Losing a family member is a difficult time. There are lots of decisions to be made in a short amount of time, all while grieving the loss of a loved one. As a real estate agent, you are in a unique position to help families during this emotional life event.
Selling a home after a loved one dies can seem like a challenging endeavor for the family left behind — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some essential steps for selling a home after the previous owner passed away.
1. Understand the state of affairs
A death in the family is always hard, and getting an accurate read on the situation is imperative.
Position yourself as an advocate for the family, and offer to help them work through this painful time with actionable steps. Be sensitive to the feelings involved; previous issues and long-standing complaints tend to come to the surface during trying times.
The family should continue to pay and stay current on bills associated with the home. This means staying up to date on the gas, electric, water and sewer, property taxes and mortgage payments.
The family should also stay on top of other housekeeping items, like landscaping and general chores.
When someone inherits a home from a deceased family member, it comes with new responsibilities. There are major tax consequences, like estate and inheritance taxes, that everyone needs to be aware of, so offer your assistance or connect families with a professional.
A death in the family is naturally a time of reflection for all involved. In your role as an advocate to the family, encourage your clients to learn from this experience. Even though you aren’t an insurance broker or have power of attorney, you can still be a useful ally.
Encourage your clients to investigate their own life insurance options. It’s never too early to start exploring options. A simple payout makes everything easier for everyone involved and prevents additional drama.
2. Read the paperwork
Dividing up belongings is a bittersweet experience. Family heirlooms have different meanings for each relative and sentimental value is hard to measure. A lot of answers to sensitive questions are found reading through documents.
Before your clients start divvying up family items and memorabilia (or before an estate sale), they should make sure everyone is one the same page. Encourage your clients to thoroughly read the following pieces of paperwork:
- The will: A will appoints an executor and helps expedite the process of understanding to whom each item belongs. It also speeds up the probate process that all estates must complete.
- Insurance policies: Whether provided by an employer or privately purchased, insurance policies pay family members to help with expenses after the death of a loved one.
- Banking documents: Help the family review their loved ones financial statements and bank accounts. Settle outstanding debts and, if necessary, work with an accountant.
3. Prep the home for sale
In most cases, a newly-vacant home isn’t ready for sale without some basic clean-up tasks. To get a home into selling shape, address major issues like rotting wood, uneven flooring and leaky plumbing. Take care of:
- Repairs: Anything in the home not functioning properly needs fixing. This includes unsecure steps, plumbing and electrical issues and unfinished projects like additions to the home or renovations.
- Updates: Take care of necessary updates to major focal points like the kitchen and master bedroom and bathroom. Updates like his-and-hers sinks and granite tiles in the master bathroom and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen will entice potential buyers and increase the value of the home. And don’t forget the outside of the home: increase the curb appeal with updates like planting flowers, adding a new mailbox and power washing the exterior.
- Staging: Show potential buyers what their future home could be with the magic of staging. A clean, uncluttered presentation of your client’s home can make or break an open house. Adopt a less-is-more mantra and clear out all unnecessary furniture, like bookcases and extra seating. Move things into a storage unit if needed. Consider hiring a staging service to bring in rental furniture and decor to elevate the styling.
4. Ask for help when you need it
The mark of an intelligent person is knowing when to seek help. If or when managing the family’s affairs becomes more complicated than you can handle, don’t be afraid to consult with an expert.
An estate lawyer can help wade through especially complicated cases where there are several properties to deal with and various investments or financial components. Estate lawyers help families carry out wishes outlined in a will, handle insurance policies and work to reduce fees and taxes related to the estate.
Use your experience as a real estate agent and your contacts in different industries to compile a list of resources for the family. This can include grieving counselors, professional organizers, family mediation specialists and contractors.
The more support you can offer a family the easier the entire process will be, so let your clients know that you are willing and able to help.
Scott Bay is a digital journalist who reports on the latest technology trends, focusing specifically on travel, home and AI topics. He has written for Venture Beat, Men’s Health and ITS.