Liquidating my mom's house: game plan?

Mom died last week. Yes, thanks; all is good. I, as executor, am now responsible for liquidating her house.

Said house is a 2 storey with full basement. The idea is to empty it (mostly? fully?), repair what needs repair (lots), and sell it. Mom was probably a level 2 hoarder, having lived through the depression, and let me tell you, there is stuff everywhere. I’m hoping to get ideas from you Teeming Millions, on what’s the best way to go about this. Perhaps many of you have done similar and can say yes, do this, but for God’s sake do not do that!

I am out of state but will be returning for 2 weeks in May and will come and go as needed after that.

My thoughts so far: just get the clutter out. That’s where the dumpster and the recycle bin come in. Then perhaps, room by room? But I’m staying there while I’m doing this, so there are some things that would be nice to have (kitchen utensils, bedding, etc.) She does have some valuable things, need to have some limited appraisals, but a lot of her stuff is still usable. Is a yard sale realistic, or would it just be a further headache? - cuz I’d have to rent tables, be prepared for weather, etc.

OK you guys – have at it. And thank you in advance.

Find everything you want to keep. Move it out of the house or put it all in one room cleaned of everything else. Then contact a realtor, they should be able to help you find people who have experience rehabbing a house like that. It’s up to you to decide if you want to do a yard sale. You have to consider whether it’s worth your time and trouble for the small amount of revenue generated. There’s probably someplace you could donate anything useful in good condition.

There are people who run estate sales for a percentage - I assume they would come and look at what you have and tell you whether it’s worth their time and your money to hire them. That was my first thought. I believe there are also people who’ll come in and clean out houses of everything, but you’d have to go thru first and pick out what you want to keep.

Good luck to you - sounds like a major task ahead of you. I hope at the very least, you unearth some happy memories of your mother as you sort thru her stuff.

Sounds like a job for the mantra “cherish, charity, chuck”.

Do you cherish it?
If not, is it fit to go to a charity shop?
If not, chuck it.

You clearly have an in between category of stuff which you will need to hang on to while you are there, and then that goes in the last charity drop.

It takes a couple of passes to do this properly, and it’s amazing how quickly things move down through the categories on the second pass.

Sorry about your Mom, good luck with the clearance. May it bring back happy memories and not be too emotionally draining for you.

My brother and I were faced with this three years ago. We spent one solid week of eight- to nine-hour days clearing out my mom’s four-bedroom house (about 1800 square feet). She was decidedly not a hoarder and she’d been in the process for the last few years of her life trying to organize things, so her house was really not that difficult to get through. By the end of the week, though, we were both ready to collapse.

If you live out of state and don’t have any help, the sheer amount of work involved in clearing out a more cluttered, larger house is likely to be beyond your ability to complete in any reasonable amount of time. I’d suggest you look for a company that does estate sales and see what kind of services they offer and what they charge. Get a good real estate agent and then take his advice about how to get the house ready for market. Don’t try to do this all by yourself. It’s really helpful to have someone around who isn’t emotionally invested in the house or its contents.

If you choose to have a company come out to liquidate, locate and secure the things you’re going to want to keep first. It sounds like you’re the only heir, but if you’re not, you’ll want to consult the others for their opinions. If your mom had good friends who might appreciate a keepsake or two, it would be thoughtful to set something aside for them as well. Aside from that, the company is going to want a percentage of everything they appraise, so if you decide later to keep something, the estate will essentially have to buy it back.

You may be surprised by the emotions that the process brings out. My brother and I had each other for support, and we weren’t inclined to argue about objects or money, so we got through it fairly smoothly. The kitchen was the most challenging room. It’s astonishing just how many individual items there are in a kitchen, and how compelling objects you remember from childhood meals can be.

Be kind to yourself. You’re not a superman, and this task can take superhuman strength at times. It’s okay if you break down now and again. Take all the help you can get, and try to resign yourself to the fact that you’ll probably make a mistake here and there. If you can accept “good enough” as your goal, it’ll be easier to make it through.

This is a tough time, and you have my sympathy. There’s nothing easy about it.

When I emptied my folks house, I found that ReStore, part of Habitat for Humanity, would take ~everything~ - they will reuse in their projects, repair, resell or recycle as appropriate. A couple of young guys came with a truck and loaded it up - twice.

