This Old House


Over the years I have learned that elder clients are not so much disturbed about their eventual deaths as they are about changes in their lives as they age. I think it’s true about houses too.

Just yesterday I sat with two elderly sisters who have lived together in the same house for their entire lives (a combined 187 years!!!) One of the sisters is seriously ill with a prognosis of about 6 months to live while her older sister has mid-stage dementia and no longer recognizes her sister. It is time for them to move to a nursing home, but how do they leave their home of so many years? Who will tend the roses? How will the birds (and squirrels) make it through the Winter without their help? Will the new owners be able to make that quirky furnace run properly? Does The Globe deliver to nursing homes? These are the real questions I was asked. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them the house will likely be bulldozed in favor of a couple of townhouses.

I believe there is karma to a house, good and bad. When I am working on probating an estate I am often called to go in and evaluate properties. You can almost hear the children singing happy birthday, the puppy chewing the corner of the good oriental rug, the smell of grandmother’s garlicky tomato "gravy" for Sunday dinner. Sometimes I hear the raised voices of a bad marriage fueled by alcohol and crushing debt, or the long suffering of COPD patient dying slowly before their loved ones, and all too often the nightly crying of a lonely widow pining for her long lost bedfellow. Are there ghosts? Is it spirits?

In this modern age so many people think of their houses as mere way stations as they are transferred up the corporate ladder. Or perhaps they never find the family’s home as they feel compelled to upgrade their house and furnishings in each new wave of fashion, like shoes or hairstyles. I feel sorry for people who do not have the patience to impart their personal signature on a place; stay a while, you’ll like it – and it will like you back. From a financial perspective, those clients that have stayed in their homes for many years and have been able to pay off their mortgages one payment at a time enjoy much more financial stability than those clients that have progressively taken on more and more mortgage and other debt to acquire real estate they think will make them ‘happy’.

My legal advice to first time home buyers? Find a happy house. Spend a couple of hours enjoying tea in its living room with the lonely widow before your closing. Ask to keep a photo or tchotchke of the seller as a piece of goodwill. Leave a little corner of that awful wallpaper. Stay in the house as long as you can, feel the good karma. And when you sell that happy little house, shed a tear as you drive.

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