Did Downsizing or Selling the Family Home Come Up Over the Holidays?

Holidays are typically a time to re-connect and catch up. This year, in perhaps a more meaningful way than ever before. If downsizing or selling the family home was one of the topics that came up, you’re in good company.

The Refreshed Home has gotten scores of Westchester County families on the other side of this process. Helping homeowners downsize or get a family home ready for sale isn’t just an occupation. It’s my mission, shaped at an early age.

Our parents had passed at an early age. I was the oldest of 3, and wanted to buy out my younger brothers’ shares of our family house. I had recently started my design career at Ethan Allen. Young, and in love with the idea of ‘new beginnings’, I moved back home to get started.

But deferred maintenance had crept up during my dad’s illness, and continued unabated when our mom got sick. I was either working on the house, or working to make a living. But I kept at it, because I couldn’t make peace with the dichotomy of making beautiful spaces by day, then returning to a space so out of control.

After almost 2 years, I accepted the inevitable, and we sold the house.  It was a few years before I could drive by and see what the new owners had done. Many more years before I could acknowledge even to myself the shame and helplessness I felt at that time. 

Every family will have different circumstances. Perhaps you all have been privately trying this idea on for size for a while. Maybe there’ve been gently floated hints…or terse private conversations. Others, not knowing where to start have just been hoping for the best while tip-toeing around the elephant poop.

For far-flung families, in-person reunions have made some hard realities more apparent than they were on phone or Zoom calls. Still other families are prompted by incidents or illness will face more urgent circumstances.

There are as many different ways this can unfold as families facing this. But this is largely a once-in-a-lifetime event, and there’s no template. I’ve found two distinct aspects to downsizing or selling the family home. Some thoughts to help you stay grounded:

Emotional

Whatever your family’s back story is, it doesn’t go away if you ignore it. And it doesn’t get worse if you talk about it. Honor this process, and do it first.

  • Be inclusive, encourage conversation. See who is feeling what. It’s respectful, and will smooth the way for everything else later
  • Early on, determine who’s going to be part of the conversation and the process
  • Agreeing to the importance of agreeing with each other is a good start. Next would be what the goals are.
  • Try for consensus. If some aren’t on board it’s usually a sign that more ideas, info or options are needed

Practical

Whether it’s you who’s just thinking about downsizing, or you’re part of group effort-practical tips on moving forward:

  • Know that required time and your stamina will compete mightily with available time and emotional bandwidth.
  • Be the head, be the heart, or be the hands. But don’t try to be them all.
  • Getting started sooner (rather than later, when you ‘have’ to) is an infinitely better choice
  • Have everyone be clear about priorities, including any financial or time constraints
  • If your family doesn’t have an attorney, accountant or realtor they rely on,  interview some asap, as they will likely be needed in the process.
  • NASMM and NAPO are also good resources but don’t just look for affiliation, or a snazzy website. These are personal services, look very hard at the qualifications and actual boots-on-the-ground experience of the providers. IMO Westchester’s Changing Places knocks it out of the park every single time. 
  • Think like a manager: Hiring for both the mundane and more skilled tasks saves time/energy, priceless if you’re under a deadline, or are trying to catch the market 
  • Assign possessions a GOING, STAYING, or NEGOTIABLE status
  • Be diligent. Check every pocket, open and shake out every book, go thru every junk drawer. I’ve found checks used as bookmarks, cash between dinner plates, and killer fine jewelry tossed into bathroom vanities and kitchen drawers.

Selling isn’t just a financial transaction. For most, getting a property ready for sale puts everything tender on the table, so be good to yourselves.

Helping people downsize or sell the family home is one of The Refreshed Home’s most satisfying types of projects. Bringing the house up to the best of the sellers’ ability not only benefits the selling price, but it’s a wonderful tribute to the memories and those that helped make them.