When my husband’s aunt passed a few months ago, the mantra was closer to “cherish, chuck, find a sucker.”

For the most part, the furniture and her china went to various family members, but pretty much everything else was trash. Just the usual detritus like piles of old magazines, cans of stuff that used to be edible in the pantry, etc. IIRC, the executor hired some college kids and dumpsters to empty it all.

They were lucky to sell the house to a flipper for about 35% below neighborhood comps as the place had knob and tube wiring, asbestos and a sad imitation of a plumbing system.

That’s the next question: significant repairs are needed. In this still-struggling real estate market, is it better to fix it up well enough to sell, or sell as-is? My feeling is to do the repairs, and try to attract a better buyer, but I dunno.

Perhaps that’s a question for the eventual realtor.

PS - you guys rock. I’ve gotten lots of good ideas and now they’re sort of swimming around in the brain, trying to take shape. That’s helpful.

I did this with my dads house last year. Much the same advice as above, except you don’t have to worry about recycle/donate as much if you don’t want to. When you’re dealing with a ton of stuff, some with sentimental value at such a hard time, no one will judge you if you chuck the stuff instead of taking the time to go through it and decide if its charity worthy. That can be super time consuming, so just pitch it.

And then, before making any repairs, contact a realtor and talk to them about how much the repairs will matter in terms of the sale price. A quick sale can be valuable when compared to your time supervising, working with contractors, etc. I know the instinct is to get as much as you can from the sale, but remember that Your Time has Value. Do a real analysis of what your time spent doing those is worth to you. Money is great, but you can’t buy your time back.

Good luck.

I think it is very doubtful that you will be able to distinguish everything which is salable from what is garbage for someone who has been accumulating stuff since the depression. For example you might say she has all kinds of old clothes which are out of style now, so either donate them to Goodwill or put them in the garbage. But if you look at eBay, people are willing to pay good money for some of these. So I think first you and those people who were important to her should select stuff they want and then you should do research on the rest of it (eBay completed auctions, have a professional estate sale person look at it…)

As to the house, some improvements are worth doing but probably most won’t return the money. I think the emphasis should be on cosmetic improvements–fresh paint…

Get a home inspection done, that will give you some idea of what might need to be fixed in order to sell the house. It will also give you some piece of mind when you do get an offer, since the buyer’s inspection won’t turn up any surprises.

Depending on the age and the area it’s probably expected that there will be some issues with the house, so you shouldn’t have to fix every little thing. If the condition isn’t that bad, then you probably only need to address safety issues or things that will cause further deterioration like water leaks. You might not have to fix anything if the lot is what’s valuable and it’s likely to sell to someone who’ll tear it down or go back to studs for a major renovation.

I just went through this with my mother’s house – I’m still going through it, actually, as the appraisal is set for Tuesday and we’re hoping for a June settlement.

My mom didn’t die, she just got very sick and had to move to assisted living 7 months ago, but everything else sounds ridiculously familiar: the hoarding (she’d been living in that house since 1985 and my GOD the piles of crap: not a single uncovered surface, I found one drawer full of nothing but the lids to prescription bottles, etc.), the needed repairs, etc. And she’s not ambulatory, so I have her power of attorney for the sale of the house. (I have a brother, but he’s pretty much useless for stuff like this. And I got some help and advice from my dad, but my parents have been divorced for 25+ years and while they’re friendly he has no legal attachment/rights. So, it’s all been pretty much up to me.)

Here’s what I did:[ul]

[li]We made a list of anything that anyone wanted. Those things were removed from the house.[/li]
[li]Everything else got thrown away. Everything. It took the junk removal service two trips (and cost $2,400), but nothing left in the house was worth the effort it would have taken to sell it. My dad was convinced that the old TVs and computers and kitchen appliances were worth something, so I let him try to sell whatever he wanted, but he quickly saw things my way.[/li]
[li]We hired a realtor, and got her advice regarding what repairs/changes were needed before the house could be put on the market. [/li]
[li]My father hired a general contractor; a father and son who had done some work around his place. Mom’s house needed a LOT of work: we wound up spending ~$20,000, and that’s without touching the kitchen. I live 60 miles away from the house but my dad and brother live nearby, so Dad oversaw the work.[/li]
[li]Eventually, finally, we put the house on the market (on 4/5). We got an offer two days later, a contract is in place, the inspection was last week, and – as I said – the appraisal has been scheduled. We are seriously crossing our fingers that the house appraises.[/ul]I don’t recommend bothering with an inspection before you have a buyer. I was convinced that we were going to have repair/replace all kinds of things in my mom’s house, but the actual list was short and reasonable. Nothing scary. [/li]
I do kind of wish we’d gotten the house appraised before we listed it, because there weren’t any really good comparables in the area, but both the realtor and my dad thought it wasn’t necessary and I didn’t feel like fighting. Hopefully it will work out.

