Be Patient With Seniors Leaving Their Family Home


The gardens around the family’s house had been tended lovingly and the hedges kept neatly pruned. For decades, the sky-blue home and its colorful gardens had drawn admiring glances from neighbors and passers-by.


Three sons and a daughter were raised in the ranch-style house. The father, a steelworker, lived there until his death. So attached to the place was his widow that she hoped never to leave it.


But one day the 84-year-old woman took a nasty spill, and reality struck. Though not a bone was broken, the fall was an acknowledgement of her increasing fragility. With great reluctance, she surrendered to the need to say goodbye to her beloved home and precious garden and move to an assisted living facility.


“The house was a symbol of her independence. She was extremely frightened to let it go,” says Sandy Garcia, a SRES Real Estate agent who specializes in helping seniors with their transactions.

Selling a property can be an especially wrenching experience for seniors who have lived in the same place for a long time. And nearly 40 percent of property owners over 65 haven’t changed their address in more than 30 years, according to the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council, which trains agents to help elderly people buy and sell property.


“For an older person, a home represents their life story,” says Don Redfoot, an AARP senior policy advisor. Any part of the home can have special resonance, whether it be the dining room where Thanksgiving dinners were served, or a wall of family photos.


Like many in her situation, the widow with the sky-blue house needed support from relatives. Fortunately, her son stepped forward to guide her. She also needed time. It took more than a year to sort through her belongings, sell her 1,500 square foot house and find an assisted living facility she liked. Because she made a 360 percent profit on her sale, she could afford to be picky.


Here are a few suggestions for making a smooth move:


Show sensitivity when helping seniors sort through their possessions. When it comes to determining the fate of belongings collected over a lifetime, seniors don’t want to be pushed around, Garcia says. This process of helping a senior cull through accumulations is best handled by a trusted relative. If that’s not possible, a good friend is the next best bet.


Take care before committing to the sale of your extra belongings. The culling process inevitably yields superfluous items, causing many to consider a “house sale.” This typically involves a company that comes in, hangs price tags on valued furnishings and other items, and then conducts the sale, usually taking 20 – 30 percent of the proceeds. While such a sale works well for some elderly people, others find it offensive. “Many feel it’s a real violation, with people haggling over prices on items that have been important to them all their lives,” says Redfoot of AARP.


Instead, many Seniors might prefer to donate their extra belongings to a charity they respect. For heirlooms and pieces with sentimental value that can’t be taken to the new home, the best solution is often to find a family member who will treasure them. A cousin might be thrilled to receive a grandfather clock or a family portrait, for instance.


Consider showcasing selected items at your next home. Especially meaningful items from the family home, such as those reflecting professional accomplishments and personal memorabilia, might be retained. Redfoot suggests that creating a small “museum,” using an attractive display case, can help transitioning Seniors feel continuity in their identities after they move to new quarters. The display can also serve as pleasant cues to jog fading memories or to spur conversations with visitors. “It’s absolutely wonderful to let people know about the best of your life history and who you really are,” Redfoot says.


Source: The Miami Herald by Ellen James Martin, Smart Moves