We are so careful to have all of our finances in order when it comes to our estates and our legacy but many leave their house in disarray. Most of us have a will or a trust to direct our savings after we pass on. However, when it comes to our homes and our personal ‘treasures’, we can leave our homes in shambles. Often I am called by the child in distress whose parent has become incapacitated or has come to the end of their life. The word I hear most often is overwhelmed. “My mother has died and I am the executor of the estate. I have three siblings and we are all confused as to where to start. The home is full of stuff and it will take a year just to sort through my mother’s belongings to see what papers are important and which piece of furniture goes to which family member. The four of us have different thoughts and ideas and some of us are no longer talking to the rest of us. We need your help!”
Please think about the above scenario as it is one of the most frequent calls I receive. So much of this turmoil could have been avoided by some simple action steps over a long period of time preferably long before the home is sold. You can never prepare your home for sale too far in advance!
This article is directed to you who have lived in your home for many years and have accumulated so many personal belongings that have meaning to you and your life. Each news clipping and gift from the past brings back a memory that has deep meaning to you. Unfortunately, not all of your treasures will have a home inside your children’s domains. So what to do?
I would suggest these steps which will move you in the right direction towards a legacy that will be cherished and loved by your heirs in a healthy and positive way.
Begin by calling a Senior Real Estate Specialist to stop over and design a game plan. A seasoned agent will view your home to look for any defects such as basement, roof, plumbing and electrical issues. If your Realtor suggests an inspection of a cracked basement wall, or 60 amp electrical service or plumbing issues then go ahead and call the inspectors or contractors who will determine which repairs are needed. The most difficult sale is a home with a structural issue. The home will sell for at such a tremendous discount if these issues have not been dealt with. You don’t want to leave a $20,000 basement repair to your children as it will add to their stress when selling your home. Click here for some additional information on preparing your home to sell.
The next part of the Realtor’s inspection will involve suggestions for cosmetic updates and removal of personal property so that the home can show well with the furniture that is left. Painting a room in today’s contemporary colors can add thousands to the bottom line when selling. Removing a few chairs here and there can allow for the buyer to visualize their new home. Your Realtor will recommend companies that will help you go through your personal property as well as bring in a dumpster and take items to charity. You should involve your family so that items wanted by your family are removed prior to the removal of your personal property.
A major issue for many seniors involved finding the money to do these repairs and upgrades which can be substantial. If the bulk of your assets are the equity in your home, your local bank can provide the funds needed at a very low interest rate equity loan (4% today) and low cost payments. Some homeowners are considering Reverse Mortgages to free up equity which can be a solution for some, and not for others. Your financial consultant or personal banker can help with that decision.
While your process of home transformation is taking place you should begin going through all of your paperwork. I have one client who has been going through his mother’s papers for over 2 years! Is this what you want to leave to your children? Start with your most important papers and involve your children if necessary. Move on to all of the tax statements, bills from the past, warranties etc. Throw away all papers that are no longer needed. Organize your legacy of paperwork so that whoever you put in charge to handle your estate knows where the papers are and how they are organized.
If you are really ambitious, the next step will take your home to a new level of value. It is staging your home. In this case, I don’t mean bringing in rental furniture and fake air filled beds. I mean new carpeting, kitchen and bath flooring, new vanities, etc. If you are planning to stay in your home for many more years, why not do this while you can enjoy the upgrades. This step is for those whose finances allow for the cost of such an upgrade. The average staging cost is about $15,000 but can bring back $50,000 when selling and shorten the time of sale by up to 78%.
I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. These ideas can happen over a few years. However, imagine how long it will take your children to sort through your life’s belongings as well as preparing your home for market. I have seen to many families actually break up over the selling of a parent’s home. You want to leave a legacy of happiness for your family so please take the time and positive steps to involve your children now when you can enjoy the giving. You will leave a home that is in good condition and will show well without the overwhelming confusion that can be the result of leaving a home in shambles. The choice is yours and time is on your side. Use that time wisely and stay healthy and happy for years to come.
That is my wish for you!