Breaking Down the House
September 25, 2022 1:22 PM   Subscribe

It's a tale as old as time - my parents' health and their ability to mange their house is starting to overwhelm them and me, their only child. I'm getting a wrangle on medical and legal stuff, but the care of their house it outside of all of our expertise. Please help me shape my ideas of what should and can be done.

Approximate location in suburban Indiana.

The medical situation: My parents are in their early 70s. Dad is currently being treated for cancer which has exacerbated his existing diabetes. He's responding fairly well to chemo but will probably have a colostomy bag before the end of the year. My mother is his full time caregiver. Both are mentally alert, but both have tendencies to anxiety, depression and having no spoons for cleaning and housecare. I'm their only child and I live several states away.

The house situation: old four square farmhouse built circa 1880s. It's always been too big for them. There was a bankruptcy about ten years ago as a result of medical bills/a previous cancer. Between money, covid, the current health situation, and my dad's anxiety about not letting people in the house unless it is squeaky clean, the place is run down and full of stuff in a way that triggers ALL of my millennial quasi-minimalist anxieties, my only child anxieties, and probably more anxieties that we'll learn about by the end of the two weeks in October when I travel to their town and try and get some things set up. Hooray! I have a therapist - what I need is help breaking down house tasks into what's doable and how to prioritize among those tasks.

The good: the roof is new as of 2015; the furnace is new as of last year. Why yes, they were just living in one curtained room with space heaters before that, let's all be horrified together!

The bad:
Bathroom - No working shower or bath in the house. Between the two bathrooms, the downstairs (an addition made in the late nineties by a previous owner) has a working toilet, a broken sink, and one of those terrible all-in-one plastic shower cubes that hasn't worked for decades. There is an upstairs bathroom with no running water. A plumber told them something about replacing pipes and they and I know no more than that, except mom doesn't like that plumber and wants another opinion. They shower at the gym. As far as I can tell, the only working sink in the house is the kitchen sink.

Flooring - The whole house suffers terrible carpet, but when I was there last summer I noticed that it's actually starting to become dangerous/pulled up around the stairs. The good news is they almost never go upstairs, but it only takes one trip.

Garage - This is an old barn, and unusable due to the giant hole in the roof. I think tearing it down will require permits and a contractor, but what does that MEAN? Due to the hole, the garage wasn't included in their home insurance after the bankruptcy. There's also an outbuilding/chicken coop. Both buildings are wired for electricity, and of course full of stuff. We do not know what stuff.

The middling: Most of it is the middling. The basement has flooded in the past and needs cleaning, but the current sump pumps seem to be holding up. There's no air conditioning and pretty much every wallpaper could do with being replaced. Door frames shift like old door frames do. The back steps are just a concrete block of steps with no rails and mom has fallen on them in the ice before. The windows were new in 2000 and are holding up ok. There's almost an acre of yard, so the trees will need looking at. They throw away trash and recycle, but getting rid of bigger trash is difficult and back porch and storage spaces are hoarder-lite. The roofing company didn't cap the chimneys, so we have to wait for the current raccoons to leave before capping them and patching the hole in the Master bedroom wall that apparently leads to the chimney but we are not investigating at the moment because of said raccoons. We don't think the raccoons come in, but the master bedroom door stays closed. Life is a rich tapestry.

I know nothing about houses. I'm not convinced my parents know much about houses - we lived in rentals my entire life until this house. In my ideal world, we would sell the house and move them into a large apartment closer to medical treatment and the places they travel regularly (church, gym, work). They're not entirely opposed to this. But they ARE convinced they need to do all the work the house requires before selling it. I might be able to convince them to split the difference, get a temporary apartment, and have all the work done at once, though this seems like a waste of time and money to me. If they both died tomorrow, I would sell it as is and take whatever financial loss. The real estate market in their area is not hopping, though it could be worse.

That whole novel of a backstory to say that I'll be project managing this house whether I want to or not, and I don't know where to start. I am able to be there in person for two weeks at the end of October, then will have to do things remotely until summer 2023. I am not allowed to burn the house down. I am willing to throw money at this, as long as things the money is paying for are necessary and will lead to the goal of comfort and safety for my parents.

