How to coordinate a house clearance

Reviewed by Siân Pelleschi

Coordinating the house clearance of your parent or elder relative’s home can feel overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to start.

On top of the practical and logistical hurdles involved, sorting through and disposing of a lifetime of possessions, many of which may hold sentimental value, can hit us with an emotional force that can leave us feeling paralysed.  It can often be hard deciding what to keep and what to let go of, and the mishandling of a house clearance can lead to additional stress, spark family arguments or, worse, raise legal issues.

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Taking the following steps can help you organise and manage the process more smoothly.

First things first, you need to understand the legal considerations of organising a house clearance for a parent or elder relative. These will differ depending on whether the house clearance is taking place while they are still alive – due to downsizing or moving into long-term care, for example – or if it is happening after they have passed.

If your parent is moving out of their home to downsize or go into residential care, then the main legal considerations depend on whether they still have the mental capacity to make decisions, or if they no longer have capacity, due to a brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease for example. In both scenarios, it’s extremely important to follow the due legal process.

Here are the main legal considerations:

  1. Property and Financial Affairs LPA: If your parent or elder relative has prepared a Property and Financial Affairs LPA, the appointed attorney can decide about property and financial matters, including a house clearance. This LPA allows actions to be taken either with your parent or relative’s consent (if they still have mental capacity) or on their behalf if they lack capacity.
  2. Consent and capacity: If there’s no LPA, your parent’s consent is crucial for a house clearance. If they lack capacity and there’s no LPA, applying to the Court of Protection for a deputyship order may be necessary, allowing someone to make decisions for them.
  3. Financial arrangements: The clearance cost must be considered and whether your parent or relative’s income and assets will cover it. If selling items or property, the proceeds typically go towards the individual’s care or other needs.

If you need to arrange a house clearance because your parent or elder relative has died, it needs to be arranged in accordance with the following legal process:

  1. Probate and wills: If your parent or relative left a will, the executor named will oversee the estate’s distribution, including the house clearance. The will outlines how assets should be distributed, and probate grants the executor the legal authority to proceed.
  2. Intestacy and Letters of Administration: If there’s no will, the estate falls under intestacy rules, and a close relative can apply for letters of administration to become the estate’s administrator. This grants them similar authority to an executor, including managing house clearance.
  3. Valuation for probate: It’s important to appraise the estate’s value before a house clearance, especially for significant assets. This valuation is part of the probate process and helps ensure assets are distributed or sold fairly.
  4. Settling debts and taxes: The estate must settle any outstanding debts, bills, and taxes before distributing assets or clearing the house.
  5. Distribution of assets: After debts and taxes, the house clearance can take place and assets distributed according to the will or intestacy rules.

Tips for managing a house clearance

It’s wise to ensure the house clearance process is well-coordinated from the outset by following these steps and guidance.

Assess the size of the job

People often significantly underestimate the size of the job and how long it will take to clear the home.

Not only do you have to look at the size of the house but also the number of storage spaces you may have to go through, and also the kind of items you’ll be going through before you can start to make any thoughts on time-frames for completion.

For example, a drawer with lots of nick-nacks could take 30 minutes to go through and equally a full bookcase could take the same if it only holds books in a reasonable order. Lofts and cellars can also be filled with items that may need careful consideration when it comes to working through them.

A good starting point is to work out how long you’d like to spend in each space that’s reasonable to the amount of items in it, then double the time to allow for unexpected elements to come into play – such as how quickly you’re able to make decisions, if there is any research that needs to be done on specific items, and the emotions that may come into play whilst working through the house that may cause a delay or the need to slow down.  

Depending on the size of their home and how much ‘stuff’ they have, the clearance may need to be done in short bursts versus all in one go. If the home is going to be sold, it might be better to do the house clearance in two main stages – the first to depersonalise it for viewing (removing valuables and personal items like photographs, ornaments etc) and the second to clear the rest of the items once a sale goes through.

Set goals

Define clear goals and deadlines for each stage of the clearance to give yourself a sense of structure, and manage the expectations of everyone involved.

For example, set a goal to clear out one room per week, or aim to have all items sorted and categorised within a certain timeframe.

Consider your ability to carry out the house clearance

Once you have a rough idea of how long it will take, and any deadlines you need to work to, be realistic about how much time and energy you have to conduct the house clearance within the timeframe. Many people find conducting a house clearance incredibly overwhelming, either from a logistical standpoint, emotionally, or both.

If you feel you are going to struggle on your own, are there any reliable friends or family that can help you? You might want to consider hiring a professional to help. More on this later.

Keep a detailed checklist

Draw up a checklist to keep track of the clearance and ensure you gather all the paperwork and information on valuables you need for legal considerations and future reference. The checklist should include:

  • Locating critical documents such as wills, property deeds, financial statements, and insurance policies.
  • Cataloguing valuable items, considering both monetary and sentimental value.

Equip yourself with the necessary tools and supplies

Obtain and bring along various supplies to help the sorting and clearance go smoothly. Consider:

  • Inventory sheets or notepads
  • Colour coded labels or stickers for categorising items (e.g. keep, donate, sell etc)
  • Post-it notes to label or leave notes on items / identify who wants them
  • Boxes, bags and containers for packing
  • Packing materials (tape, bubble wrap etc)
  • Large refuse sacks
  • Cleaning supplies

Invite friends and family to claim what they want to keep

To avoid misunderstandings, have open conversations with family members to ensure everyone’s views are considered, particularly concerning family heirlooms or significant items of value.

Before you start to dispose of anything, it’s a good idea to invite your parent or relative’s immediate family and close friends to claim anything they want to keep.