In short, good luck. :slight_smile: It’s been a very stressful process for me, partly because the contractors had no idea what the words “schedule” or “deadline” meant, but now that I can see light at the end of the tunnel I’m feeling better every day. And it’s kind of amusing me that I’m selling a house without ever having bought one (I’m a lifelong renter). Anyway, I completely empathize, and you should feel free to PM me if you ever need a shoulder to vent on.

I don’t know how it is in your state, but here in Maryland I had to have someone come in and appraise everything. They ended up selling most everything and keeping 20-30%. They also had to move everything out of the house.

I spent a few weeks throwing things away and trying to find things I wanted, not much really, and as much of the family history that I could, mostly photos and such.

If I were to do it again I would probably rent a big dumpster and then throw a good amount of the stuff out. I’d also look to see if I could do the selling of stuff by myself. There were a lot of things, Coke stuff, 80s toys, and such that probably would have gotten me more then a few bucks.

If you happen to be in the DC area I know a couple of guys who like to come in a buy that kind of stuff. I really would hate to see what his house looks like now the way he does it.

Depends on your carrying costs (eg: mortgage, property tax, insurance) and how quickly you want to turn a house into money.

The aunt’s house would have cost us serious piles of money just to remediate the asbestos and wiring, and then it would still be stylistically stuck in 1940. So then, do we put lipstick on the pig? Would we have already spent so much on the remediation to leave us under water if the house sold at comp? (and it would still be ugly) For this particular house, unloading it quickly on a flipper was the best course of action.

Hi BrownMouse, welcome to the Dope.

I went through this process, and am still trying to sell the empty house. You might remember me from the thread Help Me Move a Vintage Refrigerator

Our parents were also Depression kids, and kept everything they ever got.
Some random thoughts:

First we cleaned out the basement. Mom had tons of “yard sale” crap she could never sell. Good stuff went to charity, other stuff got tossed or recycled.

They had Every. Box. Ever. They. Ever. Bought. Anything. In. That took about five loads to the recycle center. Also tons of bottles, jars, newsprint, mags, etc. Dustmasks and gloves.

Poor quality tools went to charity. Name brand good tools were set aside.

Struggling family members were brought in to take whatever furniture they wanted. Got rid of some big ugly heavy stuff that way.

One box was for all the loose change, pocket knives, money clips, dead watches, did I say pocket knives?, and other shiny cool stuff. All Mom’s purses had money in them, as well as every stash hole in the house. Came up with about $200 that way.

No time to advertise, but word of mouth got rid of more furniture, TVs, couches for mere dollars. We didn’t care.

Rented a dumpster and filled it to the brim with useless junk. Some furniture was tossed in there after being busted up. All the steel stuff, and there was TONS OF IT, was set beside the dumpster, and the steel recyclers would suck it up nightly. Also got rid of some furniture, chemicals, and misc crap like old BBQs that way. Tires, propane tanks, wood trim would routinely be grabbed. People love that stuff :smiley:

Things that needed to be shredded: We did those on-sight as long as we were able. Brought home a couple of heavy boxes full of paper that has since been shredded. Medical records and cancelled checks from the mid-1960s. Yep. :smack:

Dontated a bunch of stuff to a charity/cancer sale. It all sold.

Gave a literal truckload of stuff to the ladies who cleaned out the empty house for me. We’re talking sacks full of rags, t-shirts, rags, cleaners, chemicals, gloves, brushes, buckets, rags, rags, and more rags.

Gave the good food to a food drive. Some food was spoiled, as well as all the bathroom stuff and cosmetics. Right into dumpster land.

