No Means No: Agents Need To Stop Being Relentless With Seniors

There is a line somewhere between being persistent and being creepy or even predatory, and sometimes agents cross it when on the hunt for listings. Broker Teresa Boardman explores what can be some cringey marketing practices for agents to avoid when approaching seniors.

There is a line somewhere between being persistent and being creepy or even predatory. Sometimes, that line is crossed by real estate agents looking for listings. As we face a housing shortage, senior homeowners are sometimes targeted as those who are likely to sell.

Seniors may have lived in the same house for decades; they own it free and clear. They end up being in someone’s lead generation algorithm as likely to sell, and they often receive a lot of attention from several or many local Realtors.

There are people who blame the shortage of houses for sale on seniors who age in place rather than moving on. It is as if there is a date or age at which seniors should no longer be homeowners.

Early last year, when a homeowner died, his wife had real estate agents stopping by, knocking on her door and dropping off marketing materials. Vaccinations against COVID-19 were not yet readily available, and the widow, who was in her mid 70s, was feeling vulnerable.

Nevertheless, they persisted. They called, and they wrote and yes, they knocked on her door. When she answered, they tried to get inside her home. None of them wore masks. She was horrified.

She still lives in that house and doesn’t plan on moving unless she must. After she dies, her family will have to deal with the postcards, letters, phone calls and marketing materials delivered to the front door.

She loves her house and the neighborhood and has roots in the community. She feels that she belongs in the neighborhood. It took her and her husband a couple of decades to pay for the house, and to her, it’s full of happy memories.

There are graduation pictures, wedding pictures and baby pictures on the wall in the hallway. Her husband is from the neighborhood and graduated from the neighborhood high school. They raised three children in that house.

One of my clients was most upset after his mother died and, as he was dealing with her death and her estate, a hoard of real estate agents descended upon him. He got tired of it in a hurry, and so did his brothers.

He asked me how he could make them go away. The best advice I could give him was to ignore them. Real estate salespeople are taught to be persistent and believe that it is their job to turn that “no” into a “yes.” Once the house was on the market, they did stop calling him.

Door-knocking is still a thing; so is cold-calling and direct mail. But with so many real estate agents on the hunt, some seniors are starting to feel like they are under siege. I know this because they post about it on social media. It has been a constant complaint in my neighborhood.

We don’t always value our elderly neighbors. We just want their real estate. If they don’t sell soon, how will all the real estate agents and companies grow?

I sincerely hope that people are not being talked into selling when they don’t really want to move and have no place to go. I have always thought that my clients wanted to move, and I helped them sell their house and buy another.

Why are old people hoarding housing when they could move? There are some unattractive options out there where they could become renters and live in buildings full of old people for the rest of their lives.

Right now, there are severe staffing shortages in senior housing that requires staff. The death rate among the elderly living in long-term care facilities has been very high during the pandemic.

There are shortages of all types of housing including senior housing, and housing is very expensive. Selling a house is much easier than buying one.

The demand for senior housing continues to rise as baby boomers age. Some experts believe that services for the elderly will need to be brought into the community and into the homes of seniors as they continue to age in place.

If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, remind yourself that if you are lucky, you may one day get to be an elderly neighbor or relative. If you are even luckier, someone may appreciate you even when you are past your prime earning years and out of the workforce.

If you must target seniors in your marketing, please treat them with respect, and know that when they say “no” they mean it. Don’t be that creepy agent. Remember to say “I am sorry for your loss” before saying “can I sell your house” in situations where the homeowner has died.

Although I think door-knocking is a bad practice, if you must knock on doors, wear a mask and leave it on. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to death from COVID-19.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of

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