Mom had difficulty sleeping the night after first meeting with the realtor. She had known for years that she needed to get out of her home due to ongoing yard and home maintenance issues that now exceed her capacities (and interests). But contemplating the sheer amount of work involved in the project coupled with the emotional impact of leaving her home of five decades left Mom feeling overwhelmed.
A couple of days later we began the process of boxing up stuff and moving furniture to a storage unit. The realtor had explained that selling a home in a declining real estate market requires some different strategies than selling in an appreciating market — which is roughly the kind of market we had for two decades straight before it crashed.
First, we were told to remove all wall hangings and any non-fixed items that give the home personality, including religious icons and family photos. Next we were to take all furniture out of the house that Mom could live without for 90 days. We could leave essentials along with a few pieces that went against walls without taking much floor space.
The concept behind these measures is that the average homebuyer in a declining market is seeking to move up from something smaller, perhaps an apartment. Taking things out of the home makes it look larger. Removing things that give the home personality allows prospective buyers to ‘paint themselves into a somewhat empty canvas.’
The third element was to price the home just right. Realtors got used to overpricing homes when the market was appreciating. If you didn’t sell a home right away, you’d sell it a few months later when the market caught up to the asking price.
In a declining market it becomes difficult to reach the going market rate if you price the property too high at the outset. The longer the home remains on the market, the greater the disparity between the asking price and the market value. As the home fails to sell, the owner often drops the price every couple of months without ever catching up to the market.
For this reason, the realtor explained that it’s best to sell a home rapidly when the market is declining. He had done his homework. He laid out his case for pricing the home. But he also explained that if they didn’t see serious buyer interest within 10 days, it was a clear sign that we were asking too much.
After the initial work party, we continued to make trips to the storage unit with additional boxes and items. So the home looked fairly open by the time the first customers came to look.
Mom had a serious offer seven days after the realtor’s sign went up in front of the home. The prospective buyer was pre-qualified for the loan. That meant that everything could go pretty quickly.
We had a couple of weeks to consider options. During that time, Mom looked at a series of homes. She had considered moving to a location that was more centrally located to her various children. She found a lovely home in that area. But after much thought, she felt that it would ultimately be best to live closer to the area with which she is already familiar.
We then looked at every home in the target area that had a chance of meeting Mom’s criteria. Alas, none of them was quite right for Mom. As the date for moving out neared, Mom decided to temporarily stay with a family friend so that she could look for a new home at a more relaxed pace.
We had the final moving out party scheduled for last Saturday. Unfortunately, Mom’s older sister passed away earlier that week and the funeral was scheduled for Saturday. So we moved stuff on Friday. Some family members took time off work for that event.
During the week, several friends and family members had spent days working at Mom’s house boxing things up. In the evenings after work, I would go over and haul the boxes to the storage unit. This made the final moving event a little easier, as we were mainly left with appliances and larger pieces of furniture.
As it happened, that Friday was one of the hottest days of the year. We worked like the dickens to move stuff to the storage unit. One of the big jobs was clearing out the shed. We had concentrated on getting stuff out of the house over the previous month, but we had left the outside shed until the last moment.
Still, within seven hours, the home was cleared out. Everyone relinquished their keys to the place. We placed the keys on the kitchen counter, locked the door for the last time, and left the home where I had grown up.
I had expected to feel some kind of separation anxiety myself as we drove away from the home. Oddly, that didn’t happen. I guess I had already gone through that during the process of moving Mom out over the space of a month. I felt only the relief of a hard task finally being finished.
Mom hasn’t gone looking for homes for the past week. She wanted to give that a rest for a while. She will get back to house hunting soon.
On the plus side, this is a buyer’s market. On the downside, the home that meets all of Mom’s criteria doesn’t exist in the real world. Nor could it be built, since some of Mom’s desires conflict with each other. Mom will have to compromise with herself before she can settle on a new residence.
Frankly, I do not look forward to moving Mom into a new place. I look at the stuff in the storage unit and think to myself that there is no rational reason that a single person of Mom’s age should have even a third of that stuff. But it will all have to be moved out and handled.
Some of the stuff (probably a lot more than should) will go to Mom’s new place. Some will be sold. Some will be given away. And some will be thrown out. That is going to be a big project. The emotional attachment to things will make it harder than necessary. But perhaps having lived without some of these things for a while will allow Mom to realize which items she really needs and which she can live without.