Yesterday we sold mom's house. That house was built by my husband 35 years ago, on part of the land that was our first rental purchase. It was the first spec house he'd ever built, and it sold to a family who didn't like that we built our house next door a few years later, and made no bones about showing it. Their kids would literally take a stick and draw a line in the sand to show our 3-year-old where his property line ended and theirs began. So we were very grateful when we saw a Realtor's "For Sale" sign on the lawn a few years afterwards.
Mom was up from Long Island visiting, and when I asked her "Did you see the sign?" she misunderstood me and exclaimed: "A sign? You saw a sign? I was praying for a sign!". And, without even going inside, my widowed mother bought the house, sold hers on Long Island, and moved next door to us, in the house that she and my father loved when it was built, but weren't in a position to buy at that point.
She helped raise our kids. She would be home after school for them while we worked. She later helped my sister and her kids when they moved in with her for a while after getting divorced, and she loved that house until the day, almost four years ago, that she landed in the hospital, and from there a rehab stint in a nursing home.
As many old people do, in her later years, she adamantly refused to allow us do any updating inside her house. As a Realtor, I'd often go inside a house being sold by an estate. I used to wonder what kind of family would allow their elderly parent to live like that, in dirt and disrepair. I came to learn that it's often the parent that's obstinate, and eventually the children get worn down and have to choose their fights. The house often loses, when medications and proper eating are more urgent.
So we took advantage of her rehab stint. We went in without her knowledge and had the whole interior repainted. We also installed new laminate floors, as the worn carpeting had become a major tripping hazard. As it turned out, she never returned home, and for three years we kept the house vacant, awaiting a return that we, and she, knew wasn't going to happen. We just didn't have the heart to sell it while she was alive. It may have been false hope, but for a long while she harbored the hope that she would return to her beloved house. She was allowed to keep a few thousand dollars in cash, and by judicious budgeting, we were able to pay the upkeep.
I had judged we had enough money to keep her household bills paid through this spring. I informed my sisters that we might have to kick in to keep it going after that. As it turned out, mom passed away in February. So in early spring, we donated her clothes and some of her furniture, and staged the house with her remaining furniture for sale. I acted as the listing broker, put the house on MLS, Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, and stuck my sign in the lawn, in much the same place as it was when mom bought the house over 25 years before. Spring turned into summer into fall, and we had very little interest. Then another agent brought a family, and the house was finally being sold. Expecting a complicated mortgage, we were pleasantly surprised when the buyers came with a conventional mortgage, which made the whole process smoother for us.
Yesterday, November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving, in the middle of the first big snowstorm of the year, we closed on the house. My two sisters and I had gone through the whole process without having any serious disagreements. We agreed on the big things, and divided the sentimental keepsakes between us so that we were all satisfied with our portions. My main goal was to get through the process with our family intact, so I was content. The closing likewise went smoothly, and mom's checkbook had $40 in it at the end of the day.
Afterwards, as we were leaving, my youngest sister stopped to use the rest room. The other two of us waited in the foyer for her because of the snow. My phone dinged with an email alert. The message was "Your For Sale listing on Zillow expired on Wednesday, November 26, 2014."
Another sign. Thanks, mom. For everything.