Where Do I Start?

Laurie Turner May 3, 2024

Case Study #3: One Excuse at a Time (Embrace the Journey)

This is a story about one of the sweetest couples we’ve had the pleasure of working with in our careers as Realtors®.  It’s also a story that perfectly illustrates the concept of “Rationalized Inertia”; giving yourself an out when it comes to confronting other important aging decisions.  Making excuses and putting up road blocks that sound perfectly rational but in reality, is a tactic allowing you to justify delaying putting a Housing Plan together or executing your plan when you know it’s time to act.

Bob and Louise built their dream home as newlyweds in 1978.  Even though they divorced nearly 30 years ago they are still best friends and act like an old married couple when around one another.  They tease each other mercilessly and it’s clear they have a deep and undying affection for one another.  It’s adorable!  Louise continued living in the house they built.  Bob manages her finances, navigates her health care and even handles the household maintenance.  They were together several days a week.  But as they got older things became more difficult to keep up with, as things do.  It was harder for Bob to maintain the house, the drive from Bob’s condominium became less manageable and Louise began developing some health concerns.

A dear friend called us to ask our help in selling his parents condominium.   They were getting on in years and had made the decision to move into an independent living community.  Our friend told us his father had had a conversation with a neighbor who might be interested in purchasing the condo.  He passed along his contact info and we reached out to gauge his interest.  That’s how we met Bob.  He lived across the hall and was interested in purchasing the unit for his ex-wife Louise.  He wanted to move her closer to make it easier for him to keep an eye on her and care for her in the years to come knowing her physical condition could continue to deteriorate.  Before we met them and saw how close they were we jokingly asked if he wanted us to talk him out of it?  He got the joke and admitted he might be a little crazy, or he would be if she moved in across the hall, but if he could convince her, it would be the best for everyone in the long run.
Louise knew in her heart that she needed to make a move.  The house and Bob’s commute were too much.  She was still in good health but was developing some health issues that would continue to get worse.  Now was the time to put a Housing Plan together.  Bob, a retired COO for a major hospital group, was a planner.  He’d been hatching this plan for some time and was trying to get Louise to buy in.  This is where the “rationalized inertia” first made itself evident.  Louise was able to say she was on board because, until now, there wasn’t a condo available.  Now it was real.  Time for the next rationalization…

Rationalized Inertia is a very natural reaction most of us have to change.  The bigger the change, the bigger the reaction.  We pile up excuse after excuse until making a change seems impossible.  If we can’t move because we’ve made it impossible then we sit in place; inertia.  That’s how we convince ourselves it’s ok.  We tell ourselves it’s impossible to move and have no choice but to stay put.  But that’s not the reality of any situation.  Any challenge can be overcome.  And the need to overcome challenges increases as we age or our health begins to decline.  Sometimes we just need a little help seeing the forest through the trees.  That’s where we came in.

Louise was clearly overwhelmed when we first met her.  She, in her head, had made moving impossible.  As the list of reasons, excuses, went on and on we sat quietly, listened and took notes.  Nothing we hadn’t heard before and we knew it could all be done.  Nothing we heard we hadn’t already overcome for countless other clients in her position.  It just takes time, moving at a pace she’s comfortable with, to remove all those excuses one at a time until she sees that moving isn’t impossible, and she sees that moving is the solution.  Fortunately, in this case, we had time.

First step, get Louise in to see the condo.  Things are rarely as scary in person as they are in our imagination.  That was our hope in showing Louise the condo, that it would be less scary than she made it out to be in her imagination.  It took time but as we walked the unit and talked, we could see some tension leave her.  Bob began talking with her about furniture placement.  Slowly she could begin to envision living there.  In the end she said she could see herself being very cozy and happy living there.  But then all the other excuses that make moving impossible started flowing again.  One step at a time…

Step two, get us in to see Louise’s house.  Built in 1978 and still as original as the day they moved in.  A Brady Bunch dream home!  It was tired but fabulous to house junkies like us.  Orange shag carpet, wood parquet flooring, flocked metallic wallpaper, designer 70’s furniture…  it was like walking onto the set of Mad Men.  We loved it!  Once the only house on the street, the neighborhood had grown into a very desirable area full of families and kids.  As for Louise’s excuse of “nobody is going to want this tired old house”, wrong!  We can sell this in a week.  

Step three, what are your plans for all of your “collections”?  As we all know too well, things tend to accumulate the longer one lives in a home, and Louises was no exception.  What to do with all of her things was one of the biggest excuses that was preventing her from moving.  Solving this was critical to getting her to move.  In touring the home and conversing with Louise and Bob it became clear that she was going to be able to take most things of value with her, the furniture, art, her extensive Lladro glass collection….  Most of the rest of her “collections” weren’t of great value but nobody wants to hear that.  How best to have that conversation?  We decided to bring in a wonderful estate sale professional we’ve used several times in the past to give Louise a professional opinion about her collections.  He instantly fell in love with the home in all its vintage glory.  After a tour we sat down to discuss whether he felt there was enough to have an estate sale.  After complementing much of the contents of the home he said, “unfortunately you are taking everything of any real value with you.  I’m afraid what remains isn’t worth my time or yours to sell.”  Louise took it like a champ.  As he listed everything she wasn’t taking with her and talked about the relative value she couldn’t argue with his experience and professional opinion.  Louise looked at Bob and said, “looks like we have a lot of donations to make to the Goodwill”.  And with that they began sorting through the house, room by room, bagging anything that could be donated and tossing anything that couldn’t.

