It’s not easy helping your parent move from the home where she’s accumulated so many memories—and so much stuff! I speak from experience, as my sister and I just helped my mother sell the home where she had lived nearly half her life.
My mother’s decision to sell her home coincided with her 90th birthday. This was the place where she raised a family, hosted family gatherings, and cared for my father when he became ill.
After my father died, we weren’t sure how long my mom would want to live alone. We sometimes asked if she wanted to sell her home, and for many years, the answer was no. We were okay with that, since she regularly had friends in for coffee and was still able to drive herself wherever she wanted to go.
But then her COPD worsened, and she couldn’t get out like she used. She was finally ready to sell, and we sprung into action to make it happen. We learned a lot during the pre-sale and sale process. Here is some advice to help others who are going through the same process.
It’s Mom’s Decision
It’s important to note that the decision to sell was purely my mom’s. My siblings and I never pressured her. We knew she valued her independence and also had an attachment to the place she lived for so many years, but the day arrived when the house was more of a burden than a pleasure—and I think she also realized that her family was constantly worrying about her living alone.
While my mom opted to take my sister up on her invitation to move in with her, many in similar situations decide to move into assisted living. The key is that the parent, not the adult children, needs to be the ultimate decision-maker. Sometimes there are objections to assisted living. Therefore, it’s important to have regular conversations with the parent about why living alone is no longer advisable—whether it’s the difficulty of maintaining the home, the possibility of social isolation, or for reasons of safety and wellbeing.
In the case of financial objections, here’s some good news: Experts are saying that it’s a great time for seniors to sell their homes. Home prices are outpacing the costs of senior living, which is encouraging for those who have stayed in their home because they’re unsure if they can afford other options.
Have a Dumpster Day
Making the decision to sell is only step one. Then comes the strenuous step of getting the house ready to sell. The first thing we did was rent a roll-off dumpster to dispose of the superfluous stuff that had accumulated in my mom’s basement. About a dozen family members—adult children, son-in-laws, adult grandchildren, and grandchildren-in-law—gathered for the big clean-out day.
My mom participated by giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to what she wanted to keep or throw away. She also decided what items she wanted to take to her new home—her bedroom set, her TV set, her coffeemaker, her favorite cooking pot, and of course, photos and keepsakes. The family divvied up the remaining furniture and housewares. Fortunately, there were no arguments. There was give-and-take on all sides, and we all walked away with some nice mementos from our mother’s/grandmother’s home.
Upgrade for Resale
After Dumpster Day, we immediately started sprucing up the home for resale. Two of my mom’s grandsons-in-law took on the chores of painting, new flooring installation, and household repairs. We also had some major plumbing work done—and it definitely paid to get several bids. The difference between the high and low bids was nearly $3,000, or double the price of the entire job.
My mom moved out while the work was going on. Because of her COPD, we didn’t want her to be around the sanding, painting, or overall disruption in her home. We showed her photos of the work in progress—and we drove her over to see the final results. It was her house, after all, and we wanted her to feel part of the process.
Finding an Agent
There are many criteria for selecting a real estate agent, but I think the most important is to pick someone who has good rapport with you and your parent. The agent we selected was knowledgeable and professional, but she was also warm and respectful toward our mom. She gave us great advice about what cosmetic changes to make to the home, and she staged the home beautifully—bringing in lamps, bedding, and linens to make everything look cozy and inviting.
The day of our first showing, she worked alongside me, cleaning windows and sweeping the kitchen floor. Her “above-and-beyond” efforts paid off—the house was under contract within a week of going on the market.
Prepare for Inspections
If you think the work is over once the house is under contract, that’s definitely not the case. There were several inspections required, and this gave us a whole new round of repairs to complete. We had to drive over to the house regularly to let in inspectors and workers. Eventually we got smart and had a lockbox put on the back door—separate from the real estate agent’s lockbox on the front—so workers could let themselves into the home without us having to run over there so often.
My mother paid for much of the work with money from a mutual fund, and we also put some purchases on a credit card with the understanding they would be paid off once the proceeds from the sale were in her bank account.
Prepare to Close
As I write this, the house has not yet closed, but we’ve already set up power of attorney in case my mom’s health prevents her from attending the closing. We recommend preparing in advance for closing day, anticipating what you’ll need so the day goes smoothly.
And finally, prepare for tears! Helping a loved one sell a home—especially if you once lived there yourself—is a busy but emotional time. There’s some sadness in giving up the home where our mother lived for so many years, but helping her prepare for the next chapter in life brings major joy as well.