The Silent Agony of Selling a Home That Feels Like, Well, Home

I was pregnant with our second child when my husband and I started looking for our forever home. At the time, we were in a small apartment we’d long outgrown, and wanted all the suburban trappings of family life.

We looked at 14 houses that sounded right for us, but in reality were not. Lucky No. 15, a ranch house with a huge yard on a short block overlooking Long Island’s Great South Bay, felt right from the get-go.

Now, more than 20 years later, I am so ready to move. Long Island has gotten expensive and crowded. I’m eager to settle in a place where it doesn’t take 40 minutes to drive 20 miles and the yearly property taxes are not the equivalent to the cost of a two-week vacation in Dubai.

And now that Clara, our youngest of three, has graduated from high school, we’re thinking about downsizing and selling the family house.

Yet while it makes sense for us to cash in on this investment and move to a smaller, more manageable property, it’s turning out to be a more emotionally draining decision than I anticipated. Here’s why.

This home has so many memories
Our kids’ birthday and graduation parties were held on the back deck, now well-worn. We have height markers on the door frames. (Our middle kid, Charlie, is now 6-foot-1, so his is especially poignant.)

Selling our house means leaving behind our kids’ height markers on the door frames.

A wall in elder son John‘s room, now his father’s office, still bears scars from the time he and his friend hung up a dart board—with no backing. (After he moved out, I couldn’t bring myself to spackle over the holes.)

Everywhere I look, I see the vestige of something happy or sweet or funny, like the nook in Clara’s room, a structural quirk from the chimney. When she was 5 or 6, she would hide there when she was mad. Then there’s the cat door. Charlie, emboldened by the skills he’d just acquired in his high school carpentry class, cut it right through the wall from the hallway into his room.

My son sawed a cat door through the wall of his bedroom. Last but not least, Duke, our long-haired guinea pig, was laid to rest, with a bright new penny as a way of marking the year, near the back fence. Believe it or not, reluctance to “leave Duke behind” has been raised.

The kids want us to keep the place
Clara’s upset at the prospect of our selling the family home, saying she wants to come home on college breaks. She doesn’t want to spend her breaks at a random townhouse in some 55-plus community.

Meanwhile, John, 25, lives in Michigan with his girlfriend, and they also look forward to coming back a few times a year to their “home base.”

Charlie, who is still at home, seems set on staying on Long Island regardless of what we do. If we move, he’ll need a place to live, and even small apartments aren’t cheap here. Nonetheless, Charlie doesn’t understand why we’d want to leave Long Island.

“We have everything here,” he insists.

In short, my entire family understands why it makes sense to move, but we’re all conflicted about leaving the house and neighborhood that have meant so much to us over the years. And besides, where do we move to? Do we simply shift over to New Jersey? Or do we follow our kids? Moving to Michigan, where John seems settled, is a strong possibility. Regardless, I feel like I’m picking one kid at the expense of the other two.

Our kids and dog made prints in the wet cement of our driveway. How can we leave this behind?

Our neighbors are like family
Shortly after we moved in, Charlie, then 3 months old, appeared to have a seizure. It passed quickly, thankfully. Remembering that our new next-door neighbor, Ruthie, was a pediatric nurse, we pounded on her door, asking her to check him out. She suggested we take him to the ER, and then went with us to be sure we asked the right questions.

Since that traumatic day, Ruthie and I have been inseparable. She’s popped over countless times to check out basketball bruises, head bumps, rashes, and sore throats. Her kids and ours have grown up essentially as siblings. We’ve gone to Disney World together. I can’t imagine not having Ruthie and her family right there beside us.

Leaving Ruthie would be the biggest blow, but it would also break my heart to leave our other neighbors. On our block, there are four of us who are great friends. We pick up one another’s kids from sports; we even pick up each other’s groceries and dry cleaning. We take care of the pets (among us, we count five dogs, seven cats, and dozens of fish) when one of us goes on vacation.

Every December, I host a holiday party for this group. Ginny always brings her famous chocolate-covered strawberries. Picturing a future December, hosting entirely new neighbors who bring, instead of luscious berries, three-layer dip or who knows what, makes me feel like crying.

Ruthie has promised to be available 24/7 by text, video chat, or old-fashioned phone should I need medical advice—or just a familiar voice. But, of course, it won’t be the same.

Our neighbors and their kids became our family.
Will any other place feel like home?
Living on Long Island has drawbacks, but it’s also a unique location. Where else can you have beautiful ocean beaches, top-tier wineries, adorable villages, you-pick farms—and proximity to New York City, legit pizza, real bagels, black-and-white cookies, and bacon-egg-and-cheeses?

We all wish the best times of our lives could go on forever. We may not like change, but we have to accept it. While we’ve decided not to sell right now, we could be listing our house in the near future. It just doesn’t make sense to keep up a six-bedroom house when we’re empty nesters.

A couple we are good friends with moved from our town to Canton, OH, where their elder son lives. The mood was heavy as we helped them load up the moving van. They both had mixed feelings about having sold their home of 30 years, and leaving behind their younger son, who was living at home, on Long Island with a roommate he hastily found.

After their move, the first phone call with my friend was tearful. On the second, we laughed a little as she lamented the lack of decent bagels, calzones, and Italian delis. But soon they made new friends and were invited to neighborhood parties. My friend joined a chorus that performs locally, and she’s thrilled to have her elder son and his wife popping over for dinner a few nights a week.

Her younger son, who is getting along great with his roommate, has made several trips to Canton in the nine months since they moved. We’ve even gone to visit, our back seat piled high with her favorite Italian ham and mozzarella, six calzones, and, of course, a dozen egg-everything bagels carefully sealed in zip-top bags. She literally squealed with delight.

I’m starting to think the prospect of leaving the only home my children have ever known will all be OK.

Written by Christina Vercelletto for

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