Where The Heart Is

Home is where the heart is, they say. There’s no place like home…all the traditional sayings and adages about home agree that the heartstrings are heavily involved in choosing a place to hang your hat.

Selling a home is considered by many to be one of the most stressful life events, along with divorce and the death of a loved one. Such high stress is associated with not only the sheer organisational challenges that come with moving years of accumulated possessions, but also the sentimental attachment and memories associated with home.

So how does a homeowner deal with the barrage of emotions when the time comes to sell a much-loved home? We spoke to Annie Gregg, whose family farm and acreage property in the rural area of Bywong, just outside Canberra, recently sold to a new owner.

Investing time, money and your soul

When Annie first bought the farm property many years ago, it was run down and required hours upon hours of hard work. The property had called to her and she answered with a dedication to bringing it back to its former glory, especially the historical house.

“I invested a lot of time and money in the house and probably a part of my soul. It had good bones, but the original owners had left things inside the house that were about 150 years old. Exposed beams, cobblestone floors, it’s a very unusual home with a good skeleton. I had to put the flesh on the bones, so to speak. Wild animals were living on the property and there was no garden or anything,” Annie explained.

Saying goodbye

Annie wasn’t working on the farm but it still required significant upkeep. And it had become her family’s emotional centre. She’s raised two daughters there and now has three grandchildren who regularly visited. So it was a difficult decision to sell. But part of life is moving on as we reach a different stage.

“I’m nearly 65 and I have scars all over my body that show that I’ve experienced life. The house is the same. A friend said to me, if you retire here, you’ll work yourself to death. It gave me a clear motivation to sell,” Annie said.

“I felt like I was walking away from the historical context of my life. The house took on a character, the history and the personality of the family who lived there. It had a soul and a real story to tell — it was a tangible feeling that enveloped you when you walked in. It could stand by itself, it had such a character, it could sustain itself. It had to go on another journey, and I was just a part of that journey.”

The house held special memories that won’t easily be replaced, but Annie has taken care to photograph and record the property, including details that wouldn’t mean as much to anyone else.

“Our home was the focus of our family story and so many family events. Friends were married there, so many special events took place there. It’s part of the story of the house, interconnected with mine.”

The difficulty with downsizing

Annie had to face the downsizing dilemma too, having moved into a much smaller two bedroom apartment in central Canberra. This proved an added challenge, as she had to prepare well in advance of moving. Moving from a 25-acre property and after years of collecting things to a two bedroom apartment in an urban area is an extreme change.

“Downsizing is a bit like say, which kid do I get rid of? You can’t win. It took an immense amount of decision-making and planning, before and after the sale. What do I retain, what do I pass on or put up for sale? I had to say goodbye to some of the furniture, even stuff my father-in-law made. I just couldn’t fit it in the new apartment,” Annie said.

When Annie had a house clearance sale, over 150 people turned up. It was also a large event to organise and she was glad she held the sale well in advance of moving day. She had a large library with 2,500 books in her old home, and deciding which books to keep was difficult.

She explained, “Those initial decisions are hard but you have to get into the flow of it. Moving into a smaller place has been easier than I thought because I took the time to plan. I got a floorplan for my new apartment and worked out where furniture would go. I actually have more storage here than I did in the old house.”

The upside of urban living

Surprisingly, Annie said it wasn’t so hard moving into an apartment and she’s enjoying living there more than she expected.

“I chose well with the apartment I’ve moved into. I had phenomenal views at the old property, but now I have even better views with huge windows looking across to Parliament House.”

Another benefit Annie had not fully anticipated, was the ease of living in a new apartment, in the central business district and close to everything.

“I don’t have to second guess so many things. I hear there’s going to be a bad fire season, but now I don’t have to check the pumps or plan things like on a rural property. Everything is so much more centralised. I was in a state of shock that I can literally walk to a shop in three minutes. Before I didn’t even have takeaway deliveries out where I lived!”

Annie’s top tips for the big move

Annie recommends that anyone moving from a long-established home to a new place should start the planning process well in advance and not feel pressured to move faster than necessary.

Annie said, “The buyers wanted a quick settlement, but I needed more time, 10 or 12 weeks to pack everything up but also to say goodbye. I had animals like horses that I had to say goodbye to as well.”

Overall, the emotional aspects of the move have been difficult but not entirely a negative experience. Sadness has tinged Annie’s decision to sell her family home, but she’s been able to hold onto the memories.

“It’s like when someone dies…they can’t take away the memories from you. You don’t get that separation of emotions, because it stays with you. I was identified so closely with that house. You have to find a new way of validating the way that you live.”

  • Be very clear about why you are selling.
    Moving from a large home when it’s becoming too difficult to manage in older age is a great motivation. Keep that in mind when planning and organisation seems overwhelming.
  • Once you have the motivation, make a plan.
    Put the plans in place and project manage the move carefully to reduce stress. Hit the small targets along the way.
  • Tell people in advance that you’re going to move.
    Ask them what they want, especially household items you might want to give away.
  • Have a floorplan ready of your new house or apartment ready.
    Work out what will fit in the new space in terms of furniture and only bring what will fit.
  • Start to collect your memories as soon as you make the decision to sell.
    Take photos around your home of the places that had significance for the family. Try to say ‘goodbye’ to special pieces before selling.
  • Make sure you’ve got really good packing materials, boxes etc. and organise a good moving company.
    Choose uniform size boxes and a designated place for storage. Consider packing in advance and making decisions on what to keep along the way. Then it’s easy for the removalists on moving day.

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