Of all the things that go faster in today's fast-paced world, selling a home probably is not one of them.
In today's real estate market, the homeowner who needs to move quickly because of a job or military transfer can be stymied by a host of factors, including a more complicated selling process. Many seniors looking to downsize into a smaller space at a retirement community are confronted with deciding what to keep and what must go.
Help is on the horizon. Today, many companies — and individuals — are turning to third-party relocation companies that help speed home sellers to their new destination, whether that destination is a new corporate city, a military base or even a retirement community.
"It's become much more challenging for people," said Daniel A. Keating, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Cartus, the nation's oldest relocation company. "A lot of people who bought during the boom are in financial trouble."
Of course, moving out of your home is never easy.
"Moving is one of the more stressful decisions a person can make," said Eric Stewart, a Rockville-based Realtor and host of WMAL's popular real estate program "Pointing You Home With Eric Stewart."
Corporate transfers often mean the homeowner has to get out quickly, which in these times can be difficult to do, even in the Greater Washington area. That's where corporate relocation companies come in. Cartus, for example, works with a wide range of clients, from companies moving a select few employees to those moving whole offices.
Companies such as Cartus and Prudential Relocation offer a range of services, from assisting with buying and selling to providingmortgage services. They track expenses and provide reimbursements, and many offer language classes and cultural training for clients relocating overseas.
"Most of our clients are corporations," said Paul O'Leary, vice president of Move Management Center, a 40-year-old company that assists with the logistics of moving. "Corporations pay for more things than if a person is moving on their own."
Companies like Cartus can tap into a large network of real estate professionals. They dispatch Realtors who market homes aggressively. For the referral, the Realtor gives a portion of his or her commission (usually 25 percent to 35 percent) back to the relocation company.
But in these tough times, options may include the relocation company actually taking over mortgage payments from the homeowner — a last resort, to be sure.
Other strategies include a lump-sum program that has companies giving a certain amount of money to the employee to cover costs associated with the move, although how the money is allocated is up to the homeowner.
In the Greater Washington area, Mr. O'Leary said, many newly arrived residents start out renting, in part because both spouses often need jobs to qualify for homes, which often are priced higher than similar homes in the regions they are leaving.
Technology increasingly plays a role, and Cartus and other companies use it to assess the costs associated with moving individual employees.
"We do an analysis with our clients to help estimate the cost of a move," Mr. Keating said. "That can actually help companies determine who should be moved."
Not a corporate employee? You still can benefit from someone else's expertise by hiring a move manager. Summit Home Advantage offers cash back and vendor savings for its members, pairing homeowners with personal move managers. Leading Real Estate Companies of the World assists people who are buying or selling investment or vacation properties as well as those undertaking corporate transfers.
Relocation services also can help members of the military, who often are confronted by a specialized set of challenges when they get their permanent change of station, or PCS, orders.
"Often one spouse has to do the house hunting," said Margaret Woda, a Realtor and associate broker at Long & Foster's Crofton, Md., office. "It can be very overwhelming, and there can be a real communications issue if you're not equipped with the latest technology."
In the Greater Washington area, Realtors like Ms. Woda, who was a military wife herself, can help ease and even speed the relocation process.
"I've been there, done that," Ms. Woda said. "I know what people have to go through."
In one case, she had to find a mortgage lender who could process the transaction in three days for a service member relocating from California.
These days, there is even another wrinkle: Service members who purchased their homes during the housing boom often find they owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth. Meanwhile, income requirements for those who expect to purchase in the Greater Washington area mean that both spouses may have to find a job, something the nonmilitary spouse may have difficulty doing in today's tight job market.
Some service members can take advantage of the Department of Defense's Housing Assistance Program (HAP), designed for members of the military who have received their PCS orders while upside-down on their mortgage.
"If you meet that criteria, you can sell without going through the short-sale process," Ms. Woda said.
While military personnel face their own challenges when it comes to relocating, for seniors who are moving, there are still more factors to consider.
"This can be the hardest kind of relocation," said Mr. Stewart, who has a Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation. "You are leaving a home you've lived in for 35 to 40 years and going into a home that is one-third or one-half the size. You have to decide what you can realistically take with you."
To that end, he offers a guide for seniors, "Rightsizing Guide 2012," available from his website (www.pointingyouhome.com). It offers advice on figuring out the advantages and disadvantages of the current living situation, getting the most for the property, dealing with home inspections and, most important, winnowing down decades' worth of possessions to fit into the new space.
Sometimes moving can be the best choice. After all, why live in a place where you are heating and cooling and paying taxes on spaces you don't use?
"You don't want to be in a situation where the home owns the person more than the person owns the home," Mr. Stewart said.
In addition to seniors, Mr. Stewart also provides services for military and nonmilitary homeowners, finding movers, setting up contractors and even vetting a Realtor for the home purchase on the other end if the homeowners are moving out of the area.
Meanwhile, companies such as Senior Relocation USA work directly with retirement villages and communities to help get seniors out of their current homes and into new ones. That can be especially difficult now, given the state of the market.
"Most seniors haven't bought or sold a house for years," said Rick Hunsicker, president and founder of Senior Relocation USA and its associated website, SellingSeniorLiving.com. "They need help to get their homes sold."
The most difficult part can be selling seniors on actually making the sale. Many often think their homes are worth far more than they will bring.
"It may take 10 years for housing prices to go back up, and in some older neighborhoods, they may never go back up," Mr. Hunsicker said. "That can be difficult to swallow for a senior who has already paid off his mortgage."
After receiving a heart transplant in 2007, Mr. Hunsicker decided to focus his energies on senior relocation and came up with a marketing plan that would ease the process for those moving into retirement communities.
It begins with a relocation manager, who provides a referral to two area Realtors with expertise in home selling. From there, it is up to the homeowner or family member to opt for the person who has put together the best package. The relocation manager continues to shepherd the senior through the process of selling, connecting regularly with the real estate agent to ensure the home is marketed as aggressively as possible. The manager also will provide senior move managers who can help with organization and decluttering.
The service costs the seniors nothing; in fact, they receive a percentage of the Realtor's commission upon the home's sale.
"Many seniors don't do anything, and it costs them," said Mr. Hunsicker, who will be making a presentation, "What Seniors Need to Know Today," at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg on Oct. 24. "They stay in the house until something happens and they end up in assisted living. We want to help them get educated."
Seniors or their family members who are ready to move — but not necessarily ready to move into a retirement community — also can contract with a move management service, such as Graceful Transitions in Frederick, Md. The 4-year-old company provides assistance for seniors that can minimize the stress associated with moving.
"We come up with a road map for the move," said Donna Eichelberger, senior living specialist and senior move manager at Graceful Transitions.
Graceful Transitions helps seniors and their adult children through each stage of the moving process, including decluttering, supervising packing and loading, and unpacking boxes once the move is made. (Movers must be hired separately, although the company can provide referrals.)
The website also features an interactive flow chart to give seniors some help in deciding what to keep.
By Elaine Donnelly
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