According to the AARP, 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age every single day right now. Morgan Stanley will tell you we are witnessing the largest transfer of wealth in the history of this country. Baby Boomers control almost 2/3rd of the disposable income in this country yet, time is marching on for them.
Part of that unrelenting march of time is the inevitable aging and passing of the last of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. That means ownership of their real estate will be changing hands and that’s where it gets tricky.
The final stat I’ll share is that few baby boomers are prepared for retirement or the inevitable. I’m a baby boomer. I’ve got a few years until retirement. I’m not as prepared as I’d hoped I would be. That being said, if I were run over by a bus this afternoon, my home is in a trust. It’s full of stuff that shouldn’t be here, but at least once it’s empty, it can be sold by my heirs. And that is today’s subject, emptying a home for sale.
One of my favorite articles that I didn’t write is “Sorry, No One Wants Your Parent’s Stuff“. That is the sad truth. This was the struggle when we liquidated my own mother’s home. I knew no one wanted her stuff, I had to wait for the rest of the family to catch up. And I am painfully aware that no one wants my stuff either.
Very rarely can you sell a home full of stuff. Occasionally a developer will take it on knowing the dump fees will be a few thousand dollars and that is a term they can take off the seller’s plate. Those homes are rarely sold on the open market and are usually sold at a deep discount. I supposed if everyone in the family is cool with leaving a lot of money on the table that’s one way to go.
If the family wants to maximize the return on the asset, it is imperative that a strategy is put into place to empty the home and prepare it for sale. I have developed a downsizing system to help seniors and their families work through the stuff that needs to be dealt with. It works, I’ve utilized for my clients and have used it in my own family with great success.
The first and most important step is for the senior or the heirs to remove the important family heirlooms. Those are the things that the senior wants to spend the rest of their life surrounded by. Pictures, Grandma’s bible, Dad’s uniform from WWII, the letter from great great Grandpa from the Civil War front, those things must be addressed first. If Mom is going to assisted living, that might not be where those things go. In the case of my family, Mom went to a memory care facility. Things come and go there pretty regularly. They disappear and reappear, things that don’t belong to my Mother appear in her room. Her stuff shows up in another room. Sometimes she put them in another patients room, sometimes they took them not knowing what it was. No family heirlooms went with her. We made copies of old family photos and framed the copies for her. In a situation like that, the family heirlooms need to be distributed to the family.
Once that step is complete, we move on to the things the senior needs in their next home. Clothing, cookware and personal items. If Mom hasn’t baked cookies in 10 years, no need taking the bakeware.
If the senior has passed, the next step is things that the family wants. I took some things that reminded me of my father. An old Hickory knife that he probably paid a dollar for back in 1945 when he got out of the Navy and needed to cook. He also had a small cast iron fry pan. My brother took that because it reminded him of Dad. When I use that knife I think of my old man.
Once that step is complete, I promise you there is a ton of left over stuff that no one wants or needs. That’s when the estate seller needs to come in. We couldn’t do one because my mother lived in a condo, so that can be a consideration. We moved everything out of my mother’s condo that was left over and put it in storage until we could get everyone together for a garage sale. Then we had the mother of all garage sales. It was a nightmare. I highly don’t recommend it, but in our case we had no choice. If you can get an estate seller to come in and do a large sale, that’s the next step.
The final step is to donate what’s left and dump the remainder. This is the toughest step. The family is looking at what’s left of someone’s life knowing it is worthless. It is the hardest and most painful step of all. It is the step that brings on the feelings of hopelessness.
We are not our stuff. We are the love we’ve shared, the children we’ve raised, the contributions we’ve made and the lives we’ve changed.
The problem with the entire process is if the senior has passed there tends to be an attachment to their stuff. “If I just hang on to Grandma’s I can keep a small part of her with me.” That list of items grows and grows with the grief and pretty soon the family is paralyzed. And almost every family has that one family member that won’t help but wants all of the money. Thankfully, I don’t, but that theme has been consistent in doing this kind of work.
I have run this system for families over and over again with success. I had a daughter that was so distraught over her mother’s passing that I had to call her every day and make sure she was out of bed and had a plan for the day. I’ve had a daughter whose father passed unexpectedly young and as a young woman she was faced with liquidating her father’s life. I sat on the porch with her while she talked about her father, crying ugly the whole time. It happens. Eight years later I still tear up when talking about my father. I’ve helped many seniors wrap up the Bay Area chapter of their lives and move on to be closer to their grandchildren. The thing is, the system is kind and it works.
If you are faced with downsizing or liquidating a home to go to market, I can help. I will tailor a system to you or your families needs, write you a calendar and get you through this transitional phase of life.
Valerie Crowell can be reached at 925.381.2998.