Bob Champion: Reflections on selling the family home

Bob Champion pens a heartfelt piece about the sale of his late mother’s house, the family home for 62 years. Here he reflects on happy memories, trips to Stamford Bridge, why downsizing isn’t always the easy option and how equity release could help

I was approaching my fifth birthday and I was getting excited – next Monday I was going to start school. Then on the previous Wednesday, Dad came home from work and said we were moving on Monday. I would have to move to another school as soon as they could get me registered.

We were leaving our two-up two-down Victorian cottage, (that is if all the rooms were habitable) in a rat-infested area backing onto a Brewery near the River Thames. I was very disappointed.

Nothing could console me. Not even that we were moving to a brand-new council house on the edge of Wimbledon Common. I would have my own bedroom, and experience features that were new to me such as electricity and running hot water.

Last month, following my mother’s death, I sold that house. A total of 62 years of my family history were in that house.

As we cleared the house, each visit became more emotional and difficult. My school days, my teenage years, family celebrations, lots of good and happy times came flooding back. The memories were not all good. My grandparents dying, and even worse a cousin I was very close to, dying of cancer at an early age, were two-character building experiences that I did not wish to relive.

In a way, that house played a part in creating the person I have become. Although I left home nearly 50 years ago, my connection with that house continued as my parents still lived there.

After my son left home, we used it as a meeting point before going to watch Chelsea together. A pre- or post-match meal cooked for us by my mother and post-match interrogation as to how well or badly they played. Before the Second World War she used to go to Chelsea with my grandfather. So many memories.

We often see economists and others who make the case for retirees to sell their homes and move to smaller ones. They have too many bedrooms, their homes are not suitable for them, their finances would improve if they moved to a home that is cheaper to run.

I described to a friend the process of selling my parent’s house as similar to having an amputation. Part of me will no longer exist except as a memory without a physical connection.

Retired people have a reputation for pulling out of the process of moving to a new house after they have started it. I can easily connect with those who do this. If they have lived in that house for a long period, they may have raised their family, had grandchildren stay for sleep overs, and many celebrations. Then there is clearing all the mementos that have accumulated over the years. Each one tells a story.

Many retirees may have been serial house movers, in which case one more move will not be so much of an emotional wrench. This just emphasises how difficult it is to categorise retirees.

Decisions made by retirees will be influenced as much by their lifetime experiences as by financial considerations. Looked at dispassionately, moving to a new house may be the most sensible thing to do. Given the choice, how many people make rational, dispassionate decisions about where they live?

This is where equity release may help. The money realised can be used to make the home more suitable for them to occupy. Alternatively, it can be used to modernise the house to make it cheaper to run. Equity release can also help ease strained finances.

For some they may accept that the time to move to a new house has arrived, for others the emotional attachment to the existing house may be too great to accept a rational decision.

Financial advisers are charged with helping find the best financial deal for a later life mortgage or equity release plan. However only the individual’s concerned can decide whether it is best for them to move to a new house or not. Recommendations are not always followed by clients.

When we are permitted to go and watch Chelsea again, I will still park my car close to that house. There are easier ways to get to Stamford Bridge from where I now live, but that house is part of my roots and is now part of the tradition of travelling to watch Chelsea play football.

Like many people’s commitment and connection to their existing home, I’ll hold onto that for as long as possible.

Bob Champion is chairman of the Air Later Life Academy