Selling an estate or property in Utah can be simple or complicated, fast or slow—depending on how well the deceased was organized before his or her death. An ‘estate’ can be a $20,000 mobile home, a condo and two rental properties, a commercial warehouse, or a 24-plex with a multi-million dollar mansion down the street. It’s the mission of the heir(s) to abide by the deceased wishes according to law. Regardless of the type of property I can achieve your goal.
I recall a friend of mine who told me one day that her father had finally passed after a long, painful illness. She and her siblings had gone through the home over the weekend and gone through his possessions. She wanted to give me the news in person that he had died, as I had known him-and he had wanted me to sell the house. I asked, “Did your dad put the property in a trust before he died?” “No”, she answered. I looked up the address in the public records on my iPad and we could see that he and her deceased mom were the owners of record and that there was no trust. I then asked, “Have you spoken to your attorney about how long he thinks probate will take?” She replied, “Oh, we don’t need an attorney. My brothers and sisters are all in agreement to sell the home and split the proceeds equally between us after it closes escrow. What’s probate?”
In this case, the estate had to go to Probate Court because that was what the law requires. Probate is basically where a judge ensures that there is a legal and orderly transfer of the property of the estate of her dad. There are safeguards put forth in the law to make sure the debts and taxes are paid (if possible) and resolve what heirs are entitled to what assets, and how to disburse the property accordingly. It can be a quick or very long process, inexpensive or very expensive to the estate/heirs.
Luckily, most of the people I work with have planned much better and the process becomes more of a filling in of the legal pieces of verifying signatures and the rights to sign and transfer. Either way, I can recommend the best legal professionals to help you do the right thing, from estate attorneys, CPA’s and appraisers, to escrow officers. I don’t take kickbacks or fees under the table from anyone I recommend.
Typical Steps for selling a parents/relative’s home/property
Selling a deceased parent’s house is its own journey of emotions and tasks. If you’re not keeping the property after they pass, there are steps you can take to minimize your stress and the time it takes to sell the house.
1. Determine who has the authority to sell the property/sign documents
If the owner of a house dies with no heirs, Intestate (without a will) Law will be used to determine the next possible beneficiary. Probate Court will apply these laws to identify the closest living family member. In the case that there are no surviving relatives and no Will, the state will take possession of the property.
2. Order a title report
The buyer and buyer’s lender will require that the estate provides ‘clean title’ to the purchaser, passing the deed without any liens attached to it that don’t belong to the buyer. Dad might have told you he paid off the mortgage but the original lender might not have sent the appropriate proof it was paid off. Or a lien was attached for unpaid taxes that don’t belong to this property. Getting this ordered first with a plat map (and if a condo, the CCR’s) will help foresee any problems in transferring title that can be worked out in advance. Title insurance fees are price-fixed by the state of Utah. You can’t ‘shop’ title companies because they basically all charge the same fees. I will recommend a company that I feel does the best job for me and my clients when it comes to selling an estate, to make sure that all the documents are correct to eventually pass title. Also, the escrow officer at the title company will want to see any trust or court documents that show who has the right to sign prior to close of escrow.
3. Establish the value of your parent’s house
The first step in selling your parent’s house is to value the house, along with the other property in the estate. The value of the house will be affected by any mortgage that remains to be paid on the house, improvements to be made, and the market value of comparable houses in the area. In valuing the house, I use both a formal appraisal from a licensed appraiser and run my own market analysis to see if I agree or disagree with the appraiser. These documents are not public (unless we chose to share them with a potential buyer). Pricing correctly is extremely important and giving you the best data possible will help immensely!
4. Sorting through your parent’s personal property
It is likely that most of your parent’s personal property that they owned and collected over the years is still in the home. To sell the house, this property must be removed so the house may be prepared for sale, although some furniture can be left for staging the home if it is determined the staging would help potential buyers visualize if their bed will fit in the main bedroom, their oversized sofa will work in the rec room-those kinds of things.
Family members may wish to take possession of certain property left behind that holds particular sentimental value. However, if your parent left a will and bequeathed specific property to named beneficiaries, you must preserve this property for the beneficiaries. Even if a close family member wants a particular piece of property, you cannot dispose of it if your parent included it in their will. This is another reason the court will want to review the distribution of assets. Suggestions include setting up a bank account for the estate where any funds related to the estate can be deposited for later distribution, such as proceeds from a garage/tag/estate sale and the later proceeds from the sale of the home, rental property, vacation property, etc.
Once you account for all the property expressly listed in the will, you will need to start “decluttering” the house of the rest of the personal property. Family members may wish to claim certain items. Sometimes an estate sale may help to clear out some property and bring in some cash at the same time. Inevitably, there will be some property that no one wants that you can donate to charity or simply dispose of. The goal is to empty the house of all property so that it may be placed on the market for sale. Keep details on funds and distributions via a simple log or an Excel document as you may need to show it to the court as well as other heirs. BUT don’t just randomly start selling off assets or holding a garage/tag/estate sale unless you are authorized to do so.
5. Prepare the house for sale
Once the property is decluttered, you should determine how you want to present the house for sale. My protocol is to have the property cleaned from top to bottom and I have a team that can usually complete the task within a week. I also have all the windows washed-inside and out. I have a window washer on call at all times as a home or condo shows much better with clear windows. Generally, I recommend the property be sold in ‘as-is’ condition, but sometimes there’s an immediate repair that has to be done. Having sold thousands of homes over the years I have a great list of vendors for repairs whom I trust and won’t charge an arm and a leg. Keep in mind that if you are aware of major issues with the house, like structural damage or conditions of safety or habitability, you must disclose these issues. Buyers will hire a professional inspection of the house that will reveal these kinds of issues.
6. List the house for sale
Once the house is emptied, cleaned, and perhaps repaired, deciding the price of the house that you are willing to accept, and will list the house for sale on the Multiple Listing Service If it’s a home in Washington County, we will list in the Salt Lake City and Washington County MLS services. If it’s in Park City, we’ll list in their MLS and the SLC MLS-double the exposure that most companies can’t offer because I’m a member of three MLS in the state. The second it goes live on the MLS it will appear on 20+ million websites around the world. The market will then dictate the list price of the house by having buyers present offers immediately or not at all. The real estate market is adjusting due to inflation/high interest rates and correct pricing is crucial to you getting the most money for the estate.
Although you may feel attached to the house and may have strong emotions about how much the house is worth to you, try to be realistic about what value you can get for the house. Overpricing can only hurt the property from getting the most offers, the highest sales price. Selling a parent’s house after they die is emotional, and your emotions can easily affect your success in selling the house. If you can separate your emotions from the task at hand, take a few simple steps to prepare the house for sale, and list the house at a reasonable price within the market, you’ll find that selling your parent’s house after death can be easier and quicker than you expected.