When It's Time to Sell Your Loved One's Home
A typical day for me right now looks like this: shuttle the kids around and try to enjoy the last days before school starts. Clean up endless snacks and toys. Throw in a load of laundry. Drive Mom to Costco for something she forgot last week. Pull the baby out of the bathtub while answering a phone call from Mom's realtor in California. Lather, rinse, repeat.
A mother, wife, caregiver, and project manager
My husband and I have three little kids and I'm also the primary caregiver for my mom, who is living with Alzheimer's. My life these days, while filled with great joy and purpose, is extra chaotic because I'm also, unofficially, the project manager for selling my mom's lifetime home in another state.
No matter how hard I searched Google, I could not find anyone to tell me exactly how to go about doing this, so here's a cheat sheet for what it's been like selling a home for my loved one with Alzheimer's dementia.
Decades of memories
This process isn't easy. It's the home my grandparents bought when my mom was 6 years old and she has lived in ever since. It's the home my mom lived in as a newlywed. It's the home my sister and I came to when we were newly adopted from Korea. It's where I learned to ride a bike, got ready for prom, and helped Mom decorate our big artificial Christmas tree by the front window every year. It is the home my mom came back to as a widow after my dad's sudden death. It's not just a house - it feels like my mom's entire life.
But unfortunately, insurance companies do not like to insure empty houses and the cost of maintaining Mom's home was just too high. It sat vacant for months and we found lots of termite damage, pest issues, and there was always the chance of theft and more damage. It was time to say goodbye.
Include your loved one as much as possible
All the advice I found about selling a parent's home instructed me to ask my parent what she wanted to do. But my situation is not so simple: technically I could ask my mom - but she has Alzheimer's dementia. Mom usually doesn't know what she wants to do when faced with complicated decisions and gets overwhelmed with the details.
This is common for people with dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia can affect a person's ability to make decisions because it can affect the parts of the brain involved in remembering, understanding, and processing information. Yet I know my mom still has the capacity to make certain decisions, and that she has the right to make her own choices for as long as possible.1
I made sure that Mom was on board with the sale of the house before we moved ahead. I have kept her informed of every update and decision while also trying to make it easy for her to understand and not overwhelm her with the details. I am trying my very best to honor all my mom's own desires and decisions while also sometimes having to consider what is best and makes the most sense.
Selling a loved one's home Alzheimer's caregiving 101
Do as much as you can before a diagnosis
I begged my mom to declutter, clean out closets, and downsize, but at first, she didn't have the time. Later, the dementia simply prevented her from doing so.
Don't underestimate the power of cleaning out one drawer or one closet at a time! Your loved one can also start deciding to whom to bequeath precious heirlooms or jewelry - make a list, have them sign and date it, and place it with estate documents.
Find a great realtor
A worthwhile realtor knows your area well and has a lot of experience selling houses in your price range. They will know which improvements are worthwhile before selling and which are not. They will have contacts for good contractors, estate sale companies, and other services.
Ours was able to meet all of the workers who needed to be let in the house since we were out of state. One piece of advice I heard: this is not a great time to give your business to an inexperienced realtor friend unless your loved one designated that. This is likely your loved one's greatest asset and will provide for their much-needed future care.
Hire out what you can
If you can possibly hire out some or most of the work, do it. There are plenty of companies available to help you clean the house, landscape the yard, get rid of junk. You and your family likely have full-time jobs, families of your own, and your own homes to care for.
Let family go through the house
Too many families harbor resentment because they didn't get their favorite sentimental item from the home or feel like one sibling "took all the good stuff."
If your loved one is okay with this, let close family come "shop" the house before the estate sale company comes in. Balance their requests with the value of the items. Keep a detailed list so nobody is wrongfully accused later and so you can remind your loved one with dementia.
Your loved one might not have kept all valuables in the safety deposit box. There are countless stories of money being found inside books, valuable jewelry in the pantry. Check all pockets, unzip purse compartments, look for things taped behind mirrors and artwork. You will need to go through everything before an estate sale or donating to charity, or you can hire someone trustworthy to do so.
Find an estate liquidator and don't throw stuff away yet
Shop around. Most will sort through everything and decide what to sell at an estate sale. Then they will take care of the rest, disposing of it or donating it to your charity of choice. They are usually paid by a percentage of the estate sale. They often advise you to remove personal items and paperwork with important information and leave the rest - sometimes people like to buy paper towels and half-empty fertilizer!
Don't overcomplicate things
Unless your parents have very valuable antiques or collectibles, don't complicate your task by trying to sell things yourself. Donate to a worthy charity and save your time for caring for your loved one and dealing with the rest of their affairs.
What are your tips for selling a loved one’s home? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
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