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Ask McEnearney: Divest Now or You Too May Spend a Valentine’s Day as I Did

This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Ann Duff of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Ann at 703.965.8700 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What’s the process of divesting look like, and why is it important to do it sooner than later?

Answer: So many people have had to tackle this task, but it was new to me, and I want to share what I have learned from a long weekend. (Yes, this relates to real estate and the human condition.)

My parents were married for 70-plus years, and they traveled the world, read voraciously and raised three remarkable daughters. (Well, two are remarkable, and I’m the outlier.)

Their out-of-state home needs selling, but first, it needs sorting out, and they aren’t around to tackle it. On Valentine’s Day weekend, the family convened to open boxes, files, envelopes and trunks of tax returns, holiday cards, keepsakes, jewelry, silverware, art, and decades of darling correspondence from “the girls.”

This is what I can share from what we all learned:

  • Organization was critical. We are scattered across the U.S., and an Excel list was created by one special granddaughter with photos identifying the special, keep-in-the-family items. Sign on and claim your favorites or forever hold your peace.
  • Hire a trustworthy, experienced estate salesperson or company. Sign a fair contract splitting the proceeds by certain percentages and give them the freedom to price, arrange and accomplish the goal of emptying the house.
  • Find your Realtor (hoping you’ll find someone like a seasoned McEnearney Associate) — and I did! She will do all of the things I wrestle with in D.C., Maryland and Virginia — from getting rugs cleaned, appliances shined and touch-ups accomplished. Using her Realtor resources from afar, we’ve been able to treat for termites, tackle some landscaping and totally replace the two-zoned HVAC system.
  • Shred, shred, shred — especially when you find check stubs from the 1980s, tax returns from the 1990s and years of medical records. Alas, there won’t be a taker for the thousands of unlabeled travel photos, which might be of Sweden, Italy or Ireland… we are clueless.
  • Keep an eye out for surveys, landscaping plans and blueprints. The Realtor and the buyers will appreciate them. Open every cupboard and drawer. Surprises await!
  • Go home and do the same at your home. Sit down with your immediate heirs, and tell them what you have. Laughter will ensue because you will find out that your “treasures” are simply yours and there is a limited audience for your books, vacation art and certainly clothing. After doing this deep purge and donating items to charities, you will feel a great relief. Clients often feel lighter and more nimble — able to think about moving with less stress or continuing to love living in a home, which now feels distinctly less cluttered.

When buyers come into my parents’ home now — or yours in several years — they will be able to imagine their own lives and lifestyle within the home, instead of seeing every closet jammed with boxed memories and every wall covered with personal photos of mystery people.

Carry on, hang on to the memories, save only the best and shred the rest.

Ann Duff is a licensed real estate agent in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland with McEnearney Associates, Inc. in Old Town Alexandria. If you would like more information on selling or buying in today’s complex market, contact Ann at 703-965.8700 or visit her website

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

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