How to cope with selling the home of a deceased relative

Property ObserverJanuary 7, 20150 min read

Guest observation

Losing a close relative or friend is a difficult time for anyone, and dealing with the deceased’s estate — although a necessity — can add to your suffering. Whether you have been bequeathed a property or made responsible for its sale, there are a few simple but vital steps you can take to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.

Change the locks

It’s a good idea to change all the locks in the house as soon as possible. It’s likely that your relative has given spare keys to friends, neighbours, cleaners or repairmen, and it’s important that you know who has access to the property. This way you can take charge of who has a key, including home staging professionals and your real estate agent.

Have mail forwarded

Even if you have access to the deceased’s property, you should still arrange for mail to be forwarded to your own address for the foreseeable future. This means you will be able to tie up any outstanding matters relating to the property, such as water charges, council rates and mortgage repayments. Forwarding mail also means you can let friends and family know of the death when their mail arrives.

Arranging to forward mail should be done in-person at a post-office, using a Mail Redirection application form. More info can be accessed here.

Gather important documentation

If you’ve been left in charge of the deceased’s estate, there are financial matters that you will need to attend to as quickly as possible. You should attempt to collect all of the following documents and ensure they are dealt with accordingly. All of these documents may already be with a solicitor that you can contact directly, but the responsibility to attend to any outstanding issues may fall upon you.

  • Rates notices and statements
  • Creditor letters
  • Bank account information
  • Home insurance — contact the provider to inform them of the death and arrange cover accordingly
  • Any documentation relating to ownership or maintenance of the home
  • Mortgage statements

Maintain payments

Many mortgages are issued with the condition that adequate life insurance is in place, which will pay off the mortgage upon death. However, this doesn’t always happen automatically and you may need to contact the bank or mortgage company to inform them of the change in ownership status. You may also need to maintain repayments until the matter is resolved. If you are the legal owner of the property, you will need to keep up to date with council and water rates. These issues can be time-consuming, stressful and costly, so if you don’t intend to keep the house, securing a quick sale can be important.

Hire a real estate agent  

Given that the deceased relative may not have lived nearby to you, you will need a real estate agent who you trust and who you know will take a proactive approach when selling the property. For the best results, you should look for an agent who has specific experience selling homes quickly — and remotely, if that is your case. Particularly if you are in a different state, you should do your research to compare several agents in the area to get a good idea of their sales history and what their previous customers have to say about them.

Prepare the house for sale

If you don’t intend to keep the property, achieving a quick sale at a fair market price is essential. Holding onto the house for too long could cost you money, so you and your real estate agent should select a listing price that represents value and attracts buyers. If you sell the property via the private treaty route, the original listing price just acts as a guide and if you can instil competition between buyers, you can drive up the price. You can ensure real certainty in terms of timescale by selling at auction. This decision can be made with the help of your agent.

If you’re looking to sell quickly, you should ensure to the best of your ability that it is ready to move into. This may require some quick repairs and alterations.

  • Remove old and tired furniture, and possibly temporarily furnish with some simple, modern items (you may consider hiring a professional staging company)
  • Remove personalised photos
  • Give the walls a lick of paint, and stick to neutral shades to appeal to broadest range of buyers
  • Make the rooms look as light and spacious as possible by removing unnecessary drapes and curtains.
  • Repair leaky taps, wobbly doors, and replace light bulbs.
  • Spruce up the garden as it’s often the first thing people see
  • Ensure your agent has access to the property at all times, especially if you don’t live close by

Selling the property of a deceased relative isn’t something most people are prepared for, and can often be someone’s first experience selling. Following the tips above will hopefully take some of the stress out of the process, so it’s important to surround yourself with people that you can trust have your best interests at heart.

Marta Higuera is the co-founder and co-CEO of real-estate startup OpenAgent.

 

 

Property Observer

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