Property selling advice: Celebrating the last Christmas in your family home

Selling a childhood home is often an emotional experience, but at some point, it has to be done. Picture: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Selling a childhood home is often an emotional experience, but at some point, it has to be done. Picture: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Published Dec 20, 2023


Many loved ones will be spending their final festive holidays together in their family homes as these properties look set to change hands in the new year.

Some homeowners may have already sold their properties and are sentimentally celebrating the season for the last time under their much-loved roofs while others may not even know that this is the final one.

As retirees and empty nesters embark on the profound journey of selling their family homes, the emotional toll of bidding farewell to a place filled with cherished memories can be significant and presents unique emotional challenges, says Richard Gray, chief executive of Harcourts South Africa.

For younger generations, there could even be the urge to buy their parents’ homes so that they too can create the same memories with their families that they experienced growing up.

Either way, there are many ways to navigate the feelings and nostalgia associated with selling or buying the family home.

How to cope with selling your family home

Selling a childhood home is often an emotional experience, but at some point, it has to be done, says Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of Re/Max Southern Africa. This usually happens when a property no longer serves to be kept in the family.

Apart from reminding yourself of the practical reasons why you are selling, you need to allow yourself time to deal with your emotions.

“In the words of Dr Arthur Kovacs, founding dean of the California School of Professional Psychology, ‘you’re dismantling something that was once precious, and you have to go through grief and mourning when this happens’.

“Even if your parents are still alive, your childhood home acts as a repository for your memories, and you need to allow yourself time to grieve the loss of something that kept those memories safe.”

The key, he says, is to remember that the memories will remain.

To acknowledge and celebrate the memories, Gray suggests a few things that you can do to not only survive the emotional journey but also honour your life within the home.

1. Create a memory collection

You could consider creating a memory collection such as a photo album or a scrapbook to capture the essence of your time in the house. This tangible keepsake can serve as a beautiful reminder of the moments that have shaped your life.

2. Host a farewell gathering

Organise a social evening with family and friends to share stories and laughter, and reminisce about the special moments spent in the home. This collective celebration can help ease the emotional weight and turn the process into a positive, shared experience.

3. Keep the sentiment when selling

When staging your home for potential buyers, Gray says you should maintain a balance between depersonalisation and sentimental touches, but consider leaving a few meaningful items, like family photographs or artwork, to create a warm and inviting atmosphere that potential buyers can connect with.

You should also acknowledge your emotions during showings.

“Recognise that emotions may surface during property viewings. Allow yourself the space to feel those emotions without judgment. If needed, schedule viewings at times when you can step out, giving potential buyers the freedom to explore the home without intrusion.”

If you are emotionally attached to your home, Goslett recommends allowing yourself a day to go through the property and immerse yourself in the flashbacks linked to each room.

“Spend a day fully enjoying the home one last time. Bring old photo albums and invite the family over for a meal. Share stories and reconnect over old times. When you leave, disassociate yourself from the property and allow a professional to take over.”

He adds: “Homeowners are often too subjectively attached to properties to do a good job of selling them. There might be things that need to be updated or remodelled to make the house more sellable so you should trust your estate agent to make these calls.”

4. Focus on the future and creating new memories

Gray also suggests that you shift your focus from what is being left behind to the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

“Visualise the new experiences, memories, and adventures waiting to unfold in your next home. This positive outlook can help ease the emotional burden.”

You can also consider creating personalised farewell rituals such as planting a tree in the new property or leaving a note for the new homeowners. These rituals can symbolise closure while embracing the concept of passing on positive energy to the next occupants.

Should you buy your family home?

In a previous article on a similar subject, Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Liane Lurie says many people want to cling on to their childhood homes for a number of reasons. The most common is that, for some, home and the idea of home conjures up images and feelings of happy and warm memories from when life was perceived to be simple and your family was everything.

It therefore makes sense that, given the opportunity to purchase their childhood homes, many would leap at the chance.

“It is a home that they know and feel safe in, and a place they would like to imbue with more tradition and family rituals; an heirloom as it were that they want to keep in the family and hopefully pass onto their own children one day.”

However, purchasing a family home may bring with it more complication than joy, she notes.

“Should there be other siblings in your family, they, or you, may feel sensitive over any potential renovations you or your partner propose. You may also have your own ideas and rules over how a home should be run which may be contrary to your siblings' notions of how you were all raised.

“You were raised in your family home according to the values set out by your parents. As an adult, you have to carve out your own path.”

Furthermore, Lurie says, when one joins with another in creating a life of their own – such as in a marriage or relationship, it is important for both of them to feel 'at home' in the new space they jointly occupy. They will need to be careful of their partner’s feelings like a guest or outsider in their own home, especially when family or parents come over.

“Many people may idealise the kind of lives they had in that family home, only to discover that as an adult they cannot recapture that magic. This may be coupled with a feeling of sadness. It is important to remember that the magic of your home was linked to the people with whom you played and shared your life at that stage.

“It is essential to give yourself the opportunity and permission to create memories of your own and begin a new chapter of your own.”

Ultimately, property experts say there are a number of pros and cons to consider before making a decision to buy your family home.


– You may get the property at a better price than if you were buying from strangers

– You know the history of the house and are unlikely to encounter any nasty surprises

– You will know the neighbourhood, and maybe even the neighbours, well

– You get to build new memories on top of the old ones that the home holds

– You may have had some say in certain changes that were made to the property over the years

– You could potentially be a new link in keeping the home in your family for generations to come


– Depending on how well your parents maintained the home, there could be expensive maintenance to be undertaken

– The area may not be the same as it used to be when you lived there, and this could dampen the excitement of reliving your childhood with your own family

– You may be reluctant to make renovations in case you not only offend family members but take away some of the nostalgia you feel about the house

– Your partner may not have the same connection to the property that you have

– Some family members may not see the home as yours and still think they come and go as they please

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