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Should I sell my house right after my spouse dies?

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

Author: Eric Stewart, The Eric Stewart Group of Long and Foster Realtors

Wooden cabin in the forest

Since I began my real estate career over thirty years ago, I have worked with widows and widowers of many ages and backgrounds. Some call me years after their spouses pass and others call within days. There is no right or wrong here. When a widowed person wishes to move on immediately, it is worth it for me to have a genuine conversation where I play the role of “realtor psychologist” to be sure I am serving them best. I am not a psychologist by training, but learned early in my career that the kindest act I can perform for clients is advising them what is best for them, though it may not involve me.

I received a listing call from a widow in Kensington, Maryland. She had lost her husband just a few weeks prior and thought she was ready to start over. I met with her and, after looking at her house and asking some probing questions, I advised her to consider not moving right away.

"Really?" she replied.

"Yes,” I said, “I have heard that it’s best to stay in your home for a year after the death of your spouse so you can go through your grieving process without upsetting your life too much."  

She pondered what I said and thanked me for considering her this way. A week went by and we had a follow-up conversation. She told me she had gotten similar advice from other widows after our appointment and would definitely be in touch if and when she decided to sell. Twenty-five years later, she remains in the house.  

White entryway into house with large door and windows

Another widow had a husband who was sick for a long time and she was his caregiver. When he passed, she felt she had already said her goodbyes and grieved over him for years in advance. She was the exception that I have seen, where a widow sells and moves quickly.  

After an emotional assessment, everyone should consider their financial status as well before arranging to move. A sympathetic realtor can provide some guidance as you make this life-changing decision.

Death is a hard companion for us all. Sometimes he travels with us for years before he takes our spouses away and sometimes he comes in a moment. Each widow and widower has to decide what is best and when to move, if at all. This decision is not a moral one. Guilt should not drive one to stay or go. Process your grief in your time and you will know when you are ready for a significant change. 

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