- What sorts of people do I need to be looking for? General contractor for the outbuildings, or something else? My husband thinks a realtor might be the kind of person who could come out and evaluate the property and give a realistic idea of what needs to be done.
- Are there any glaring omissions in my picture? Stuff I should really be looking at/paying attention to?
- What should I push and what should I not? It hurts me that their daily lives are made more difficult by this house, but there's a lot of emotional stuff wrapped up in the illness/shame/confronting of mortality here, and I'm trying to balance being gentle and addressing as many issues as are necessary. Raccoon borne diseases aside, they are not in immediate danger.
- Are there any resources out there about houses along the lines of
- Halp?
posted by theweasel to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I think moving them to an apartment should be your main goal, even if you do it before selling the house: the house is unsafe for them. It is not a habitable house by developed-world standards. You don't have to convince your parents of this - feel free to use words like safety and comfort and convenience and lower-maintenance when you talk to them - but I think it will serve you, personally, better to be realistic about how bad the situation actually is. (No judgement on you or your parents! Maintaining a home, even a newer one, is a lot of work and things can get away from you fast.)

For how to actually make progress towards that goal of getting your parents out of the house, a realtor would be an OK place to start. A realtor isn't going to give you a full inventory of the stuff that the house needs in order to be long-term livable and generally in good shape, but they will be able to say, "These X improvements are likely to give you the biggest bang for your buck, and doing Y and Z is unlikely to do much to improve the saleability of the house." A good realtor will know the local market and know things like, "this house is going to be a teardown no matter what, so there's no point in fixing anything" or "if this house had working bathrooms and five fewer raccoons living in it, it would probably sell to a young family in search of a fixer-upper." Talk to a couple different agents from different agencies.

If you really want to know everything that's wrong with the house and ought to be fixed, a home inspector can help with that, but you already know about some huge, huge problems with the house.

And I think you have to keep in mind that even if you were to get the house into safe, well-maintained condition for your parents, it would not stay that way unless you are ready be in charge of house maintenance for them for as long as they live in the house.

You really have your work cut out for you! Remember that this did not happen overnight and it's not going to get solved overnight. Lean on your husband, your therapist, your friends.
posted by mskyle at 1:58 PM on September 25, 2022 [16 favorites]

Best answer: tl;dr? Skip down to the ALL CAPS HEADING below for an actual answer and not just my own rambling version of your story.

OK. First, welcome to your version of my world. My partner, two of our kids (teens), and I live in a house that is also in a state of much deferred maintenance, with a badly-overgrown yard. The underlying cause of all of this is that I got really sick about 8 years ago (much better just lately, thanks, after a long complicated road) and at that point it turned out that my partner has serious executive function deficits. I was literally almost bedridden for three and a half years while the house started to go to hell, and I have not been well enough since then to take the job over again.

We're actually separating at the moment, but we're amicable. After all these years, he's finally beginning to address the previously-undiagnosed autism and untreated anxiety he's been living with.

Those details don't matter. What matters is: I'm moving out, and my partner and 18yo are staying in the house. It seems entirely possible that my partner is not capable of caring for a house and yard; also entirely possible that he will figure out before too long that he doesn't want to.

So I am going to be looking at the answers you get very closely, because we're all trying to figure out what help he needs, what he's capable of, where help can be gotten.


A couple of months ago, our next-door neighbors sold their house and were very happy with their realtor. We asked her to come take a look at our place, even though it is dirty, in need of lots of minor and cosmetic maintenance, and desperately in need of a whole kitchen re-do (my partner didn't know what to do when the dishwasher started leaking, so he...just kept using it? And now the kitchen floor is ruined, down through all the old layers of linoleum to the sub-floor. I'm sorry about your parents, but glad in a way to know my poor partner is not the only one who has struggled like this).

Anyway, the realtor was very professional, very kind, and very clear. She told us we could sell the house, just not while any of us were living there or any of our stuff was in it. She highlighted a few affordable improvements (like replacing the inside doors, which are 60-year-old hollow-core laminate in very bad shape), observed that we would have to have the whole thing super-deep-cleaned, and then told us what she thought we could get for it if we could get those things done. It was heartening that this was enough to cover our remaining mortgage balance, though god only knows when or if my partner will ever be able to do the work.


