well with the senior set and is willing to wait months or even years for older sellers to acknowledge they are ready to move out of their cherished homes.

"It's a great niche. I won't be running out of seniors until I am one myself, and that's only because I'll be retired."

Next to the death of a loved one, a move out of the family home is generally the most emotional experience seniors will endure, said Don Redfoot, a senior policy adviser for AARP. "It is not only leaving your home, it is giving up a place than contains the memories and relationships of a lifetime.

Too often there's a tendency in families to discount the wishes of an older person in this process, said Redfoot. "Most want to remain in control and independent, even if they are experiencing a disability. They really don't want to move in with other family members."

Next: "A few home-selling suggestions for seniors ..."
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