Selling Mom and Dad’s Home

Lara McHenry
Published on November 5, 2018

Selling Mom and Dad’s Home

One of life’s most challenging aspects is watching our parents age. Then comes the day when you, and they, realize they’ve lost their physical independence.

Whether they are downsizing into a smaller, less maintenance-intensive home or are moving in with you or to a care home, giving up a long-loved home is wrenching.

Thankfully, they have you, and you have me, and I have tips to help your parent or parents — and you — through this tough time.

I have worked with families selling their belongings through estate sales, probate attorney’s handling the requirements of a will and brothers and sisters up in arms and in disagreement about everything, and most importantly, I understand how hard it is on every level, no matter who you are in the procedure.

Get legal advice

You may be required to use the proceeds of the sale to pay for your parents’ care if they will be moving to an assisted living facility or long-term care facility and will require Medicaid to pay for their care.

Speak with your attorney early in the process to learn about the complex aspects of selling an elderly parent’s home.

Line up some labor

Cleaning out a family home is a huge job so don’t try to tackle this alone. If you have siblings, enlist their help. In fact, insist on it, it is actually better if everyone is present and everyone has a say collectively about what to keep and what needs to be donated or sold. Later on, you will all be glad you made the effort to be a part of the process.

Not only will you need their muscle but having family around may help ease your parents’ transition as well.

Otherwise, hire some help. Visit the neighbors to let them know what’s happening and ask for a referral to local manual laborers or call me and I will enlist the help of people in my vast network of Real Estate contacts. Who knows? They may volunteer to help.

Hire a real estate agent

It may seem that it’s too early in the process to hire a listing agent, but I disagree, and here’s why.

Your agent should see the home before you start moving things out of it. Advice on what to leave for staging purposes is invaluable.

Ask for tips on whether to paint, replace carpet and other updates that will make the home more attractive to potential buyers, after all the goal is to maximize the ability to sell and to put proceeds to care for parents or to finalize the estate proceedings.

Your agent will also be able to refer you to an estate sale company (if needed to help get rid of belongings), cleaners, painters and more.

Hiring an agent early in the process also allows Mom and Dad to get to know the agent and feel more comfortable about the sale process if that is relevant.

Move first, then sell

Because it’s so important for the homeowner not to be present during buyer showings, most experienced real estate agents will counsel you to move your parents before putting the home on the market.

If they need the equity from the current home to move, however, come up with another solution. Perhaps they can stay with you or a sibling until the home sells. I have found that it also helps parents stay emotionally detached from the sale of their longtime home if they are not seeing people coming through the home.

It’s time to purge

Purging a lifetime of belongings (and memories) will be the most challenging aspect of downsizing for your parents. What to keep, what to get rid, of will be decisions not easily made.

“ … the problem isn’t denial, but rather, the extraordinary difficulty associated with giving up items that are so closely linked to their identities, their past and their memories,” claims Sarah J. Stevenson at APlaceforMom.com.

It’s not really the items, it’s the memories attached to them

One way to ease your parents’ reluctance is to promise them that you will photograph everything they decide to get rid of and place the photos in a lovely scrapbook that they can take with them to their new home.

Or, if they prefer, you can video their cherished-but-leaving items. This way, they’ll still be able to refresh those memories.

Still, unless the parent is suffering from dementia, it’s important to allow him or her to take the lead in the purge. Yes, it will be slow-going, but it’s important that, in the future, they don’t look back and feel they were railroaded into getting rid of certain items.

Gather family members together to go through your parents’ purge pile. As one elderly woman in an online forum stated, “It is SO much better to know cherished family things will continue on.” I have found that parents really want their children to have some of their precious items, I think it is a good idea to ask Mom or Dad why the items are meaningful as then you will understand and also associate the item with the memory your parent shared.

Have conversations with Mom about these items and the stories behind them. This helps ease her anxiety and lets her know that the memories associated with the items will live on. No matter what it is a tough endeavor but you do not have to do it alone.

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