One of the big shifts in behavior throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, among so many others, has been the mad rush of people leaving cities for the suburbs and buying homes at an astonishing rate. There are also families taking advantage of low interest rates to upgrade their current home to something that better suits their situation. It’s not uncommon for a home that would have had a tough time selling this time last year to be purchased the moment the listing goes public for the asking price (often well above what used to be the market rate and possibly with multiple bids).

But this literal land grab has benefited people looking to downsize their homes after decades of ownership and who can now use a portion of that money to buy a smaller place and the rest to either maintain living expenses or invest in the market to create a cushion for retirement. 

Not being an expert in either the housing market or investment strategies, I wanted to call attention to something in which I’m well versed: planning in advance to ease people through difficult life transitions. I’ve had a number of conversations with a colleague whose parents recently sold their home after living in it for nearly 50 years. My colleague and his siblings had moved out decades earlier and his parents were now splitting time between Pennsylvania and Florida. Even though his parents loved their home, maintaining it had become more of a burden than a benefit, and the idea of making a decent return during an unstable economy was attractive.

The emotional attachment people can have to their homes can become complicated. (I moved out of my childhood home when I was 12 and I still haven’t gotten over it!). The safety of knowing where everything is and how everything works becomes a sixth sense. You know the difference between a little creak in the night from the house settling and an unfamiliar sound coming from the walls which means someone must be taking an early shower upstairs. This knowledge is a goldmine for a new homeowner and should not go to waste! 

While helping his parents clean out their home, my colleague opened a drawer in the kitchen and noticed a binder packed with detailed instructions and paperwork regarding every major function in the home. The binder included:

  • Instruction manual for the water heater along with handwritten notes about the location of all the water main off/on switches (including one for the outdoor spouts that is especially tricky to locate).
  • HVAC instruction and contact details, along with the last date it was serviced.
  • Warranty information for the roof along with the contact information.
  • Instructions and notes about the humidifier and dehumidifier as well as areas to watch out for possible leaks after big storms.
  • Instruction manual and notes about the natural gas generator, as well as details about the main circuit breaker and other power-related tips.
  • The schedule for garbage and recycling pick-up
  • Warranties and instructions for major appliances they left behind that the new owners wanted to keep (fridge, dishwasher, washer/dryer, garage door opener, etc.)

There were so many more helpful notes about maintenance and quirks, along with reliable contacts (exterminator, cleaning service, plumber, electrician), and his father kept adding to it up until the day they said goodbye to the home they built and maintained all those years. Plus, he left his own contact info behind letting them know it’s always OK to contact him with any questions. How nice is he?! His mom even left an adorable final touch behind. Knowing the family moving in had four young children, she left a Mickey Mouse soap dispenser next to the binder with a note saying they hope the house brings their family as much joy as it brought hers. OMG!

Now granted, this is not typical, and most people who sell their house don’t put this much effort into offering a comprehensive outline of how everything operates and leave gifts behind for the new owners. They just sell and go. But my colleagues’ father thought it the obvious and responsible thing to do. Moving into a new place is stressful enough as it is. If you’ve enjoyed your house and the memories you’ve made there, why not try and use moving as an opportunity to pay those things forward?  There are other emotional benefits as well. Being able to pass this knowledge along is a healthy (and helpful!) way of saying goodbye to a place that has been an integral part of your life for so long. 

I implore anyone selling their home to take a walk around and make notes of things that would be helpful for the next occupants, as well as gathering up any instruction manuals or warranty details you can find. 

It may not seem like a climatic Hallmark movie moment to explain the location of the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but putting together a guide of this nature can provide closure to the seller and a great new start for the buyer.  It doesn’t have to be as comprehensive as what my colleagues parents’ provided but anything you provide will be greatly appreciated. And with how things have been going in 2020, a nice gesture like this can go a very long way.

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