Articles and Advice
from your West County
Selling Aunt Suzie’s Home:
How to Be A Good Fiduciary
& Avoid Common Mistakes in Selling Estate Property Volume 7
By Barry Upchurch
It’s Sunday afternoon, you’re are going about your normal routine and enjoying a little down time before the Monday morning alarm clock sounds and your phone rings. It’s a family member who calls to tell you that Aunt Suzie has either passed away or is never going back home and needs to be moved immediately to a permanent care facility. Before you know it, you may be booking a flight and rearranging your next week because Aunt Suzie trusted you to deal with her estate and now it’s time for you to be in charge.
Before you board your plane, let me confirm your concerns, that you are already behind the 8 ball and need professional help. While you might feel overwhelmed and alone, you don’t need to. In addition to all of the emotions you might have to choke back, now is the time to be cool, collected, methodical and organized in your approach of selling Aunt Suzie’s home, that’s why she chose you.
The home is already in play the minute your airplane’s wheels hit the landing runway, everyone and his brother think this house is up for grabs and is theirs for the taking. Neighbors will be coming over with baked goods wanting to influence the decision of who buys the home, offering up their rehabbing nephew as a potential candidate. The front door will be littered with new real estate agent business cards which ink has not dried. Your well-intentioned relatives will offer up their sons or daughters to help out, (i.e. help themselves out) by moving in the home and “taking care” of the home at no cost … or rent… while fixing it up. All I can say is “Seller Beware.”
“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you...” to quote If by Rudyard Kipling you can get through this. To that end, let’s go over the top 10 Common Mistakes to Avoid or Steps to Do when selling your relative’s home and hopefully, return safety and quickly to your own home and return now to your normal life:
1.) Don’t FSBO the House. You are the fiduciary, If you do sell the home yourself and save the commission, for the rest of your life, at Thanksgiving Dinner, you will be 2nd guessed as to whether you got top dollar for Aunt Suzie’s house. Just don’t go there, put the fork down and step away from that plate of criticism.
2.) D0 contact 3, and only 3, good, professional REALTORS:
Call the neighborhood REALTOR, while you might not use this person in the end analysis, they have the scoop on what is going on in the neighborhood. You are also giving them a head start with their buyer’s but that is o.k. Do not, let them march forward with a one-time showing of their favorite buyer, this would be o.k. if it was your house, but remember you have a fiduciary responsibility and competition for the home will bring in the best sales price.
3.) Call a Big Dog Lister, franchised perhaps or not, who has sold everything, including the kitchen sink. Don’t be afraid of this person, they will give you the hard, or soft hard sale and come bearing a mountain of statistics, “their statistics” of “How Great Thou Art” and a pen and the listing contract. Do not jump at this, no matter how compelling, but do study the general market statistics and listen to their comments on how to market your specific home. Repeat these words “I will have to check with the family on our decision.” Do not let them leave with an inked document and the front door key.
4.) Call an Independent Professional Broker, small business owners, listen to what they bring to the party. Get their thoughts on their unique marketing approach and general listing and sale price. They provide more personalized service, possibly better rates and more credentials.
5.) What are their Credentials. Are they a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) the blue-ribbon standard of listing agents and have experience with estate type sales? Are they a broker or just an agent? How long have they been in the business, at least 10 years, are they top of their game, do they carry a reasonable portfolio of listings, what experience do they have in dealing with estate properties, title issues, trust documents and multiple distant authorized and unauthorized, but interested family members.
6.) Find an agent/broker who has contacts/vendors to assist you with the unique services needed that will arise selling this property, estate sales/auction companies, cleaning companies etc. As a conductor you have your work cut out for you, preparing the home for the market and coordinating what do to with Aunt Suzie’s Hummel collection, unique wardrobe fashion and boxes of mystery items, “I didn’t know Aunt Suzie was a Swing dancer, bootlegger, professional falconer, …fill in the blank.. in the day.”
