On the Other Foot

When to Relinquish the Reigns

While ascertaining the competency of your potential borrower could be a bit sticky, exponentially more challenging is turning this searchlight inward and asking, “Is it time for me to consider retiring?”

Just as elders don’t want to give up the car keys that signify independence, recognizing it may be time to stop working can be particularly difficult for those who are self-employed, even more so if you work with a vulnerable class of people such as seniors seeking a reverse mortgage. To put it plainly: how and when should a loan officer relinquish the reins?

A HECMWorld reader posed this inquiry: “How do you gracefully stop doing business with someone who has become too old to continue doing a good job for you? How can you prevent losing a long-lasting friendship because you know they are not the right person to do the job?

“We are facing this problem now in selling a deceased relative’s house. A family friend who is in her late 70s, not in the best of health, and almost deaf (even with hearing aids) wants the listing. She has only sold three properties in the first half of this year, versus a Realtor who is number 1 in town and has closed over 50 deals in the same timeframe.”

Telling the truth with heart

This is a blockbuster question. At issue are not only the real estate professional’s feelings, but her competency, the delicate matter of age, and the fact that she’s a longtime friend and not simply a business associate.

Lisa Genova, the author of Still Alice, the gripping novel about early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, wrote a Huffington Post essay describing the day a casual acquaintance asked how she was, and instead of replying, “Good,” she told the devastating truth: “I just asked my husband for a divorce, and I’m so scared.” From this raw admission grew a strong friendship with a woman who not only had been there and could mentor Genova through a difficult transition but who matched Genova’s honesty with her own. Genova emphasizes that had she responded with a glib answer, this dear friend would still be a casual acquaintance, and Genova would be struggling through her divorce alone. Telling the truth from her heart made the difference.

Of course, a chasm lies between telling the truth about one’s own life, however painful, and telling a difficult truth to someone else about their life. One way to approach the subject is to help a business colleague (whether or not they are also a friend) recognize and acknowledge a limitation that affects their ability to serve clients.

For instance, the LO whose real estate agent friend has hearing loss might comment about how hearing loss is becoming a huge problem as the number of older people grows, mentioning how challenging this can make working with reverse mortgage prospects who either don’t realize they have a hearing problem, or don’t want to acknowledge it. If the real estate agent references her own hearing impairment, it would then be appropriate to wonder whether this could be having an effect on her ability to show houses and interact with clients.

A long, clear look

Some mature workers choose to retire rather than try to keep pace with technology. Sally Shelburne, 73, decided to relinquish her job as a lecturer at the National Gallery of Art. Though she holds a doctorate in modern art, is eminently qualified and still able to do her job well, she chose to retire rather than learn ever-evolving technologies. (To be balanced, 74-year-old Joan Sotkin was an Internet early adopter, and continues to maintain a thriving virtual business at 74.)

The media has also gotten into the Third Act. In a new intergenerational comedy, The Intern, 72-year-old Robert De Niro plays a retired executive who signs up for a “senior” internship to get back in the game — and whose business expertise and endearing personality win the hearts of his much younger colleagues. Yes, it’s Hollywood, though Tinseltown does have its collective finger on the pulse of later life reinvention.

It behooves all of us, especially those who are self-employed and/or in service professions, to think about a time when we might need to let go of daily involvement in the business, or perhaps remove ourselves from client-facing interaction and reimagine our role. While some people stay healthy, active, and working well into their eighties and even nineties, these are still the exceptions. Taking a long, clear look at yourself as you grow older is one of the best gifts you can give to the seniors you serve.


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