Working with settling estates and estate liquidations, one thing we run into a lot is people saying “home” when they really mean “house.” It’s so universal now that we all see it everywhere – “new townhomes” or “home sale.” Probably "open home” signs are next.
It’s true that our houses can be homes, but a home is a very different thing from the actual house. We aren't splitting hairs here, it’s an important distinction. We've seen this psychology play out in families who ended up not getting the best value for their estate’s biggest asset when selling a house.
The challenge of letting go
What we see with families who are selling a house or other estate assets is that the word “home” tends to muck things up. It makes sense that people have an emotional attachment to a family house, especially one that has been in the family for generations. You grew up there, maybe your parents grew up there, celebrating many holidays and other special moments. But a family thinking of the building as a “home” is thinking of that asset from an emotional perspective. And that clouds judgment if we are talking about getting the best value from an estate.
For example, a family may want to repair a beloved house that needs significant work before selling it, but investing in repairs can cut deeply into the sale profits. Or a family may prefer selling a house to a family friend when it could command a higher price on the open market.
Home is wherever you are
The truth is that your family’s “home” is any space the family shares – physical or mental. Strong family social units can make a home anywhere. There are grandmothers, moms and dads who can create a “home” in a rented apartment or even a hotel room just by setting a meal on a table or tucking kids into bed.
Families create a real home from years of shared experiences and love, and that “home” remains long after the building is gone. It remains in photographs, memories and gatherings that continue for generations.
So, we see a “home” when we see concerned family members huddling together or hugging through a tough decision. When we see an empty building, we just see cost and risk. We know that our clients have a lot of happy memories in that building, and we have a profound respect for that. But our job is to help families protect their legacy, particularly when it comes to financial value.
The value of selling a house
Here’s why the distinction is important: thinking of a building as a "home" often causes people to hold assets that they should have sold long ago. We see families incur carrying costs, additional mortgage payments, insurance, taxes, plus additional liabilities.
To be able to fairly evaluate the house’s overall potential sale price, we make a clear-eyed evaluation just as the market would. What is the true value, apart from the emotional depth it holds for the family? Family members may love that tree house out back, or the orange kitchen walls, but prospective buyers may not.
Once we have that information, we can take some reliable numbers to the family and let them make the best decision. We understand that selling a house is a decision that may be informed by emotions, and that’s fine. We just want to make sure the family has enough information to make the best decision for the house – and for the home.