7.) Don’t Do Anything, (I mean Anything) with the House without Professional Advice: Once you walk into the house which has probably been vacant for a while, get over the stagnant smell, you will want to gravitate to swinging into calling an army of handymen, landscapers, wallpaper removers, carpet companies, resist this urge. Unless you hear water running down the hallway, a tree branch cratered on the breakfast room table or a bad smell coming from the basement, have your three wise men/women REALTORS come visit the house warts and all. Believe me they have seen it all. Listen to their combined advice.
8.) Don’t make decisions for the new buyer. You will pick the standard, builder/renter grade carpeting that will be ripped out before the ink dries on the sale contract. Some real estate agents will have you get everything out of the house, strip wallpaper, paint the entire house, re-carpet, put granite in the kitchen. The easy rule of thumb is that unless you can prove you get a $2 back for every $1 invested, don’t do it. Today, even kitchen and bathroom remodels do not measure up to this ROI, most recent quotes are .80 on the dollar recovery for updates.
9.) Contact Her Professional Advisors:
a.)Call her Attorney/Trust Company or Financial Planner and make sure you notify them as to her condition and obtain whatever official paperwork you need to discharge your official capacity. There are 3 general types of fiduciaries: 1.) Personal Representatives – if she has passed; 2.) Conservatorship – Suzie is still alive but needs help with her financial matters or 3.) Guardianship – again, still alive, but needs help with legal matters and overall care.
b.)It is also important to contact her CPA/Tax Preparer as they will need to obtain your authority in the case that you might need to sell securities or cash in a CD to pay for Susie’s mounting medical or nursing home bills. She might have nursing home or other insurance that could offset these expenses, accumulate as many bills sitting around the kitchen counter or in the overstuffed mailbox or at the neighbor’s house, but be careful not to pay until you understand why she owns versus what the insurance covers.
c.)Contact Her Insurance Agent. Check the status of her policies, now would not be a good time to have lapse a home owner policy before a premium was not timely paid. Many elderly people whose home are paid for don’t have their homeowner insurance paid as an escrow payment with the mortgage payment, because there is not one. Obtain the list of the scheduled items, these are the more expensive diamonds, fur coats, gold bullion and other items you never had any idea she owned. The three things to go missing first are jewelry, firearms and drugs. Also, be careful not to gift or throw anything away before examining it. Elderly people hide stuff in books, tissue paper, bedposts, trash cans, coffee cans, etc. In full disclosure, the downside to alerting her insurance agent to Susie being at the nursing home is that now you have officially notified the insurance agent that home may well be vacant and start the clock ticking for the 3 or 6 month voiding of the current homeowner insurance due to its vacancy.
10.) Call the police. Notify them of the status of the home and let them know who you are, who will be accessing the home and when. Have them monitor the vacant home, which are prey to all types of bad people. Also, let the neighbors know you have notified the police, & see if they have a key? Also, sequester those valuable items whether they made it on the insurance scheduled items or not. Get those items out of the house, even if you need to rent a safety deposit box at the local bank. The number one theft of Susie’s diamond will be the niece who will claim, last time she had lunch as Susie’s country club, she promised her that diamond. You get the picture.
Being informed and prepared will help you along the way with the bumps in the
road when it comes to selling Aunt Suzie’s home and dealing with her personal effects.
Having a seasoned agent with experience in selling this type of property and a team
of specialist to connect you with will make the process much smoother.
Diane and Barry Upchurch are uniquely qualified to be your REALTORS of choice for Estate Properties. Barry was a social worker during his days at Duke University working for a County Public Fiduciary agency, he is an attorney in the state of Missouri but works as a full time REALTOR Broker for the last 20 some years. Diane was a Personal Trust Representative working with trust clients and their families for a prominent Trust Company in St. Louis while she was a Certified Financial Planner. As a broker, she continues to work with Trust Companies and families, also for the last 20 years. Both Barry and Diane are Certified Residential Specialist (CRS).
Selling your relative’s real estate property can be a daunting undertaking, Diane and Barry understand the importance of handling your fiduciary responsibilities professionally, confidentially and with compassion so you can return to your normal life. Aunt Suzie wouldn’t want it any other way. We can be reached at 636-530-7727.