Seniors Real Estate Specialist

Realtor Joani Frankel is a Seniors Real Estate Specialist based in Sun City. Next month, she will celebrate the first anniversary of downsizing from her Scottsdale home of 37 years to her single-family home in Sun City and helps others with similar transitions.  

Photo by Leisah Woldoff

It was nearly a year ago that Joani Frankel moved out of her Scottsdale home of 37 years to relocate in the adult community of Sun City.

Before making the move, she looked at adult communities in Scottsdale that were “significantly more expensive for a much smaller property.” She made an offer on one, but it didn’t work out.

When she first saw her Sun City home, Frankel, a longtime Realtor, immediately knew that it was for her. “I sat down, and I told the agent that ‘The house is sold, so close your open house up.’ It just went on the market, and I wasn’t letting anybody else have it.”

Frankel has sold real estate in the Valley since 1978, after moving to Scottsdale from Toronto. She recently became certified as a Senior Real Estate Specialist, concentrating on adult communities in the metropolitan Phoenix area, especially the Sun Cities.  

“As some of my clients who I’ve become friends with would know, I would go and see a house and say, ‘I could live here.’ There are so many amazing properties, that I decided that it’s time to live here.”

Transition tips

She calls the move from her 2,400-square-foot home in Scottsdale to a 1,850-square foot home in Sun City “a whirlwind”and learned firsthand about the emotional aspect of downsizing.

She says she was lucky because close friends helped her with the transition. “They knew me well, we walked through the house, talked about what I was doing. We dealt with the emotions of the move.” They helped her decide what to take, what to sell and what to donate.  

“I learned so much,” she says. After asking her children if they wanted any of the items, she sold museum-quality pieces, antique china and silver and picked out the pieces of furniture that she wanted to take to her new home. After packing up her things, she also saved two crates of her two grown children’s belongings, which she put in storage.

For those who don’t have friends or family members available to help them with this transition, there are companies that help with senior relocation.

“I have collected resources that will help families do this,” she says. Companies such as Caring Transitions and Smooth Transitions “will arrange garage sales, estate sales. They’ll pack you up and help unpack you and get you settled.”

Finding the right home

There are five generations of adults buying homes, Frankel notes: Gen Y (born 1980-1995), Gen X (1965-1979), Younger Boomers (1955-1964), Old Boomers (1946-1954) and the Silent Generation (1925-1945).

Frankel’s certification as a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES), an official designation of the National Association of Realtors, means she is trained in meeting the needs of home buyers and sellers ages 50-plus.

These specialists are trained to become astute about the financial and emotional challenges senior clients face when they sell a long-held family home, according to sres.org. They can not only “create a customized approach to marketing and selling your property, but they also can work with you to explore your housing options to ensure that your next home best serves your current and future needs.”  

Frankel says that adult communities today include the oldest members of Gen X. Many people in that age group are buying second homes that will become their future retirement homes and others have large age gaps with their spouse.

Frankel says that in Sun City, she primarily sells to the boomers and the younger boomers. “In all my years out here selling real estate, only three times have I sold to anybody over 70.”

Housing in Sun City includes single family homes, duplexes, apartment-style/townhouses, single-level garden style, assisted living independent apartments, as well as full-service facilities such as nursing homes for those who require full-time care. In the community where Frankel lives, there are seven community centers – with gyms, indoor and outdoor pools, libraries and a variety of class offerings. A publication of Sun City recreation centers includes listings for bowling tournaments, golf tournaments, a concert series, an arts & crafts festival, classes, free movies, a farmer’s market, a community garden, and clubs for pickleball, quilters, sewing, art, dance, racquetball, card games, clay, gourmet food and volleyball.

“It’s a very active community,” Frankel says, which includes many like herself who are still working full-time.

 A SAFE place

“Aging in place is the ideal situation,” she says. “If you’re not having to have 24/7 care, you can just have a great lifestyle that gives you a little more protection, but allows you to have your independence.”

Frankel says that there are some important factors to consider regarding aging in place, whether somebody is staying in their own home, moving to a new home or moving into a retirement facility.  

She describes this criteria by using the acronym SAFE to summarize important things to look for when considering a new residence and/or community.

S-Safe: Safe means you need to be able to avoid physical risk in your own home and to make sure the neighborhood is a safe neighborhood.

A-Access: Do you have access to friends or family and do you have access to resources that are important to you without a car?  

F-Fit: Does your home fit what your physical needs are? Can you maintain it and do you have the support to maintain it? (For example, does the community offer somebody who can help hang pictures or provide basic maintenance?)

E-Ease of use: Can your home accommodate a walker or a wheelchair? Many of the homes built in retirement communities have hallways wide enough to allow for a wheelchair to turn and a doorway wide enough for a wheelchair. Other examples are low light switches for those in wheelchairs and levers instead of doorknobs, which are easier to use if somebody has arthritis.

“These are all things to be considered,” Frankel says.

There are companies that can help evaluate a house and provide ideas to make necessary modifications, she says.

Examples include changing a sink to a wheel-in sink or adding a seat to the bathtub. “Bringing somebody to come in and give you ideas that are moderately priced that can help you stay in your home longer,” Frankel says. “You can find simple modifications that don’t cost a fortune.”

She also says she often discourages the purchase of a two-story house if home buyers are a certain age.

“Anytime I sell a house to anybody over 45, and they think I’m crazy, ‘If you’re buying a two-story,’ I say, ‘make sure your main floor has a bathroom and a bedroom, because either you may need it at a later date without having somebody to help you or you are incapable of doing stairs at a later date,’” she says. “If you think this is your forever home, you want to be able to live in it.”

She also provides information about resources that her clients may need, such as transportation.

“I’m not just a Realtor,” she says. “My job is actually to be an advocate and a trusted resource. I don’t just list houses or sell houses, it’s more relationship creating. I always did in standard real estate, but it’s a different market. If you don’t understand who you’re dealing with and what the needs are, you can get lost, absolutely lost.”

One example is a recommendation she makes to people living alone: The Vial of Life. This kit includes a document with information that would be helpful to first responders in an emergency. The forms include information about medications, illnesses, emergency contacts, languages spoken, insurance details, whether hearing or seeing devices are needed and pet information. The forms are put in a vial and kept in a plastic sandwich bag on the refrigerator door. Then, a matching decal goes on the front door so emergency personnel will know that the information is available inside.  

Creating community

After moving to Sun City, Frankel, 69, says she created a whole new community for herself. “I have met amazing people.”

She joined two country clubs as a social member, calling them a “great place for dinner, to hang out, have cocktails with my friends and meet people.”

“I’m much more social here because I’m part of a new community where many of us are part of a new community.”

Frankel markets her business around the world through her website, myphxazhomes.com, and she says many people have bought houses sight unseen. For instance, she recently sold a property to a couple from London who have homes in different countries “and they just wanted a little golf condo here.”

When she is helping her clients find a home, she says the process is very personalized.

“I’m a people person. I love what I do and for me it’s constantly solving a puzzle and that’s what my mind needs. I need to have a challenge. And each person, each family, each situation is completely different so it allows me to be creative.”

Contact Joani Frankel, 602-919-1256 or joani@realtor.com, or visit myphxazhomes.com.