These tips will help you and your client avoid potential pitfalls and net more money in the home sale process.
Probate attorneys are experienced in helping clients through the legal complexities of handling a family member’s or loved one’s estate. Often times a person’s home is the most valuable asset someone has when they pass away. For this reason it’s critically important that selling a home in the probate process is done correctly and under the advice of an experienced probate attorney and an experienced real estate agent skilled in handling probate home sales. Dealing with a loved-one’s estate can add a significant amount of stress to an already grieving family member’s life. With many probate attorneys already understanding the emotional piece of the probate process, it’s important to identify a similarly experienced real estate agent who projects patience, understanding, and compassion with your probate client throughout the entire process. Families need special love, support, and attention during this time, which means it takes the right agent to handle their circumstances.
Recently several probate attorneys asked me for advice about what exactly should be done to homes to net the most amount of money and help them sell in the least amount of time with few complications. Here are a few tips I’ve extended to those attorneys and ultimately implemented to help their clients sell homes that were involved in probate sales.
The correct amount of staging is key
Despite what most people might think, cleaning everything out of the home and making it vacant isn’t always the best idea. In most circumstances it’s advisable to leave a few pieces of furniture in each room for staging purposes. Homes with even light amounts of staging furniture often show much better than completely vacant homes. As far as personal effects go, it’s always a good idea for the family or a trusted executor to remove valuable personal effects and ensure they end up in the right hands. Any other effects that are unwanted by the family should either be sold or donated to a charity. This will help de-clutter the home and give it a cleaner look. In several situations I’ve commissioned the help of a professional organizer and a “junk” removal company to expedite the cleanout of items that the homeowners family did not want to keep and weren’t suitable for donation. I’ve always found that these types of services are money well spent and they also help to reduce stress on the homeowner’s family.
Cleaning can make a BIG difference
It is important to have the home professionally deep cleaned once all nonessential items have been culled through and removed. I’m always surprised at how many of the homes I show to clients are severely dirty. Some of the biggest turnoffs I hear from my buyer clients are related to unclean homes, clutter, and strange smells. Professional cleaning is a quick and easy way to eliminate these turnoffs and objections for potential buyers.
Sometimes homes involved in probate sales can have delayed maintenance and require some upkeep that has been neglected. If the family or the person’s estate can afford it, it generally makes more financial sense to make required repairs and even some minor upgrades to the home before it is placed on the market. Having carpets professionally cleaned is a great way to rejuvenate the look of a home. However, if the carpet in a home is not salvageable from a cleaning standpoint, or is extremely outdated, spending a few thousand dollars on replacing carpet and padding will help sell a home faster and for more money than was spent to purchase the carpet. The same rule generally applies for painting the interior of a home; spending a few thousand dollars for a fresh coat of neutral paint throughout the home will net more money in the home sale than what it costs up front. This can sometimes be a slippery slope though; once you start replacing and upgrading things it’s easy to get carried away and on the verge of a full-scale renovation. This is why it’s important to consult with an experienced real estate agent familiar with the local market and probate sales. They are a great source of advice when it comes to which repairs and upgrades will ultimately return the biggest dividends and net the highest sale price.
Keep the outside looking fresh
Depending on the time of year it’s a great idea to hire a lawn care company to keep the home’s yard in manageable shape. In the North Texas area these types of services generally run $20 to $40 per week depending on the size and condition of the yard. Many of these companies can also spread a fresh layer of mulch in front flowerbeds to give the home a freshly maintained look. Keeping the exterior of the home in good shape not only helps to increase it’s curb appeal for potential buyers, it also reduces the chance of vandalism to a home that looks unoccupied and abandoned.
Budget, budget, budget
With all of the above said, it’s important to stick to a reasonable budget throughout the entire make-ready process. Clients should also understand that once they receive an acceptable offer to purchase the home, the buyer will have an inspection and most likely ask for certain repairs to be made to the home. At this point, the sellers have two options to negotiate these repairs. They can either agree to make certain repairs themselves by hiring licensed tradesmen, or they can offer cash in lieu of repairs. For example, if a buyer asks for a new water heater because the current one is showing signs of leaking, the seller can either hire a plumber to replace the water heater prior to closing, or they can offer to reduce the sales price of the home by the amount it would cost them to replace the water heater. In most cases it’s easiest for the seller to offer cash in lieu of repairs since it requires less time and coordination on their part.
Choose the right team
One last tip is to make sure a title company knowledgeable about closing homes in probate is chosen to handle the title work and closing process. Home sales can get held up and delayed by title companies and closers not familiar with the specific rules and laws that are involved when a home is sold in probate. Most agents with experience in selling homes involved in probate have their go-to title companies that they have had positive experiences with while selling homes in the probate process. They can be a great resource to ensure the right title company handles the job properly.
Since there so many complexities involved in selling a probate home, and the probate process in general, it’s always essential that you advise your clients to work with a real estate agent experienced with successful probate home sales. I’ve seen transactions fall apart when family members hire a friend or inexperienced agent they know to sell their loved one’s home. A lot of the steps I’ve mentioned above take time, effort, and knowledge to properly accomplish. In many situations grieving family members are busy with other things in their own lives and simply can’t make the effort to accomplish these tasks. A good real estate agent who understands what these families and executors are going through will volunteer to help them through the process, often times coordinating a majority of the tasks themselves as part of their service offering. A real estate agent’s knowledge and education of the probate process can make or break a deal, which makes hiring an experienced agent even more critical.
~Leslie Remy, Broker