Selling your childhood home

My friends and I are now at the age where we are faced with the sale of our childhood homes: Either our parents have passed, are downsizing the empty nest or are selling their assets as they move into senior care facilities. No matter what the reason, it’s an emotional process for many of us.

I thought I was alone in my depression when I went home to take one last look at the house and say goodbye. It’s strange how, as an adult, everything about the house looked smaller, even the trees. It turns out the sadness associated with turning a home over to someone else is a common thing, and is acknowledged by architects and social scientists who study the psychological impact of the childhood home.

“I hadn’t lived there in years, but it was still home to me,” says Pam Davis, who felt a twinge of emotion every time she saw me tweet out the blog entry about her childhood home being up for sale. Her mom needed to downsize, and Davis knew it was time, but, she says, “It was the end of an era for me.”

Fortunately, one of the neighbors ended up buying my old house, so we were able to keep it in the family, to a certain extent. Although they completely redid the interior, they kept the exterior, so whenever I pass it I can take comfort that my childhood identity is still intact.

Melissa Kamakawiwoole, who lived nearby, was not as lucky. She recently sold her lifelong home, then left the country for a bit. Almost immediately after closing the sale, the new owners demolished the entire house and removed all the trees from the property.

“I’m okay now,” she says, although she admits she’s still processing her grief. “It’s good that I have a short attention span and was in Japan.”

“In many cases, early planning can help manage the emotions involved—and can also address other issues that may have been overlooked,” says Scott Suzuki, attorney at law, who runs a boutique estate-planning firm emphasizing elder law and special needs planning. “Such issues may include probate, long-term care expenses and Medicaid liens against the home.

“If you cannot plan in advance, dealing with depression is going to be difficult,” Suzuki warns. “Be actively involved in the sale process, but do it openly with the other interested parties (siblings, usually). Go help clean up the place and spend the time together reminiscing. When one kid gets stuck doing all the work, that can create resentment. Alternatively, when one kid decides to take charge, that can also cause problems like distrust and jealousy. Remember, it was everyone's home at some point.”

What part of this is easy? None of it. But if you find yourself waffling over selling the home you grew up in, many people say it’s best if you spend some last hours saying goodbye to the house, as I did, and make peace with it. Take some photos to preserve those last memories. If it helps, take a memento prior to selling it, like some soil from the yard or a  piece from the lava rock wall (assuming it doesn’t affect your sale) to keep with you.

Then let go.

Next week: Legal and financial items to consider as you deal with selling your childhood home