My partner also felt that everything had to be fixed to sell the house, but this felt impossible, and probably is impossible because he's not going to be able to magically do all this maintenance and stuff-clearing that he has literally never been able to do before.

But we got good, useful information from the realtor. It gives us a different, lesser target to aim at.


I had an aunt and uncle who were pretty much hoarders. They both died some years ago; I think my uncle about eight years ago? They left a stuffed-to-the-gills house in need of serious clearing and maintenance, a junk-stuffed garage, at least one full-but-falling-down outbuilding, and a dead car graveyard.

I recently re-connected with one cousin's widow, and she told me that my surviving cousin? Has done nothing. He hasn't cleared away anything or fixed anything. It's all just sitting there mouldering and rusting and it feels very, very likely it will continue to do so. Essentially, he has abandoned the property, though he still holds the deed.

This is obviously nobody's ideal outcome. But if there's nobody to take the property on, except, as in my family's case, one surviving son who is himself pushing 70 and not in great health? And if the property isn't loaded with a burdensome debt your parents or you will have to shoulder?

This is how abandoned houses happen. If your parents live in a place where they've been able to let the property get into such poor repair, I say it's not going to cause more harm to the neighborhood to focus on getting them somewhere safe and clean, where they can be cared for and access what they need, and just lock the door on this place and walk away. Probably it's a bad idea to lock the door and throw the key deep into the weeds, though that is an appealing image, and probably it'd be a good idea to have someone board up the windows and doors. And in your shoes, I'd consult a lawyer about what your liability might be.

But you really do not have to take on this overwhelming load that your parents let accumulate over years and years of their lives. Take care of them; take care of yourself; let the kudzu take care of the house and barn.
posted by Well I never at 2:09 PM on September 25, 2022 [15 favorites]

There's nothing worse than putting a whole bunch of money into a house when it won't make a difference for the sale price in your marketplace. Consturction costs are up significantly and buyers are pulling back on purchases due to mortgage rates. Talk to a couple realtors and a home inspector before you start spending money on contractors.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:09 PM on September 25, 2022 [19 favorites]

My wife and I have gone through this twice. I haven’t seen the house but, ime, you never get enough more for the house+repairs as compared to as-is to make that worthwhile. Buyers are going to want to do their kitchen, their bath, etc., and will just rip out the repairs you just paid for. And, this doesn’t account for your time, effort, and travel being the general contractor for this project.

They need to move first; the house is barely habitable or uninhabitable and they can’t live in a construction zone in any case.

So, sell as-is and move them to somewhere nearer you. They are only going to get less functional over time and need to be near some one who cares
posted by sudogeek at 2:11 PM on September 25, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: From what you've written I'd go with your gut feeling that they need to get out of the house. Whether to sell or fix then sell is a tougher call, but I do not think they can stay there.

For background I'm a house person - I've learned to do pretty much everything DIY over the last 20 years ago or so, and lived in (and gut rehabbed) houses built from ~1870 to ~1930. (I've also owned a house in Indiana that I had to deal with remotely, and recently dealt with a fast-declining parent in their late 70s).

It's all manageable work, but houses of this age have a huge amount of entropy. I always have a list of things to do, and I'm both skilled enough and motivated enough to get through it. As much as I love houses of that era I recognize that there's always something that needs to be done, and given your parents' current health, and the apparent lack of maintenance over the years, I don't think you can reasonably count on them to do it. Fixing it now is temporary.

Realistically you have three main options. You can fix the house and have them continue to live there (which I do not recommend, as above). You can fix the house and sell it, or you can sell it as-is. The last two can be measured as a purely financial decision; a good realtor can give you an expectation of how much you'd expect to get by selling it as-is and how much you'd expect to get by fixing and selling it. They may indeed have contractor recommendations as well.

