When caregivers are responsible for the family home: Some equitable solutions.

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craig's girlfriendFamily caregivers have a lot of responsibilities when a parent or both parents are living in the family home. With travel time and expenses, doctors’ appointments, shopping runs and personal meals or care, it is a full time job.

As we all dread the time when we have to move a parent out of the home for health reasons, sudden illness or death can make this decision an unwelcomed reality.

If one parent is left living in the home, the caregiver then needs to take on the added responsibility of cleaning and maintaining the home. This often includes lawn care, grass cutting, raking leaves or shovelling snow among other outdoor and indoor tasks.

Older homes require maintenance on mechanical systems such as heating and air conditioning, plus things like roof repairs which left undone, can cause serious damage. It’s a lot of added responsibility to take care of these chores on top of a parent’s personal care.

Families often delegate responsibilities to the “lowest common denominator” of “time available” to be prime caregiver. In many cases it can be the oldest female or closest to the family home (as in same city) to assume the role.

It is unfair to assume that one sibling should take the task on single handed and for the duration of the transition process. We have heard countless stories from friends and colleagues where arguments and downright fights ensue over the schedules and tasks. Add in the financial “disincentive” to take on the expenses and lack of any compensation (either cash flow or estate share increase) and you have a volatile situation.

When the time comes to liquidate the estate and sell the family home, the fun can really start. Decisions are required to move into the process as well as who will be “on task” to sort all of the belongings in the home.

We have seen some siblings show up to the home one time to claim some cherished belongings or valued items and then never return, thus leaving the caregiver to deal with a lifetime of items, clothing and furniture. Sometimes it is the appointed executor(s) who show up and delegate responsibilities for reasons like “you live closest, so you deal with it”, which is totally unreasonable.

The process of dealing with a family home after the passing of a loved one is a painful emotional experience for most we have spoken to. It can be several months or up to a year or longer to get emotions in check for adult children to step foot back into the home.

In the meantime, many may have to deal with increased monthly care expenses for a parent in a Long Term Care arrangement, driving costs to two or three times the current in home expenses. This forces the family to have to move to selling the home much faster than they are emotionally able to handle.

On a financial front, selling the home may surface several possible scenarios for discussion (or argument) such as;

  1. What to do with belongings- donate, sell, move somewhere else or throw away.
  2. Cleaning up the home after empty-who will do it, who will help and when?
  3. Sell the home as is vs. do some remodelling?
  4. Do a market evaluation and consider renovations?
  5. Market the home with a full service realtor or sell privately?
  6. Legal and Insurance costs while the home may be unoccupied?

In the experiences we have participated in, siblings had agreed to take on the essential tasks in 1-3 above. The reality of doing this as a group is that one group (sibling plus spouse) ended up there every time (proximity problem of living nearby) as others came less often or only one time to help.

A 50’s style bungalow with 50 years of family belongings (WWII keep everything behaviour) required 3 months of weekends and many nights of just moving out items. As a shocking tally, they actually filled two 20 yard dumpsters and two 40 yard dumpsters! In total, that was 80 yards of refuse to have hauled away.

As much as everyone likes to pitch in and help, the process as a part time endeavour takes so long that the siblings become resentful to the process giving up 6 months of weekends times 6 people (in this case) a close friend took almost a year of part time visits.

Decisions were made to update and remodel the home- removing wallpaper, old drapes, old carpeting doors and light fixtures and a total repainting. This DIY handyman approach took the longest of all the work done, leaving the home in a “point of no return” with an inch of plaster dust on both levels. The home could not be sold even if they wanted to. The costs were a mere $1800.00 plus 6 months of “free labour”.

The finished product looked much better, thanks to home staging and a professional cleaning and was ready for sale in the mid -summer. Not the best timing in the GTA Real Estate market. However, decisions were made to not repair a leaky roof with resultant black mold in the attic and interior walls, not to update the kitchen counters and tile or repair the front and rear lawns which killed curb appeal.

The home received 3 offers, which all were rescinded based on home inspections. The unknown repairs and the fact that the home was not “move in ready” made it appealing only to first time buyers and investors. The home finally sold in 45 days at a price point $40,000 lower than asking price.

We concluded that with a further investment of $6,500.00 all of these issues would have been rectified and the home would have sold faster (first offer perhaps) and at or closer to the asking price.

As a result of this experience and many more we have worked with, we concluded that a “Project Managed” approach with professional opinions may assist families in making the right decisions on the who, how and why of handling a difficult transition.

Everyone will have a different experience, but they all will encounter the same steps and need to make the same decisions. There is no reason anyone needs to do this alone or guess about how to maximize the value of the home and get it sold without all of the headaches.

 

 

Kathy Stiby is Managing Director of Selling Mom’s Home

Kathy cared for both her parents during illness and relocation until their passing. She dealt with the selling of her family home and all of the hardships during a very stressful time. Selling Mom’s Home was a concept she felt necessary to assist families to not have to “go it alone”.

 

Selling Mom’s Home is based in Oakville Ontario and can be found on the web at: www.sellingmomshome.ca

 

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