Sometimes we have lessons we learn from the oddest places, from people we have never met; they teach us a great deal about what is important in life. I have done many “estate” real estate transactions in my career; however I want to share one that I just had this winter.
I got a call to list a condo and a cottage from the estate of this person who we will call Winifred. Her husband Bert had passed away a few years ago. I did all the standard paperwork and I was told that the couple had not had children and there was only one distance family relation. There were people interested in that camp; friends of Winifred I was told I should call.
One cold Maine January morning I decided to go to the condo and see what I was going to have to do to sell the home. What furniture needed to be removed, what valuables needed to be secured, and what needed to be repaired or updated in order to sell the condo. I opened the door and I immediately knew no one had been in the condo since Winifred had gone to the hospital for the last time. Her purse was on the table, dishes were in the sink, her walker was by the door, and as I moved around I started to see notes on small pieces of paper attached to a few pieces of furniture. The note on the coffee table is something I will never forget. It was on a lined note pad sheet of paper 3 X 5 inches in size. That note told the story I’m about to tell. I knew little about Winifred and her husband Bert. It seemed like few people living did. Her financial advisor was very close to them- almost like the son they never had. He was the person who told me about their lives. Where they worked, how they loved their camp on a Maine lake, and he seemed a little lost when it came to how to deal with Winifred not having children or much family. I could tell this was hard on him and he was proud of how he had helped them multiply their investment portfolio even though it was more a labor of love than a huge portfolio account. They were simple people who enjoyed the simplicity of life in Maine and I was soon to find out they had some close friends who loved them dearly.
The note was Winnifred’s last requests in this world. At first when I read it I was just looking for names and contact information for people who she wanted her belongings to go to and solving my dilemma of how do I get rid of all this stuff. There were names and phone numbers so I took a picture of the note with my phone not really paying attention to the details; then a word in the note caught my attention and I started reading the note line by line. The word that popped out was “ashes” and as I read closer this is what the note said in a bullet format: “I have had a great life and I am at peace with passing. Whoever is reading this thank you for following my request. First, please bury me with the narrow wedding band and not the one with the diamonds. I have Gertrude’s ashes in the corner of my bedroom and want them buried with me. Next, engrave my name and date of passing on our headstone. If the camp is not sold, contact the Smiths, their phone number and address is: ______”. I sat down and looked around the living room and thought about the people who had lived there. This home is where they entertained, lived, loved, and made a home for each other. They were both gone and I was to find out who would find their belongings important. Little did I know I would find them. I called the Smiths and told them I was asked by Winifred to call them about the camp. I told them the price and I could tell Ester thought it was high. The condo went under with a family member quite soon after and had just recently been able to get into the “camp” to gather a little more information. That’s when the phone rang and it was Ester. We hit it off with them and they put the camp under contract. We talked a lot and I got to know them well. As the day of closing on the condo approached, I started getting nervous about getting the belongings out of the condo. I called Ester and she and her husband Wilfred agreed to come over and go through the belongings. I am so glad I called. They knew what was what and I pointed out old watches and furniture that was too good to throw out. Thankfully they took them and I felt relieved.
In the end, estate sales usually don’t bring so much emotion to the transaction as this one has; however the note, the lack of family, and learning about who Bert and Winifred were though the eyes of Ester and Wilfred moved me a great deal. It reminded me of the huge responsibility I have as a real estate broker to people, their heirs, and their legacy. The camp is going to their close friends who will always remember the times they had there with Winifred and Bert. The special trinkets will be in the hands of loved ones. There were two benches that Bert had made and a special end table that looked like an elephant that the niece or nephew wanted and that went to them. When it is all buttoned up and the camp is sold I will feel closure and until then I will reflect on how important this profession is to people. We are there in a time of need and treating it as more than just another transaction is so important. It is so easy to just be focused on the volume numbers, the number of transactions, our average sale price, and our cost per sale. All those things are important; however doing meaningful work is more important. The reward of seeing a completed process that was well done and made a difference in someone’s life makes this so worthwhile, especially when you feel appreciated. I am thankful for the referral that brought this family into my life. I am thankful to reflect on how Winifred handle her life with class, faith, and no regrets. Last but not least, the power of that little piece of paper with a few written words on it made the whole experience change and made it personal to me. I was the conduit to the living, the survivors, and the people who Winifred and Bert left behind.