At the end of the day this is going to be a tradeoff between your time/hassle and money. You'll probably come out a little better by fixing and selling, but it will be at the tradeoff of so much stress. Only you can know where that balance is for you.
posted by true at 2:13 PM on September 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: First of all, I am very sorry for your family's situation. The good news is that your parents are open to selling/moving. I think that needs to be your goal. With that in mind, and the relatively limited time you can be there, I would prioritize the following:
-You need to have a very clear understanding of your parents' financial situation. How much they owe on the house and any other debts, what financial assets they have, etc. If they are low income (i.e. just social security/medicare or medicade, etc.) that could open opportunities.
-Yes, have a realtor come and give you an assessment of the property--I would make that appointment for the first day you arrive. You may be surprised to find that they will recommend against any big projects as someone who would buy it would probably want to fix it up the way they want. They should also be a good resource for repair folks and contractors, etc.
-Maybe look into hiring an elder care attorney to help with all the legal work (same as above set up ahead of your arrival to meet soon after you get to town)--very much worth it if you can afford it. For instance, before anyone goes into the barn or other outbuildings, they might advise you get some kind of liability insurance. If they are as rickety as they sound, and someone is injured, that could be very bad with no insurance. However, there are also people who might pay you to strip the barn of the old wood as that has some value--you'd still want insurance.
-Check with the City/County to see what elder assistance is available in terms of help and respite care to give your Mom some time off or ideas on housing that accommodates disabilities, etc. (this you can do from home ahead of time via web search/phone calls)
--Start exploring assisted living options now, from home--in my medium-sized town there are several ranging from fancy (i.e. expensive) to low-income versions supported by the Lions Club or some other charitable organization. Again, make some appointments to visit with your parents.
-Then decide with your parents what they want to keep and try to pull that all together and get it boxed up and ready to move--you are aiming for as little stuff as possible. Make sure you get important paperwork. Some, if not all of the photos, some mementos, but help them to whittle them down. Maybe get a box that you can put stuff you want in and take that home with you (or ship home).
--Then you can look at options for getting the house cleared out (again, a good thing to look at ahead of time).
--There will be other things, but I think you should try to do as much of the research as possible before heading out and focus on the parts that you need to be there to do when you arrive.

Good luck! It is a lot of work, but I expect your parents will be relieved to have the stress of the house issues behind them. It may help your Mom to stay healthier longer to have a safe, comfortable, supportive, living situation while your Dad is ill.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:13 PM on September 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think you should talk to a lawyer about this... Depending on their finances, debt, mortgage, health issues, and the state of the house and its location, there are so many hurdles here. If you're looking at getting them into assisted living, some places take your entire SSA check and give the residents like, $40/m of spending cash. If they go on Medicaid, it's complicated if their house becomes a seizable asset. If they live in a rural area and qualify for long term Medicaid, they might be able to get full time nursing assistants to come help them with their needs, covered by Medicaid. Also, the USDA has home repair grants and also low interest (1%) loans for qualified seniors if they plan on living in the home for awhile. Habitat for humanity may also have grant monies available. UnitedWay and the Area Agency on Aging may also have good resources as well as ElderCare. Side note, consider getting them enrolled in identity theft monitoring (my dad's enrolled through his AAA insurance) to make sure that they don't get their identities stolen. Also, you may need to freeze their credit with the major credit agencies if you notice anything suspect- it's easy to freeze and unfreeze. You might also look into getting POA and becoming the executor of the will (which may default on you anyway?). There are prescription assistance programs out there, medigap and others that are regionally available. You can also contact your parents' area's AAA ombudsman for pointers.

I'm going through something similar at the moment and it's really tough, so I feel you. Good luck. Message me if you have any questions.
posted by erattacorrige at 2:33 PM on September 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

In my ideal world, we would sell the house and move them into a large apartment closer to medical treatment and the places they travel regularly (church, gym, work). They're not entirely opposed to this. But they ARE convinced they need to do all the work the house requires before selling it.

The work this property needs will be quite expensive ($$$, time, and energy, theirs and yours). Prioritize scheduling house appraisals for selling as-is, and moving your folks into that in-town rental. And while you're visiting, have any paperwork like POAs or wills drawn up -- like the move, it's much safer for them to do this now.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:46 PM on September 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: For basic cleanup and dump runs, maybe reach out to their church? It is very likely that someone at church has a truck, doesn't mind lifting stuff, and will want to be helpful to some elders who need help.

