Buying a home is, perhaps, one of the most personal transactions you’ll ever undertake. How, then, can you help someone else find the home that’s just right for them—especially if they are unable to help with in-person input? Whether you’re helping your elderly parents relocate to a retirement community or helping an out-of-town friend relocate to your area, you’ll need to keep in mind some strategies for keeping the lines of communication open all the way to the closing table.
Define your level of involvement
It can be easy to get carried away when looking for a home for someone else. After all, you’re the one with boots on the ground, putting in the time and effort. Surely your opinion matters, right? Well, yes and no.
It’s important to understand upfront what the expectations are during the home shopping process. Your out-of-town friend may simply want a set of in-person eyes on the home they’re considering, while your elderly parents may want someone to conduct every element of the transaction, including acting as a proxy at closing. It’s important to communicate the expectations on both sides in order to avoid problems down the road.
Listen more than you speak
In order to ensure that you are on the same page, you’ll need to make sure that you are truly listening to your out-of-town friend or relative. While you will no doubt have plenty to say about the homes you’re seeing and the process as a whole, they are the ones who’ll be living there, so their input takes priority. Ask questions often during your conversations and really listen to the answers, making notes if necessary to jog your memory.
Prioritize their wish list
You may not be able to find everything on the buyer’s wish list, so it’s important to understand which items are must-haves and which ones are nice-to-haves. Talk through the elements that are most important to ensure that you have an accurate sense of which features are true deal-breakers. After that, put the remaining wish list items in order of their importance to the buyer, factoring in the possibility of adjusting or adding some items after closing.
Focus on mobility issues
For elderly family members, mobility will probably be one of the primary reasons that they are moving. You’ll want to gravitate towards single-story living spaces and concentrate on accessible entrances and exits along with safe and stable bathroom fixtures.
Look for walk-in or step-in showers, seated tubs, non-slip surfaces, and grab bars. If spaces have not been optimized for safety, consider talking to a handyman or contractor to determine what adjustments can be made and what they will cost.
Consider transportation requirements
Similarly, you’ll need to consider the transportation needs of the buyer when determining both location and amenities. For a friend who is relocating for work, pay special attention to the commute they’ll face once they move to the home. If possible, drive their commuting route during the times they are most likely to be traveling so that you can get a sense of the volume of traffic and the time involved.
For elderly relatives, you may need to ensure that there is ample transportation available if they are no longer able to drive themselves. Public transportation, walkability, and other factors may make all the difference in how much your elderly family member will enjoy their new home and how it will function for them. If you will be their primary caregiver, you will also need to factor in how long it will take you to reach them in the event of an accident, illness, or emergency.
Understand their financial situation
While it can be difficult to talk about money, you’ll need to understand the buyer’s financial situation in order to know how much wiggle room you have on price and purchase terms. Do they have plenty of money to put down but need to minimize monthly expenses? Do they have limited funds upfront but can afford a larger mortgage payment? Do they need to stick to a strict budget or are they open to adjusting their numbers? Don’t assume anything but ask questions about finances when appropriate and necessary.
Optimize your communication platforms
You may go into a long-distance house hunt planning to Facetime your parents or send them videos, only to find out that they struggle with technology. You may think that photos are enough for your friend who’s relocating, but they are expecting a video walkthrough.
Understanding how the buyer prefers to see and receive information, and what mobile apps or social media platforms they are comfortable with, will go a long way toward keeping them in the loop and easing communication throughout the process.
Be sensitive to the emotions involved
Your elderly parents may feel a loss of control and lash out at the decisions you’re making. Your long-distance friend may be grieving the loss of his or her current home. While you’re excited about the decisions you’re making and the changes ahead, the buyer may be struggling with a complex range of emotions. Make sure that you are listening and picking up on cues that may be subtle but indicate sadness, frustration, or anxiety about the move they’re making.
Work with trusted professionals
It is vital that you find a trusted local lender, closing attorney, and real estate professional to facilitate the process, streamline communications, and help both you and the buyer understand important issues and aspects of the home purchase. Remember, a real estate agent has a fiduciary duty to their client, so their focus will be on finding the best home possible with excellent terms at a price that works.
By communicating with a professional team, along with your out-of-town friend or elderly relative, you’ll ensure that you get the advice you—and they—need and deserve at every step of the transaction.