Step four, how do you want to pay for the condo?  There are typically a couple of options when it comes to making a purchase.  This case was a little tricky.  The house wouldn’t be ready to bring to market before the condo needed to be purchased so we couldn’t use the proceeds from the sale of the house.  Bob didn’t want Louise to take on a mortgage.  There was plenty of equity in the house to take out a HELOC (home equity line of credit) to pay for the condo and pay it off when the house sells, but Bob wasn’t interested in that option.  Louise was in the fortunate position to be able to pay cash but that would require liquidating some of her investment portfolio, triggering capital gains taxes.  We looked at several other alternatives and eventually suggested Bob look into a bridge loan.  A bridge loan, if you’re not familiar, is basically a short-term loan you can take against your investments without having to liquidate anything, so no tax event.  When the house sells you repay the loan from the proceeds of the sale.  The interest rates tend to be higher but, in this case, that was more than offset by not triggering a taxable event selling from her portfolio.  Bob did his research and set up the bridge loan with her bank.  Now we needed to move quickly so Louise wouldn’t be paying too much in interest.

Step five, what to do with Louise?  With financing secured we entered escrow on the condo and Bob and Louise continued to clear out the house, with a new sense of urgency.  Louise was more excited than ever about making the move but we could see the physical toll clearing out the house was taking on her.  We needed to hit pause to let her rest.  The plan was to sell the house, move Louise into the condo and then do a little work updating the condo.  But her physical condition was causing us all some concern.  New plan, do the work to the condo while Louise was still living in the house, giving her more time to clear things out, and then move her into the condo so we could sell the house without her having to live through all the showings and inspections and such.  This would be much less stressful for her but would take more time, costing Louise more in interest from the bridge loan.  Bob agreed it was worth the extra expense for Louise’s health, so we changed course a bit.  We got our team into the condo for painting, carpet, repairs and updates while Louise stayed at the house.
Step six, how are we ever going to move everything into the condo?  Sure, it’s easy enough to call a moving company but who’s going to pack and unpack everything?  As we all know, packing and unpacking are the hardest parts of moving!  Bob and Louise were exhausted from clearing out the house.  We had to do something.  When the work on the condo was complete and it was time to move in, we called in another vendor we’ve used in the past who specializes in organizing moves for seniors.  They do everything!  They made a floorplan of the condo and worked with Bob and Louise in placing all of her furniture, art, and collections.  They labeled every kitchen cabinet and drawer with what should go inside.  They organized what clothes go in what bedrooms and even in what drawers in the dressers.  They packed everything, labeled the boxes, met the movers at the other end and unpacked everything exactly according to plan.  It’s more expensive than traditional movers but in this case, worth every penny.  Bob and Louise didn’t have to lift a finger and knew where everything was as if they’d put it there themselves.  We brought lunch over to the condo for Bob and Louise on moving day to check in on the progress.  I asked Louise where she was sleeping that night and she said “at Bob’s place”.  Bob quickly corrected here and said “no, you’re staying at your place across the hall.”  Louise coyly said “oh darn, I was hoping we could re-live some old times.”  I don’t think it is possible for anyone to blush as much as Bob did just then.  I told you, they are adorable with each other!

Step seven, finally time to sell the house!  With Louise comfortably and safely tucked into her new condo across the hall from Bob it was finally time to sell the house.  I said before it was a great house and wouldn’t take long to sell but even I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.  Once we gave the house a deep clean and did a little yard work to spruce things up, we listed it in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and our phones started blowing up.  We held an open house for Realtors® on a Tuesday and were overwhelmed!  At midnight that night we received an offer so far over asking, she couldn’t refuse.  We reviewed the offer with Bob and Louise the next morning, and opened escrow that afternoon.  One day was all it took!  A young family with two small children fell in love with the house and had to have it.  Both of their parents live in the neighborhood, they had many friends in the neighborhood and had been renting in the area hoping something would come available.  Bob and Louise were thrilled and had a wonderful time meeting the family at the house to give them the keys at the close of escrow.  Having never had children, Louise said it completed a dream of hers to finally have children in the house.

We love a happy ending!  When we first met Bob and Louise, we didn’t think we’d ever get Louise past her rationalized inertia.  By the end of our adventure together she was a changed woman fully embracing the next chapter of her life.  How lucky is she to have Bob in her life?  And how grateful are we to have such a wonderful team to call on to provide the services that we do?  Sometimes it really does take a village, so when you are looking to hire a Realtor® make sure they have a village of resources to call upon if needed.  Overcoming Louises resistance was as “simple” as taking on one excuse at a time and showing her that each challenge wasn’t as difficult as she thought.  Working through each excuse until she could see the light at the end of the tunnel and embrace the journey.  Visiting with her in her new condo after everything was said and done, she told us how happy she was and how silly she was for thinking she could never manage a move that big.  “You did everything, including hold my hand, and made everything happen.  I’d still be miserable in that big old house if it weren’t for you two.”  And so far, Bob reports that his sanity is still holding up living across the hall from his ex-wife.
If this sounds like you or someone you know, we’re here to have those conversations with dignity and tact.  Contact us at (626) 483-5269 or at [email protected].

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