Depending on family and friend dynamics, you may want to have different groups or individuals come on different days. Give people post-it notes and ask them to put notes on anything they would like to have.

Work room by room

Decide what order you are going to tackle the rooms in, and tackle one room at a time.

Start with the easiest room first – the one containing the least items or the least valuable or emotional items, such as the laundry room. Put smaller items into piles, and tag furniture with colour-coded stickers or labels per category as follows:

  • Keep
  • Undecided
  • Get valued
  • Sell
  • Donate
  • Recycle / Special disposal
  • Throw away

Organise any storage needs

Organise temporary storage solutions for items you wish to keep or are undecided about, but cannot accommodate immediately.

Arrange appraisals

Once you’ve categorised everything, and before any items (other than critical documents) are removed from the house, arrange for a valuer from a local auction house to come and appraise items considered high value, such as antique furniture or artwork.

You can also look on auction sites like ebay or The Saleroom to get a rough idea of what these items might sell for.

Dispose of the items no one wants

Items no one wants can either be sold, donated, recycled or thrown away as follows:

Selling

High value antiques are usually best sold through auction houses. Good quality, lower value items like modern or vintage furniture or rugs can be sold via online platforms like ebay.

If there are a lot of things you want to sell on ebay, but you lack the time or skills, there are ebay selling agents that can help you with this but check the commission they charge on top of the ebay fees.  

Donating

Lower value items that are in good condition but no longer needed can be donated to local charities, shelters, and community centres, or posted on Freecycle. Apps like Olio and Nextdoor are also good for giving away items.

If you have a lot to donate and it’s difficult to take the items to the shops or shelters yourself, some charities can organise to collect. Bear in mind that charity shops won’t take upholstered goods which do not have fire safety labels. Blankets, bedding and towels are usually very welcome at animal shelters and homeless charities.

Recycling/special disposal

Items that cannot be donated or sold but are hazardous or environmentally harmful, such as electronics, should be taken to a recycling or waste management centre. Alternatively, you can contact the local council to book a council waste collection.

Hiring professional help for a house clearance

Don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance if the scale of the house clearance is overwhelming, for example if your parent or relative was a hoarder, or if time is your biggest issue.

A professional organiser or reputable house clearance service can speed things up and ease the burden, especially for the more demanding parts of the process. Services often include sorting, transporting, and disposing of items and may extend to cleaning the property after clearance.

The benefits of hiring a professional include:

  • Efficiency and expertise: Professional house clearance companies bring efficiency and expertise to what can be an overwhelming task. They have the experience and resources to handle large and small clearances effectively.
  • Stress reduction: Delegating the task to professionals can reduce the emotional and physical stress of clearing a loved one’s house.
  • Environmental responsibility: Reputable companies are knowledgeable about proper disposal methods and recycling, ensuring that items are disposed of in a compliant manner.
  • Time-saving: Professionals handling the clearance free up time for you to deal with other important matters, such as legal proceedings or family affairs.

Professional organisers

You can look for a professional organiser via the Association of Professional Declutters and Organisers (APDO) website. Charges for professional organisers and declutterers vary from around £35 to £75 per hour, depending on where you live (London and surrounding areas tend to be higher), and usually require a minimum of three hours per session.

Tip: Always check if they include taking charitable items away for you as part of the service – most do offer this service but it’s worth checking when you first enquire. Most likely they will also have contacts for waste disposal and cleaning companies once the clearance has taken place should you need help with that.

House clearance companies

When searching for a house clearance company, remember to check Trustpilot and Google for reviews, and to verify their credentials. A legitimate house clearance company should have a waste carrier licence and liability insurance. It’s worth obtaining quotes from at least two companies and comparing the prices and services offered. Be wary of quotes that seem too good to be true, and avoid companies with high-pressure sales tactics or demands for large deposits upfront.

House clearance company costs will vary depending on the size of the property and content to be cleared, and can range from a few hundred to over a thousand pounds.

In summary

Clearing out a parent or elder relative’s home can have a substantial emotional and physical toll.

This process might bring up a mix of emotions, from nostalgia and sadness to stress and frustration. Recognise the importance of your emotional well-being during this time, and don’t hesitate to seek support.

Whether it’s from family, friends, or professionals, having a support system can make a huge difference. Staying organised and well-informed reduces the risk of disputes and tensions.

It’s also essential to recognise the legalities involved in the situation, from will and probate to Lasting Power of Attorney. If you’re confused or lost on what you need to do, contact a legal professional.

Common questions

  • What determines the cost of a house clearance?

The cost of a house clearance is influenced by various factors, including the location of the property, the property size, the volume of items to be removed, any potentially hazardous waste involved and the complexity of the task.

Prices typically range from £500 to £1500. Factors such as the property’s accessibility, the need for special handling of certain items (like antiques or hazardous materials), and the potential resale value of the cleared items can also affect the overall cost.

  • Who bears the cost of house clearance after a death?

After a property owner’s death, the expenses for house clearance are usually covered by their estate.

This means that whatever funds or assets left behind are used to pay for the clearance. In cases where the estate’s value is insufficient to cover these costs, the responsibility may then fall to the next of kin or other relatives.

It’s important to check the will and consult a legal advisor to understand how costs can be covered.

  • How to start the house clearance process?

When beginning a house clearance, evaluate the extent of the task at hand. This includes determining the volume of items that need to be cleared and the property’s overall condition.

Organise all necessary paperwork, such as property deeds, wills, and any other relevant documents. Decide if you need professional support, such as a professional organiser or house clearance service, to make the clearance more efficient and ease the emotional burden.

Communication with family members is key to coordinating efforts and distributing tasks and helps avoid disputes.

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