Caregiver's Diary: Dad Drives Me Nuts

My widowed 88-year-old father doesn’t understand real estate. He and my mother only ever bought three houses in their lifetimes, and paid full price for each. Dad doesn’t understand why someone would offer you less than you had clearly asked for your house.

This is important because my father lives in the Maritimes, rattling around in a half empty house with a daily lady to keep for him. He’s been desultorily trying to sell it since my mother died last year. First he tried to sell it himself. Then he used an online outfit. Finally, he listed with ReMax. Meanwhile he had wasted a year.

He won’t leave until the house is sold, despite the fact he’s getting more and more feeble and fragile. We need him back here in Ontario where most of his kids live, not in the Maritimes where he’s slowly dying of boredom. All of his kids have tried to convince him to close up the house, move, and leave it with agent to sell, but he won’t.

The other thing we discovered he won’t do is negotiate on his price. After a couple of nibbles (including one from a retired dentist he liked a lot), he got a decent offer on the house, not near high enough, but a good start. When he told me that night, he said he had told his agent to tell them to “go to hell”. With a sinking heart, I patiently explained that what he was supposed to do was write the offer back with his price. He didn’t understand that at all. “I’m not playing that game”. “But Dad, that IS the game. That’s how real estate works. It’s a negotiation!”. “Oh, bullshit! I never paid a penny less than I was asked for a house, why should they?”. “Dad, just because you were a sucker doesn’t mean everyone else has to be one too! You’ve got to decide what your bottom price is….”. The line had gone dead. He had hung up on me.

I wrote him a heartfelt e-mail in the morning, apologizing for yelling at him, and telling him I just wanted to get him the best deal for his house and get him back to Ontario. He wrote me back a very nice e-mail explaining that the people who had offered the lower amount weren’t “the right sort for this street, anyway”. He DID say, however, that he would think about my advice to decide on a lowest possible price beyond which he wouldn’t negotiate. Progress.

A call several days letter. The offerors had come back, sweetened their offer by $10,000, clearly interested in doing a deal. Once again, he had told them to go to hell. He told me he was tired of showings after 5 PM, and if these people couldn’t afford to attend a showing in the middle of the day they clearly couldn’t afford the house. My head nearly exploded. I kept my temper and asked “Did you sign back with a counter-offer?”. “No, I just told her to tell them to go to hell”. I yelled “You’re never going to sell your house, and you don’t deserve to!”. Click. The line went dead.

Several days later, an e-mail from youngest sister. She has received an e-mail from one of dad’s last surviving acquaintances in his town. She took dad out for lunch and was very worried about his condition; frail, feeble, thin, shrunken, not eating. He had complained of not having an appetite and how eager he was to leave the Maritimes behind and move into his assisted living apartment in Niagara. Youngest sister was worried, but too busy, and too burned out from worrying in the past to do anything. I wasn’t about to beat my head against that wall again.

Youngest brother took up the fight. He called dad that night – an intervention, he termed it – he told dad we would sneak into town, pack a suitcase, sneak him on to an airplane and to Ontario before anyone knew he was gone. Straight out of “Smiley’s People”. Dad was pathetically grateful someone cared, and enjoyed the conspiratorial flavour of it all, but was unsure about leaving. He claimed he had laid it on a bit thick at that lunch to gain sympathy. Did I tell you he was a manipulative monster?

Youngest brother made him make a solemn promise. Dad would carefully consider his situation and tell youngest brother on Monday (five days hence) if he was ready to come. If he was, youngest brother and I would go out two days later and spirit him out of there. One suitcase, no furniture, leave the car for someone else to drive.

I called dad over the weekend. He seemed chipper. I asked him if he had thought about his promise to youngest brother. “What promise?”. “The promise you made to decide whether to leave and come with us to Ontario next week”. “I’ll be ready to leave when I get my stuff organized and get the money from the house in my pocket” “But dad, we NEED you back here….”. Click. He had hung up for a third time. Now I was pissed off.

Now the devil always deals in threes. And he had a third surprise. Monday morning, before youngest brother could call dad to get his answer, we got an e-mail from youngest sister. Dad had sold his house, to the nice dentist, for the asking price. So there!

The thing was, he had a short close. He has to be out in a month. Youngest sister volunteered youngest brother to go and drive him back across Eastern Canada in his car, with furniture to follow. Youngest brother wants to do this like he wants to poke red hot wires in his eyes. I write a testy e-mail “Neither of us signed on for a road trip. Let him fly”. I followed up with “He’s called the shots for too long. No we’re calling the shots. He has to be outta Dodge in a month. Let him suck it up”. Bitter? Perhaps a little.

I’ll go down to the Maritimes to help him pack his suitcase and fly back with him. I’ll even help him put red stickers on the furniture for the movers. I’m not driving a U-Haul, or his car.

Our relationship may prove to be a little cooler, a little less co-dependant, but that’s probably a good thing.