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By: Patricia Ann Chaffee

Deb FountainDeb FountainThe loss of a loved one is without a doubt, one of the most tumultuous, life altering experiences we ever have. Our equilibrium is shattered and our very foundation can shift. Perhaps one of the greatest questions that comes up is what to do about our homes. While some folks feel called to make changes in their living situation right away, others need more time and years later still cannot manage changes for fear of losing memories of people and times gone by. Without careful discernment, mistakes can happen and fixing those mistakes is no easy task. 

There is no question that making changes to your living situation is a big move regardless of the timing, and getting the professional help of the right Realtor can be priceless. It is important to find someone who is sensitive to your situation.

Deb Fountain: The right realtor helps you emotionally and financially

Deb Fountain is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. Her experience in the field since 2001 has given her the opportunity to fine tune that sensitivity that is essential to a harmonious transition. “It’s important to stay true to who you are in response to time frame,” says Deb. “There are always people around widow/ers who have advice, but it has to be when you are ready.”

She recommends seeking out a professional rather than relying on the well intentioned, albeit misguided advice of friends and family. They don’t always have the whole picture and the distance that a professional brings to the situation can go a long way in making the best decisions during a stressful time.

“The right Realtor can help you emotionally as well a financially,” she says, “as a partner to help coordinate the next step on the journey.”

To help discern if the time is right for a move, Deb suggests going out to look at properties of interest before committing to put your house on the market. See how you feel about it and while her clients are discerning, so is Deb, listening to comments to help her role as a guide during what can be an overwhelming process. Once the decision is made to put a home on the market, she suggests neutralizing it so that potential buyers can envision themselves there. Freshening up paint and storing or relocating personal items can help buyers accomplish this.

“It is emotional for both buyer and seller, a very personal experience. A house has to be neutral but homey, ready for the next set of buyers so they can write their own story.”

Luann Perkins: Take time to consider all options

Luann PerkinsLuann PerkinsLuann Perkins is a Realtor with Heritage Properties in Connecticut who recommends getting three different opinions of value when it’s time to sell your house. Think about how comfortable you are with each Realtor and choose someone you feel a connection with. Choose someone who you think will be willing to help facilitate some things that might ease the transition, like coordinating contractors if they are needed. You want someone who will go the extra mile for their client.

“If you care about people and understand their situation, you handle them with respect, understanding and empathy,” says Luann who has been in business 28 years. “You try to be helpful, understanding that they may be overwhelmed.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make is overpricing their home, according to Luann. They perceive added value of the property because of the emotional attachment that has developed over the years and in some cases, over a lifetime. If it’s priced well above market value, it could sit there a long time.

Another mistake sellers make is trying to sell the property, “as is.” “They don’t want to do any work. They don’t want to make any changes, but that’s part of letting go,” says Luann. “I’ll often suggest painting or re-sanding hardwood floors. But I think once they make that change they feel like it’s not theirs anymore. It will enable them to get more for their home. Without doing the work they end up getting less than they could have. ”

The first thing Luann does when she gets a call to list a property is to check to see whose name it’s in. If town records still reflect ownership in both names and one party has passed on, she knows the property has not cleared probate. Surprisingly, many people don’t know the property needs to go through probate and dealing with it later on in the transaction can delay closing. She refers them to their attorney or probate court for further direction.

Considerations for Buyers

But not all mistakes happen with sellers. Buyers also have their share of challenges and uncertainties in the real estate market. In one case an older client had a large home, nearly 2,000 square feet. Several years after his wife died, he decided to buy a much smaller house in a community with high maintenance fees. He had been thinking about downsizing for a long time and just as he was about to sign the contract he began to question how his kids might be effected by his decision. He thought that the smaller house would be more difficult for them to sell after he dies. LuAnn suggested that the bigger house was likely to take longer to sell and all the while, it would need to be maintained and cared for, taxes and the utility costs would be much higher. “Additionally, I like to think that most kids would have greater concern for their parent’s happiness and comfort while still on this earth than to worry about the headache after they’re gone. In that situation the question arose if the husband was just not quite ready to move on yet.”

“But how do you determine if they are ready?” asks Luann. “You can’t know until they go out and start looking. If road blocks keep preventing them from finding a place, it may be a good sign that it is not yet time. ”

In another situation, two high school sweethearts had built a family homestead. They raised two kids and were married 40 years when he died from cancer. While many people struggle to part with possessions in their home, this woman couldn’t get rid of things fast enough. About six months after her husband passed, she started going through the house cleaning out in a big way, giving things away to the first taker. What wasn’t taken got donated or thrown out. Fortunately a friend saw what was happening and salvaged many treasured items and kept them in her basement and years later was able to disperse things to the woman’s grown children. Eventually the woman bought a condo, hated it, and is now renting.

In another case, a daughter and son in law persuaded her widowed mother to use money from the sale of her house to buy some land and build a house on it, with the promise of an in-law apartment for the mother to live. The mother provided the down payment and together the three took out a construction loan mortgage. A second daughter had no knowledge of the transaction until after it was too late. Four or five years later Luann noticed the property was under foreclosure and sold. “The mother was probably very vulnerable at the time and the comfort of living in an apartment next her daughter may have sounded appealing. She also may have wanted to help her daughter, but it didn’t work out overall,” says Luann.

Moving into senior living communities in their various forms can also be a quandary for many. One of Luann’s clients was a widow and sold a larger home to move into a single ranch house within an over 55 community. The maintenance fees were astronomical and she realized she could be in her own traditional home and hire someone to do work and maintenance around the property for less than the cost of the senior community fees. She sold the house and bought a small ranch where she could be on her own and now hires someone to do the work that is needed.

“I think it takes a year to let emotions settle,” says Luann about folks who have lost a spouse or partner. “Even if you do sell your house, consider going into a rental. Think any move through very carefully.”

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