Here are some tips for nearly anyone considering moving after a long time in one place, but especially for those 55 and older.
Honor the emotions. Sue Milbourne, a senior staff therapist with the Council on Relationships in Paoli, said this move "is one of the final moves, and that is what trips people up emotionally."
Fears about a loss of job, loss of identity, or loss of roles often emerge as tensions between couples facing a later-in-life move.
"They start sniping and being short with each other instead of sitting with the sadness, or loss, or fear, or whatever emotion might be underneath all of this," Milbourne said.
"When couples make this move, it's really important for them to use this opportunity to get to know each other and to listen - if one person is mourning the past, if the woman is mourning what the house meant to her, for example. Often men don't have a lot of patience with that. And that's a mistake. It's really important to let that mourning happen."
Virginia Harris, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Preferred in Wayne, encourages her clients to take steps to honor all of the emotions tied into a family home - creating a scrapbook or throwing a goodbye party for the house, for example.
Tap home equity. Take out a home-equity loan before putting the house on the market. "You don't have to ever use it," Harris said. But a home-equity loan can be used for a deposit to secure a desired new home and take it off the market. When the house is sold, any loans against the house, including a home-equity loan, must be repaid.
"It's important to plan the transition from a financial perspective, carefully," Harris said. "If your house is on the market, banks won't give you a [home-equity] line of credit. They know the length of the loan under which they will recoup their investment is going to be very short."
Get out of the house. Move out before the house goes on the market, if possible. "It's better for seniors, to keep them comfortable and away from the situation," said Dianne Krause, a Bryn Mawr real estate agent with Prudential Fox & Roach. "It's also good for a buyer who can envision the house, try it on, without all of the seniors' memories in there."
When to get advice. If planning to use a real estate agent, contact him or her early in the decision making.
"Very often, I start working with senior clients two or three years before they decide to make a move," Krause said. "This way, we can address things at the home, do some work on it prior to their leaving. We can address the clutter issue, and I can give them advice on what they can change themselves, so you don't leave everything to the very last minute."
If you're a pet owner. Pet owners take heart, but read the fine print.
Harris notes that older homeowners often balk at selling their home because they wrongly think their relocation options won't allow them to keep their pets.
Every condominium, apartment building, townhouse and 55-plus community has its own, sometimes "picayune," rules about pets - from the number of pets permitted, type and even weight, she said. Some have outright bans; others are very open to pets.
But pet owners should not be discouraged from trying to move. "It may take a little while, and you might have to wait to get into a particular community," Harris said, "but you do have options."
Check all fees and taxes. Evaluate the impact of all fees and taxes when considering a move.
When moving into a managed community or a condominium, Harris said, "you really are juggling three numbers to determine the cost of a property: the sale price, the condominium or homeowner's fees, and taxes."
Caroline Lang, an agent in Prudential Fox & Roach's Pike Creek office in New Castle County, Del., said her clients liked Delaware's low taxes, even though there were 55-plus options just across the line in Pennsylvania.
(Delaware has no sales tax and offers a Senior School Property Tax Credit in some districts.) But Lang notes, "If you are retired, Pennsylvania doesn't tax your pensions, your IRAs. So if you are retired, it's not that big of a [tax] difference."
Harris encourages clients to talk to their accountant. "It can make a difference," she said.
But she concedes that "people are totally irrational about taxes. . . . I have people who will pay $100,000 more for a house in order to get taxes that are $2,000 less a year. They say, 'I'm not giving my money to the government. I'd rather have it in my house.' "