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New-Home Sales and Navigating the 3 D’s: Death, Divorce, and Downsizing

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Sales + Marketing

New-Home Sales and Navigating the 3 D’s: Death, Divorce, and Downsizing

Here’s how home sales experts manage challenging lifestyle changes with and for their buyers

By Julie Lascolette April 13, 2024
Homeowner looking at a split house due to death or divorce
For buyers who are purchasing a home during difficult life circumstances, such as the “3 D’s” of divorce, death, and downsizing, your sales team can help in navigating decision-making, ultimately ensuring a smoother, less stressful transition for buyers into their new homes. | Image: generated using Adobe Firefly AI
This article first appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Pro Builder.

In new-home sales, the homebuying journey for prospects is often marked by joyous life events and new household formations, including newlyweds purchasing their first home, growing families moving up for more space, and those seizing a new career opportunity. But we also see buyers purchasingPB+ extra digital content homes out of necessity due to difficult life circumstances, such as the “3 D’s” of divorce, death, and downsizing. 

Here’s what several new-home sales experts have to say about navigating those challenging life events with homebuyers.

New-Home Sales Experts Should Lead With Empathy and Understanding

Home builders acknowledge that working with buyers facing one or more of the 3 D’s requires a heightened level of compassion and flexibility. While many of the core customer-service principles remain the same, such as allowing buyers to set the pace of interactions and offering advisory guidance where appropriate, the sales team can also provide more targeted support throughout the homebuying journey when they are informed that a buyer is going through a major life transition.

“Purchasing a new home is one of the most emotionally charged and stressful things a person can do. But doing it with these challenges requires more guidance, patience, and empathy from sales teams than a typical contract experience,” says Dawn McGraw, community sales manager for Atlantic Builders, in Fredericksburg, Va. “I’ve worked with widows who have never gone through the homebuying process alone, and they feel overwhelmed and sad about what is usually a joyous occasion.”


For various reasons, buyers experiencing a 3 D’s life event are often more hesitant to purchase a home. A divorcee may feel guilty for moving the children out of their existing home, while a widow could be nervous to start the next chapter of life alone. 

The key is for the sales team to help buyers navigate decision-making with confidence, ultimately ensuring a smoother, less stressful transition into their new homes.

Tap Into Extra Resources for Clients Going Through the Three D's

New-home advisors are encouraged to be extra accommodating for clients experiencing a 3 D’s event to help ensure buyers feel more comfortable throughout the homebuying journey

While sales associates are not expected to understand the financial or legal nuances of divorce or estate matters, they can tap into a network of resources to support buyers in other ways. For example, downsizing is cited as one of the most stressful, overwhelming challenges buyers face, and it often makes them reluctant to move. Sales advisors can offer recommendations for local professional home organizers to facilitate the downsizing process. 

Or, perhaps a buyer needs to sell the belongings of a deceased loved one before buying a new home. New-home specialists can also recommend reputable estate-sale companies to handle the process. 

“Each of our buyers is unique. We need to listen and ask questions to get to the root of what’s important to them,” says Michele Pasquantino, market manager at Drees Homes, in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “We can help paint a picture of the next chapter and what is available. We can call a loan officer to answer special questions or ask the design center if they can customize certain designs for special needs. Listening, learning, and extending our resources goes a long way, especially with these types of buyers.”

One of the best ways sales advisors can directly support the homebuying process is by sharing current incentives and financing options, showing the different floor plan types, and informing buyers about community features. 

Offer Homebuyers More Flexible Home Designs 

In today’s ever-changing housing market, builders and developers are offering more diverse floor plans and different types of communities. The trends now include single-level living, 55-plus or active-adult communities, and build-to-rent homes and neighborhoods. 

Builders with more home design options are better suited to assist buyers in transitional situations. For example, Lakeside at Trappe, a master planned community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is offering single-family homes and townhouses to buy or rent. The collaboration between property management company Allen & Rocks and home builder Brookfield Residential provides a best-case scenario for both companies because they capture a wider demographic of potential residents by having various floor plans and financing options available.

“We give people who have just been through a significant life event a chance to ease in and try before their next major financial commitment,” says Calvin Farmer, Lakeside at Trappe’s community manager for Allen & Rocks. “Renters who eventually want to purchase a home within the community are even allowed to terminate their lease early.” 

Single-level living and main-level living are appealing floor plan options for downsizers because they reduce maintenance chores and expenses, lower utility costs, and enable greater accessibility. Both detached and attached homes of this style are becoming increasingly popular, and builders in 55-plus communities frequently offer them for that demographic. 

“In my experience, 55-plus buyers are looking for smaller square footage overall, with daily necessities on one level, such as their kitchen, laundry room, living room, and primary suite,” says Debora Flora, community sales manager at Miller & Smith, in Vienna, Va.

In addition to smaller home sizes and lower maintenance, dedicated age-restricted communities also often offer structured activities, social events, and various amenities for residents to enjoy. Builders noted that the 55-plus demographic also tends to experience the 3 D’s more frequently. 

It’s important to note that buyers still want the bells and whistles, even in a smaller space. “People are looking to downsize but not downgrade,” says Mary Bishop, a new-home counselor with Brookfield Residential. “Many buyers are seeking upgraded finishes and high-end appliances that make a new house feel like home.”

Working with a buyer experiencing a 3 D’s event is both challenging and rewarding for new-home sales advisors and it requires heightened sensitivity and patience. As buyers embark on the transition to their next chapter, your sales team can play a pivotal role in making that journey easier and more enjoyable. 

Julie LascoletteJulie Lascolette is account manager-real estate at Bcene PR and has more than a decade of experience in the housing industry, as well as in the commercial, mixed-use, and retail sectors. 


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