The pastor may also know a good plumber or contractor who will cut them a deal but for sure ask for help hauling big trash.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:49 PM on September 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

Everyone above is right. Just want to add that if you can find a good realtor that your parents like and trust, that realtor can help with a lot of this so that it's not all on your shoulders. The realtor will be able to advise on what work (if any) is worth doing before selling and can help orchestrate it.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:52 PM on September 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

oneirodynia is correct: the amount you put in for that extensive of home repairs will not be recouped in the selling price.

blnkfrnk has a great idea about reaching out to churches: i knew of one in FL that did just this - empty the homes of elderly who needed to move, and then they sold useable items at their thrift store or donated them to relocated families.

An alternative - depending on the value of the items - is to reach out to an auction house or company that does estate sales.

If you only have one week, I’d connect with the real estate agent, look for a place to move them to, and spend the remainder of the time going through the belongings to identify the heirlooms, pictures, etc., that are must-keep items, that you will want removed from the house when they move. Everything else - do your best to delegate the clearing and selling to professionals.
posted by Silvery Fish at 3:03 PM on September 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Sell as-is. This is a hard thing to tell a man your dad's age, but the fact of the matter is that if his priority was maximizing the equity in the house it would not be in this condition now. It is too late now, and you're not going to get back what you put in - let a flipper take on that work and liability. They have resources you do not, and knowledge you do not, and the time investment it will take you and them just to get the work planned and done? You cannot possibly make enough money to cover that.

They're going to protest about all the sentimental stuff, and there might be something important under this pile or that stack. If one of the many problems with the house burned it to the ground right now, they wouldn't have those things either, so you're just going to have to risk that something "important" gets thrown out. If it was important enough, they'd have accessed it in the past year and it would be near the top of the pile. The rest of the stuff? Nobody wants it. It only has value to them, unfortunately. Times have changed.

Talk to a Realtor.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:17 PM on September 25, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: The real estate market in their area is not hopping, though it could be worse.

This more than anything makes me think that it will not be worth trying to fix it up - fixing up old houses is generally only profitable if you can do the labor yourself, which sounds impossible in this instance given you'll be managing this long-distance.

One thing you can do now, before your trip, is look on Zillow and see how much houses nearby and comparable to your parents home (in terms of # of bedrooms/ square footage, not quality) have sold for in the past 3 months. This will be your best predictor for how much the house would be appraised for if you fixed it up (one of my parents was a real estate appraiser). Then do the same, if possible, for what houses in a similar condition to your parents' house have sold for. The difference between those two values will give you a sense of how much spending you can do and still turn any sort of a profit.

Anyway, I agree with those saying that first step should be getting a home inspector in, and then getting estimates for the biggest ticket items (like new pipes). And of course, figuring out a better housing situation for your parents.
posted by coffeecat at 3:21 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just nthing that the best thing you can do is help them sell it now. The work and time and disruption and possible falls/breathing issues/etc. from the work is not worth it. Maybe you can paint a picture for them of someone who really wants to take this on, maybe as a YouTube project or just a handyman getting a leg up.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:22 PM on September 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

Another vote for getting a realtor involved. Realtors deal with this a lot and a good realtor will have referrals for the various services you’ll need. It probably seems like you’re the only family in this situation, but you aren’t. This kind of thing happens and a good realtor can help you prioritize and get specialists involved. You don’t have to do this all yourself.
posted by bookmammal at 3:52 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'd consult with elderly social services, a lawyer, a financial planner, and a realtor. Get them moved into an apartment and sell the house as is. To fix it would likely be a 6-12 month, 50-100K endeavor at best, with infinite headaches and stress for you and your parents. Plus they'd need to move out for a few months during renovations anyhow. Not worth it. This is a difficult situation and I wish you the best.
posted by emd3737 at 4:26 PM on September 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another vote for getting a realtor to come in and tell you what they think the house would sell for “as-is” without making any big repairs.

My aging parents just moved out of their old, rural farmhouse into a more sustainable in-town house—and they hired a person who does yard sales to organize the stuff in their house and their outbuildings into a sale for a cut of the profits, and then the person who organized the yard sale took everything away for them that didn’t sell when it was over. Maybe this is an option for you, too?

