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Tips for Empty Nesters on Selling the Family Home

Last spring Cathy and Gary Chester put their ranch home in Morris County, N.J., on the market. Come August, the house is unsold and Cathy admits that she's enjoying another summer in the home that the couple built 21 years ago.

Cathy Chester's garden

What saddens her is the prospect of closing a chapter in her life. "This is where - young, married, pregnant with my son - I started a new part of my life that ends when I sell the house," says Chester, a blogger.

Her emotional ties are shared by many homeowners facing the daunting question of stay or sell. A Fannie Mae report found that even as boomers become empty nesters, there's no mass movement out of their homes.

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Still, plenty are ready to move on, although the process can be long, taking up to a year or more, says Silvia Rowney, a broker with Coach Realtors on Long Island.

What prompts her empty nest boomer clients to consider selling? Adult children have moved, sometimes to other parts of the country; taxes and maintenance costs have risen sharply. Enough with mowing grass, shoveling snow and fixing leaky gutters.

Yet the decision does not come easily.

"It's a complicated tapestry of emotions," Rowney says. "There are lots of memories and attachment involved. But people want to be near their children and grandchildren who have moved away. Of course, there are many financial considerations too."

During the last 20 years on the "roller coaster ride" of selling homes, she's pinpointed three common emotional curves for sellers.


  • The declutter stage. In preparation for "staging," the homeowner must remove a lot of personal "stuff," from sagging rec room furniture to family photos. Some people find it cathartic; others choke up, parting with decades of memories.


  • The sale stage. The constant intrusion and need to keep the house spotless can be wearing. Also homeowners sometimes hear negative comments from potential buyers about "ugly" wallpaper or "dated" kitchens. "It hard to not take it personally," says Rowney.


  • Closing. By this point, after weeks or months of strangers traipsing through their house, sellers are usually "accepting, happy with the finances of the sale and looking forward to the lifestyle change," Rowney says.


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That lifestyle change can take many forms - a sunny state or an urban spot. After talking to friends who have navigated that transition, Chester is cautious but optimistic: "A lot of my friends tell me that they are now enjoying the best time of their lives."


Photo: Courtesy of Cathy Chester


>> Next: Downsizing Your Empty Nest

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