When a family member dies and leaves you with a home to sell, there is a lot more to the process than putting a sign in the yard and waiting for closing.

I recently told the story of how we helped to sell the home of a woman who had passed away and her nephew (who was out-of-state) had called us to help him sell her home. In addition to being in need of repair and a lot of deferred maintenance, his aunt’s well-loved long-time home was full of her personal belongings and her estate needed to be probated. From several states away, he wasn’t sure how to proceed. Luckily, we have extensive experience in this area that ensured that not only did he get possession of his aunt’s photos and personal memorabilia, but he was able to sell the home for very little stress without having to come to Atlanta and deal with the estate issues and ultimately get top dollar for the home. (Click here to read the story of this sale — it was a memorable one for us.)

While hiring a REALTOR® is, in our opinion, the most important part of any real estate transaction, it can be even more important when there are several moving parts, legal ramifications, and additional hurdles to get over.

While selling a family home as part of an estate can be an emotional and draining experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a stressful one. Over the years, we’ve worked with so many families with varied and diverse estate needs — each home, each family, each story is unique. 

Here are some things to think about when you are hiring a REALTOR® to help you sell a home you’ve inherited.

First things first: do you have the legal right to sell the home?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there’s not a will, there’s probably still a way…it may just take longer to get there. 

And of course, by “will” I mean an actual legal document.

A REALTOR® with experience in this area will know the right questions to ask you to make sure that the property you are now looking to sell is ready for market, legally. Was there a will? Has the will be probated? How many decision-makers (or stakeholders) are there in the final proceeds of the property? Was the property in a trust? Who are the trustees? Are there previous executor’s deeds to content with (in other words is the seller a widow or widower, and was the deceased’s spouse’s will handled correctly at that time)? Are there are blemishes to the title that need to be corrected prior to this sale being able to close? Are there any other claims to the title that need to be dealt with before you can legally list and sell the home? 

Once the property is listed and once you get an offer and a contract, the answers to the above questions really need to be sorted out already. If these types of questions come up during the contract period — especially if it’s a cash buyer with a very short contract period — you may give that buyer a loophole to get out of the contract, leaving you to go back on the market and having missed your ideal opportunity to sell. 

Hire the right REALTOR® and you should avoid issues like those.

If the home still contains furnishings or personal property, you will want to empty it.

Even a savvy investor or buyer may be scared away by a home full of “stuff.” There are a few steps to this process.

First, decide what you (or other interested family members) want. Family photos, memorabilia, mementoes, heirlooms. Figure out what you or other family members (stakeholders in the family property, even if they’re not ultimately decision-makers in the sale or otherwise have a claim to the property) want to remember the deceased and dole out that property accordingly.

Locate paperwork (and information) that you may need to hold on to until the home sells. Look for information on the homeowner’s insurance policy — you’ll want to keep that insurance active until the home sale closes. Find utilities information and bills — you’ll want to keep the utilities on for the duration of the time the house is on the market and until the sale closes. 

Remove anything of a sensitive nature. Think documents (sensitive financial paperwork and information, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, etc.). Consult with professionals as to what (if anything) you need to keep and what you should shred. Consider, too, disposal of prescription medications (many cities/municipalities or local police stations may have information about how to do this properly). 

Then figure out what might have monetary value. Holding an estate sale to sell anything of value that the family doesn’t want to keep for themselves may be a viable option. Your REALTOR® can likely refer you to several reputable and experienced estate sale companies from which you can choose the one that works best for you. A good estate sale company can also give you a good idea of what actually has value. Your judgement may be clouded by sentimentality, based on what your deceased family member cherished most, and those things may not hold actual value. Hiring a company you feel you can trust can help you to navigate this process.

Click here for a great article that discusses cleaning out a home after a loved one dies. 

Your REALTOR should be a huge resource to you during this time.

Over the 15+ years I’ve been a full-time REALTOR®, of course I’ve built up my roster of trusted professionals — lenders, closing attorneys, painters, handymen, electricians, movers, appraisers, and more.

However, there’s a very specialized group of people that you will need to help you during this time. I’ve also built up a list of people that serve this very unique niche. While you may need the closing attorney and painter, the handyman and electrician, you may also need the home organizer, the estate sale professional, and the appraiser. These are the people who can help you — whether you live locally or across the country — to take the hard work out of your hands and to do what they do best. The valuation and sale of the personal property, the emptying and cleaning of the home. This cane make a huge difference in the ultimate value of the home? How? Think of it this way: selling a home that is full of the previous owner’s belongings has every buyer calculating their cost to rent the dumpster and the clean-out crew, to pay to dispose of the contents, which will likely all go to a landfill. By hiring your own crew to methodically make those decisions — what can be sold, what needs to be thrown away; what has value, what needs to be donated — you can drastically improve the value of the home to the next purchaser. 

Who else does a great REALTOR® provide? Even more niche, you may want access to the real estate investors, the house flippers, and the network of other REALTORS® who have their own list of investors and flippers who may be looking for their next property to purchase, which can mean a quick sale for you, once the property is ready.

You will also need a REALTOR® who does their homework and helps you to do yours. A REALTOR® whose closing attorney runs a preliminary title search to make sure clear title can be granted at closing, who can refer you to a family lawyer who can help with probate issues, and who makes recommendations regarding things like a pre-listing appraisal or a pre-market inspection if they feel these things will ultimately help you to get a faster sale for more money. 

Finally, decide what happens with the home. 

A really good REALTOR® who has experience with helping in estate scenarios will be able to provide you with options. A really good REALTOR® recognizes that each home, each family, each scenario is unique, and every seller of a family member’s home has different needs and goals. 

You may have multiple decision-makers (even if there is only one executor of the will or trustee of the trust). You may have more sentimental attachment to an immediate family member’s home than to a distant relative’s — and maybe the reason you’re the executor is because your family member knew you’d be less sentimental and more objective. Maybe you’re a numbers person and just want to know the bottom-line; maybe you’re a little more of a risk-taker and want to try to improve and flip the property.

My point is this: a great REALTOR® will talk through numerous scenarios with you, present you with a number of options, find out your goals, your financial situation, your emotional stake in the property, and ultimately help you to figure out what’s right for you and your family. There is no one-size-fits-all real estate…and there shouldn’t be. A great REALTOR® will never try to convince you otherwise. 

Ben and I specialize in helping our clients to make the right decisions in the moment — whether you are selling your personal home and making a move or you’ve inherited a family property and need to make some crucial decisions so that your inheritance remains an asset rather than becomes a burden. Whether it’s market-ready or filled with your loved ones belongings and collection of 300+ dolls…our job is to be your problem-solver, your consultant, your resource, your REALTOR® and to help you get to where you want to be.

If you have inherited a family member’s home to sell OR if you have an aging parent or close family member that you want to help to better prepare for this period in their lives, please call us today for a consultation at 404-994-2181 or email Maura(at)BuySellLiveAtlanta(dot)com. It’s truly our pleasure to serve you and help you through this time.

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.