Also, you might be able to hire someone who helps with organization to come in and do some of the sorting and boxing to prepare for the move to an apartment. That’s a lot to take on yourself, and it sounds like your folks might not be up for it. And even if they didn’t end up moving, this kind of cleaning-out might still be a real benefit in the short term.
posted by pinkacademic at 4:48 PM on September 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I will warn that I just tried to use an estate sale service to clear out my own house, and they aren't really interested if they can't turn a 200% profit on their time - because they split the profit with you. I couldn't find anyone in LA who would get involved if my crap couldn't guarantee $15K for an "easy" sale (pristine house with minimal levels of personal junk). The more they had to do to prepare, the higher their estimated return had to be.

You can't even safely bring strangers INTO the house, so unless they have known appraisable antiques and vintage items that'd pull significantly higher dollars than the cost of emptying the entire house, sorting prizes from junk*, taking it away, probably cleaning it all, and then staging for a sale elsewhere with are unlikely to get a bite. They will classify it a hoarder house and maybe offer you cleanout services, but there will be no attempt to make a profit to split. (DO call and find out, I was definitely dealing with an especially LA kind of market, just don't be shocked if nobody wants it.)

*You may not understand the sheer human-hours this takes. My husband and I were only in our house for about a decade, and you could walk around it largely unimpeded, and it took us personally probably 60 hours total between the two of us to sort and bag, not counting the time it took a crew of 4-5 coming numerous times to truck out the bags, yard crap, furniture we couldn't give away, and then eventually when we gave up it took them probably 3 hours x 5 people to finish cleaning out the house. They were obviously much faster because they were not sorting and they didn't give a shit about our stuff, but it would have likely taken at least 10 hours x 4 or 5 people to do it all themselves. I personally probably spent 12 hours listing stuff on Buy Nothing and managing that process, as well. It's just an enormous effort.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:07 PM on September 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I would absolutely work on getting your parents moved out asap with a plan to put the house on the market as soon as you can afterwards.
1. It is much easier to do any repairs if the house is empty of stuff and no one is trying to live in it
2. Real estate agents specialize in getting houses ready for sale. They have a think rolodex (or modern equivalent) for people who do decent work, on time, for a decent price. And since they get recurring business from the real estate agent, they will give that work higher priority than trying to get it done on your own.
3. Any real estate agent should be able to give you an estimate of roughly how much the house would sell for as-in, how much they would recommend fixing to get the most bang for your buck and how much it would cost to do that vs. how much it would add to the selling price.

I have twice sold houses in the past five years long distance (one sale was cross-country, one was an hour away). In both cases the agent was able to get the house on the market within 30 days of the time I signed the the sales contract and gave me good advice on how much to fix up given my budget. The agent let me guide them in how much I wants to be involved in the process. In the second case, all I did was just approve expenses and write checks and the work got done without me having to anything. Truly, so amazing not to have to even be involved in hiring workmen, deciding on colors of paint or carpet or picking out lamps or stove tops. The real estate agent got paid out of her sizable commission, no extra charge for the project management work. Neither of these houses needed the kind of extensive work of your parent's house but this just gives you an idea of how quick and easy it can be. In your case, they may advise selling as-is. That's fine too. But use their expertise.

My advice is to find three reasonable possibilities for real estate agent. Have them come to the house when you are in town to do a walk-through and meet your parents. Then you let your parents which one they feel the most comfortable with and you can let the agent tell your parents what needs to be done and when to get ready for sale.
posted by metahawk at 5:10 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

+1 for real estate agent on your first day. Regarding estate/garage sales, I think this is highly dependent on the type of community your parents live in. I learned that in some parts of the country, plenty of prosaic household goods sell very well at estate sales because it’s a better deal than the local Walmart and Dollar Tree.

Regarding your parents, I’d focus on the positives of living in senior apartment community - friends nearby! building manager to deal with leaks! etc etc whatever you think they’d be responsive to.
posted by stowaway at 5:21 PM on September 25, 2022

It's going to take time to get them to move. The house needs some immediate remediation for their safety. For your own well-being, if you can visit for 1 week at a time, it might be less of a toll on you. Xanax is an incredibly useful medication; I have used tiny doses to manage difficult events. Can they stay in a hotel for a couple days to reduce the stress of having workers around? Make calls now so you can get work done when you're there.

