Books are filled with characters who struggle with transitions in their home lives.
- Scarlett O’Hara: prattling on incessantly about getting back to Tara.
- King Lear: using estate planning as a means of father-daughter bonding.
- Emma Bovary: redecorating her house for the umpteenth time.
But for now, let’s consider Oliver Twist—plaintively mourning the mother and home he never knew “on a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die.”
Sadly, there are many real-life examples of orphaned and displaced children who suffer unnecessarily. But with only a wee bit of attention from Moms and Dads, most children are amazingly resilient.
In my real estate practice in San Francisco, I often see parents agonizing about how the sale of a home will affect their progeny.
Parents worry that moving kids from one school to another will derail their education and cause their social ruin. Or they fret that a step down to a less expensive or rental property in the case of a divorce will irrevocably damage the child’s self esteem. Or they assume that staging and marketing will be overly disruptive of family rhythms.
These concerns aren’t frivolous, yet the impact of change is largely mitigated when parents focus simply on loving their children rather than on controlling the situation. The physical manifestation of home—castle, cottage or condo—doesn’t really matter.
This is especially true when it comes to the anxieties of soon-to-be emptynesters. Parents whose babies have flown the coop too often compromise the quality of their mature years by overestimating the effect their home sale will have on their GROWN children. For example:
- Tim and Betsy who can’t possibly downsize because their adult children must “have a bedroom” whenever they visit. Never mind that one 35-year-old son lives in Australia and the other owns a four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon.
- John who broaches the subject of selling his Ashbury Heights house every six months with his daughters Amelia, Annabelle and Amy. The 40-something “girls” react emotionally and without thinking about John’s needs. Amelia cries. Amy becomes silent. Annabelle advocates for John go into the Bed and Breakfast business in order to keep the house.
- Rick and Roger who can’t sell because Roger believes selling the family home is synonymous with selling out the family. Roger has nightmare visions of an empty house at Christmas, while Rick quietly fantasizes about a family Mele Kalikimaka on the beach at Maui.
For the parent or parents who opt to stay in place, fears can eventually become reality. The house empties of people while stuff accumulates. Dust gathers. The dining room becomes a year-round tax-prep headquarters. The basketball hoop over the garage door rusts and droops. The back stairs sag. The paint yellows. Nobody sets foot in the yard except to sneak a cigarette or let the dog out.
20 years pass in a flash. And suddenly it’s too late to buy that Financial District condo, or NYC pied-a-terre, or Sonoma bungalow. There’s no time for a transitional scenario. It’s straight to: Okay, so maybe that’s me being overly dramatic.
My point is this: Take time to visualize and consider life after kids. Be honest about the qualities you want in your life as you age. Don’t give in to sentiment about the loss of the family home.
Your children will soon understand that YOUR HEART is where HOME is. But first—like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz—you’re going to have to learn it for yourself.**
**I can help. I’ve gone through it myself and I’ve counseled dozens of clients through these transitions. Email me or call.
CYNTHIA CUMMINS is a Partner and Top Producer at McGuire Real Estate’s MARINA DISTRICT OFFICE in San Francisco. To learn more about San Francisco real estate visit CYNTHIACUMMINS.COM.