Dear Lori –
My aunt is planning to sell the home she’s lived in going on 50 years. She is unable to care for such a big place on her own since my uncle passed away a few months ago. I don’t think she likes being there alone and other than my sisters and I, she really has no one else. The house is solid, just very dated. The original plan was to give her home a mini-facelift with fresh paint, new appliances, and tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. It’s already going to be a time-consuming project and we’ll have to do a lot of thinning out before we even start, but I think she’s using this as her chance to finally remodel the house the way she’s always wanted! We recently found out she’s been getting estimates to put in a whole new kitchen, knock down some walls, and enclose the entryway. I talked to a Realtor and no way will she re-coup that kind of investment. It’d be one thing if she were planning to stay, but she’s thinking of moving to a retirement community. The proceeds from her current home would pay for that, but she will probably come up short if she dumps a lot of money on this remodeling job. How can we talk our beloved aunt out of making a big mistake?
Concerned Nieces in Ohio
Dear Concerned Nieces,
First of all, I want to offer my sincere condolences on the loss of your uncle and commend you and your sister’s for looking after your aunt. I’m sure she appreciates you all so very, very much.
I would be concerned too, but probably not for all the same reasons that you’re concerned. If your uncle just recently passed, this is likely way too soon for your aunt to be making such a big decision. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’ve read many times that it’s not wise for people who just lost a loved one to be making any life-altering decisions when it comes to marriage, money, or moving.
It sounds to me like concentrating on a major renovation right now might just be a distraction your aunt is using as a way to cope. Shortly after my dad died, my mom and I flew off to France for a three weeks! It was much easier to throw ourselves into planning a trip and getting away from it all than it was to sit at home alone with our thoughts and think about how much we missed him.
Personally, I think you need to slow this pony down! Your aunt is still grieving and I assume she’s in a very fragile state and that includes an emotional attachment to her home. I’ve seen people getting ready to sell who’ve only lived there a year and have already developed that bond! Imagine how difficult it would be to leave after 50 years on top of losing her husband. She’s got five decades of memories wrapped up within those walls!
Part of staging a home to sell is not only helping the buyer envision themselves living there, but often includes helping the seller envision themselves NOT living there! In most cases, I typically try to get the seller excited about life in their new place. I encourage them to go furniture shopping! Pick out new paint colors for their new space! Explore their new neighborhood! Whatever it takes to get them thinking about moving on. Once they’ve made that emotional connection with their new house, they’re going to be much less invested in the old one.
In your aunt’s case however, there is obviously more to it than that. Perhaps she really doesn’t want to leave…for now, anyway. And since it doesn’t seem like she absolutely needs to sell, I think I would give her some time. You mentioned her home needed some ‘thinning out’, and maybe this would be a good opportunity for you and your sister’s to help her do just that. Ask her to hold off on the remodeling until you can tackle cleaning out the excess and go from there.
You also mentioned that you talked to a Realtor. Did the agent get the chance to talk to your aunt, too? Sellers with good intentions frequently make changes that are simply more than the house is worth or what potential buyers would pay for. Bringing a Realtor on board and allowing them to present her with a market comparison directly would give her something to think about before jumping in.
You could also ask your aunt to give you and your sisters a room to transform…preferably the kitchen or one of the bathrooms…so you can show her what a difference a few less intrusive updates would make vs. a major renovation. If she could actually see the changes for herself before spending a lot of money on a remodeling project, it might influence her to change her mind.
And lastly, if you are worried that the house is simply too much for her to handle, hiring a lawn service and/or cleaning service to come by once a week to help would take the burden off while relieving her of making any life-changing decisions so quickly.
Hope this helps and thank you again for looking out for your aunt.
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