Carpet. Get sturdy scissors. Cut loose carpet yarns. I have repaired carpet surprisingly well with quality clear packing tape in a trafficked area before new carpet was installed. It lasted nearly a year and eliminated the tripping hazard. You can't really just pull the carpet up, but you can use polyurethane as fray-check if it's needed. Ugly and temporary safety measure.

Get a railing on the steps as soon as possible. A broken limb would be a massive disaster at this point. I'm amazed the home insurance folks didn't visit and require this.

Find a plumber, make an appt., explain that your folks are in dire need of a working bathroom. It really is an emergency.

Barn: Where I live, the fire dept. will sometimes do a controlled burn of an outbuilding 'for training' and for general safety. worth asking.

Realtors and undertakers may know companies that do clearing out. It is emotionally difficult because people get connected to their stuff, so moving 1st, clearing out 2nd might be the order of things. Selling the house full of stuff is a massive financial hit, so hiring someone to clear it out is worth doing. I'm guessing your parents will need funds.

Yard. Pay somebody to come and mow; it'll be expensive. Tell them to get into corners and be thorough. It makes a huge difference and will make you and your folks feel less dire.

Squirrels got into my attic. There was a guy who came and trapped them and then a builder repaired the damage, sealed it up.

Finding workers: If you have old friends in the area, ask for referrals. can be kinda weird, but has referrals to tradespeople. A handy person who can come and just do any minor repairs and obvious stuff would be good and a housekeeper to come and do some basiics; bonus if they would come weekly.

Realtors: call several and ask them to visit. Each one can look at the house and will have different opinions. Don't sign with one until you're ready to sell. Their visit is their job interview for a profitable listing.

Large trash items: There will be some business that will come and get it. Realtor, Nextdoor or similar will help you find them. Ask if they do clearouts.

It's hard, but now is a time to gather records and make sure your folks have living wills, health care proxies, or whatever else people need as they age and death is statistically sooner. It's really a drag, but it makes all the difference in the world. Your parents aren't great at homeowning, but they sound surprisingly resourceful and kind of stoic. I think they'd love a condo with a nice view. If you can visit an open house or 2, great. Show them what they could move towards, as opposed to feeling bad about where they are.

As soon as you can, get a big batch of flowers at the grocery, put them in a vase/ mason jar or 2. Buy some potted mums for near the steps. Bring with you some stick cinnamon and cloves(or a tin of pumpkin pie spice), get an orange, and simmer it all on the stove with water to make the house smell nice. You and your parents need some joy and good feeling. I am in my 60s; thank you so much for your loving care of your parents who have gotten in so far over their heads.
posted by theora55 at 5:35 PM on September 25, 2022 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank everyone so much for your responses so far - this is a great resource and I'm going to be sorting through it over the next few days. I marked some best answers that really resonated with me, but everyone has been fantastic. Please keep it coming, I'll take all I can get!
posted by theweasel at 6:18 PM on September 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have said this in other posts about similar situations, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well equipped my city was to handle an elderly family friend whose house had become uninhabitable. Your parents clearly aren't to that point, but you should check to see what options the local government/state government offers for elderly people who are in your parents situation. For my friend, they got them a place at an assisted living facility while their house was cleaned out, and evaluated for what needed repair. The city offered help finding a contractor and doing the renovations needed on the house, and would place a lean on the home for the cost of repairs. In the mean time, my friend decided they liked the assisted living place and has opted to stay there.

One other thing I would say based on my own experiences, is often times your only option is to throw stuff out. And this might be hard to do for your parents. What I have done for friends in that situation is I pretended I wanted what ever they offered me, and then it went in the trash. Like food that was expired but they couldn't bare to throw it way. Sometimes you have to participate in magical thinking to solve a situation.
posted by momochan at 6:55 PM on September 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I agree with the comments saying that the first priority is trying to get them into a safer/better living situation. (I know, this is easier said than done.)