Gotta say we have enough dish soap, bar soap, and plastic bags to get us through 2018.

We brought back a large cube to our AZ home. About half of that has since been sold at leisure, did not have the time in another state to sell much of anything.

Gave lots of yard stuff to neighbors, such as wheel barrows, rakes, etc. One guy got a nearly new rototiller!

It was exhausting, but it has to be done. We still have some things to sell off, including silver, some art, etc.

Good luck with your project. Just keep at it and keep chipping away day by day whenever you can steal a moment!

When I moved from my house where I had lived for twenty year I hired a company. They took no money up front, set up the sale, advertised, handled everything, took their cut ($2,000), sent me a check for the balance. Then I hired someone else to haul what was left to the dump. Take whatever items you want, then turn this over to someone else.

Yes, it is. Get a local realtor who knows the local market and can be totally cold-blooded about decisions, and go with whatever she recommends. She’ll also know local cleanout people and repair contractors, and can arrange to have the work done if her numbers tell her it will pay off. Once you’ve taken everything you want to keep, and signed the realtor’s contract, you should never need to go back there.

Fortunately my parents moved out of their long-time house and into an assisted-living community without any of us in town to help (or to delay the inevitable). We were all simply invited to come take anything, anything at all with very few exceptions, that we wanted. Then, when moving time came, they engaged a cleanout/downsizing person who helped make the rest of the decisions for them. Items of value went to the local auction house, minus a fee, and the rest to Goodwill/SA/other charities. We’re grateful to them for addressing the matter (or letting it be addressed) before it became time-critical.

Talking to a local realtor is a good first step for selling the house - they’ll be able to tell you what repairs will get your money back, and which ones would be a waste of money on a house like your mother’s, as well as what the market is like and what kind of price you can realistically get.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of repairs you can do on a house to sell - the first kind don’t really increase value, but they make a house sell-able - they make people more inclined to buy a house. This would be things like updating all the electrical fixtures and plumbing fixtures - this can be done for very little money, and makes a much better impression than old, grungy stuff.

The second kind of repair will probably get you a higher price - replace a roof, put in another bathroom, re-do the kitchen.

That said, my inclination would probably be to clean everything out of the house, clean it from top to bottom so it is spotless, and go through and do easy, cheap repairs like electrical fixtures and faucets, fix any holes in the walls, get the yard in shape, etc. You probably don’t want to be embarking on major renos on this house.

We have the same issue :slight_smile: Actually, just getting started in cleaning out my mother’s house has been a 5-year nightmare for us. She was not only a packrat, but so is my husband, and he’s paranoid that his stuff is going to be thrown out, so therefore I shouldn’t touch anything of my mother’s even though he has no legal claim to any of it nor the house…don’t get me started. I’d be happier living in a monk’s cell. Really.

I’m rather leaning toward selling “as is” as opposed to making the repairs I cannot afford to make. We have a number of houses in my area which sell as such, most of them being estate liquidations with absentee heirs. They get snapped up rather quickly both by families wanting to get into the town and by investors looking to flip. For me, it’s a no brainer.

I presume you’re far enough away that you can’t pop in easily for a weekend here or there.

I’d take your two weeks and spend it hiring people to do the bulk of the clearout, and to sell the house. By “bulk of the clearout” I mean the people who do the estate auctions etc. I wouldn’t bother with a yard sale just because of the sheer hassle involved.

You may want to get one of those “dumpster in a bag” things so you can toss stuff in there during your time there. I would definitely recommend going through various papers yourself because your mother may well have things like mortgage paperwork / deeds, stock certificates, etc. But other stuff - might as well toss it while you’re at it before the “sell everything” people come in.

Also an inventory of household things if there are other people (siblings? other relatives?) who may want or be entitled to some items. I set up a spreadsheet when going through my mother’s house - listed room, item, and had a column for people to say they wanted it: Mom’s will said “divide up household items as you mutually agree”. Obviously we didn’t list every single pot or pan, but we did try to itemize anything noteworthy or potentially valuable.

I agree with doing just those repairs etc. that are needed to make the place look sellable. A local realtor can advise you on whether you should remove furniture etc. before listing the place - I’d always heard a place looks better if it’s got some (but not too much) furniture, but when we sold Mom’s house, we were advised that no, it’s better empty.