I also agree with the comments that it is almost certainly going to pencil out better to sell the house as-is rather than fix it up, but to know for sure that you need to get some estimates of the current value compared to what it might be worth fixed up, as well as what it might cost to get it to that condition. Then you can can evaluate if it is worth it (and be sure to account for the time, stress, and difficulty in managing major renovations from a distance when you are comparing the options).

I will warn that I just tried to use an estate sale service to clear out my own house, and they aren't really interested if they can't turn a 200% profit on their time - because they split the profit with you.

This matches my experience when I was looking into these options after a death in the family. The "estate sale" places I talked to were really specialists in high-value estates -- meaning a big house with artwork, beautiful mid-century furniture, etc. If you aren't in that category, you will need to be talking to places that advertise more along the lines of junk haulers, cleanout services, or clutter removal.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

There's a company called Caring Transitions, with a lot of franchises across the country. They specialize in helping elderly folks downsize into smaller places. The folks I worked with helped us empty the house, sold everything we didn't want to keep (and took their cut from the sales), helped line up painters & contractors to stage the house. They also packed and moved my parents into assisted living, unpacked their belongings, and hung their art in the new place.

I think that a company like that, combined with a realtor and an elder care attorney, can cover a lot for you. You might find some useful links from this resources page.

Step 1 should be getting an estimate on the value of the house as-is.

Step 2 should be getting a solid understanding of your parents' financial situation, and getting yourself on their accounts/paperwork. POA, Medical POA, all of that. Get copies of the paperwork scanned and keep them available to you.

Step 3 is getting them moved out and into a good situation where they can get needed support.

Step 4 is selling the house.

Best of luck to you!
posted by suelac at 8:04 PM on September 25, 2022 [9 favorites]

But they ARE convinced they need to do all the work the house requires before selling it. I might be able to convince them to split the difference, get a temporary apartment, and have all the work done at once, though this seems like a waste of time and money to me.

Oh, do I hear this. My mom has the same idea. I think she truly believes this. I also think it's a stalling mechanism because she doesn't really want to give up her house and her independence and admit that she can't do it. "In a few months, X will happen and I will be able to do Y," she tells me.

Here's the deal: sometimes things aren't predictable, but the possibility of aging out of your living situation is pretty predictable, and if you haven't made choices to make it easier for yourself, then sometimes you don't get to make the same choices later on. You don't have the options when they require, for example, your child to give up their life to take care of yours.

All of this is to say: you are not obligated to make this happen for your parents because it's what they want to do, if they can't do those things for themselves. Perhaps you know this, but I know sometimes people need to hear this.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:38 PM on September 25, 2022 [10 favorites]

After 40+ years living in a stand-alone home on a corner lot, altho we were not sick at the time, (the stairs were getting a little challenging, however) we decided to downsize and move into a condo. We engaged a local person who was a member of Senior Move Managers, LLC. She was prepared to arrange workers for any part of the downsize we didn't want to do. The move went well, we love the condo.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:56 AM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Do they have money (absent anxiety, and other issues) ? Fixing plumbing plus multiple bathrooms is a $100k job. If all the bathrooms were good, and just the pipes - that's a $30k job.

I actually disagree that selling a house as-is will get money equal to fixing it up, because people have basic expectations about a house working, and though they may have dreams of their own kitchen, wallpaper, etc, those are dreams and most are not coming in with a big check and immediately renovating.

But fixing requires immediate money, and if your parents don't have it, they don't have it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:40 AM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Right and the other option is like... Letting the bank take the house? Sheriff's sale? Etc etc.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:04 PM on September 26, 2022

though they may have dreams of their own kitchen, wallpaper, etc, those are dreams and most are not coming in with a big check and immediately renovating.

In my experience, this house will almost certainly sell to a flippper who is just going to gut it anyhow to put in new fixtures to try and maximize profit. So, even if you do the work to get the house to a minimum standard, a big chunk of your buyer pool is just looking to tear out everything and start over anyhow. Maybe this is just a northeast thing, but I doubt it.

It sounds weird, but you might actually have an easier time selling an old house with good bones and no improvements than an old house that has had a minimum of work done.
posted by anastasiav at 4:34 PM on September 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

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