How to Manage the Real Estate of a Deceased Loved One

At some point in all of our lives, we will be put in a position that requires us to make end-of-life decisions for our loved ones and ourselves. Families often look to their realtor to help make tough decisions about a loved one’s real estate and what is necessary to prepare it for sale. In my own career, I have helped numerous families prepare for this tough period in life. Over the years, I have accumulated a list of things that I always make sure are completed when preparing a house for sale. Some of these items may require an attorney’s review while others are helpful hints that will make the process less stressful when dealing with difficult emotions.

Emily Price Carrigan Properties End-of-Life Real Estate Services

Preparing a home for sale is time consuming and often emotional because of the memories associated with the home. When a loved one dies, the process becomes even more intensive, and sometimes the best way to relieve yourself from some of the emotional and physical stress of preparing a home for sale is to hire a professional. I have helped many families over the years through this process by bringing in a special team that goes through all of the above home-prep steps for you. My team will organize all items in the house and help you determine what should be thrown out, donated, or kept. Sometimes it’s hard to see the value of a home that is cluttered and full of things that family members may have collected over the years. Many times after my team has cleared out and cleaned up a home that was marked for teardown, clients realize that without all of the clutter the home actually holds a lot of value. We’re able to go over repair options with the client after finding these diamonds in the rough. We help the client determine how much to spend on paint, new appliances or countertops, new hard wood flooring, landscaping, etc. — no matter how minor or extreme of an update, we can help! Our goal is to get the home ready to impress prospective buyers and allow clients the freedom to focus on other important family matters during this entire process. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any real estate needs or concerns.

Tips for Getting a House Ready to Sell After a Loved One Passes

Share relevant information. If the homeowner died in the home, you may want to disclose this fact to prospective buyers. Make sure that you share any relevant information with your real estate agent, so he or she can help you come to a conclusion on what information is appropriate to share with buyers and what is not.

Set aside financial documents: Search all over the house to ensure that you have located all financial documents and secured them for safekeeping. Also look for any hidden cash to ensure it is not inadvertently disposed. People often hide cash in unlikely places. Check under mattresses, inside (and even on the bottoms) of drawers where cash could be taped, and in crawl spaces or attics. In the olden days, women were known for sewing jewels in the hemming of drapes and clothing for safe keeping, so be sure to do a thorough search.

  • Gather the Following Documents:
    • Homeowner’s policy;
    • Will (look for all updated versions as well as copies);
    • Insurance (any private policies or policies purchased through an employer);
    • Bank Account statements (Some statements could include more than one account, so be sure to go over these carefully.);
    • Letters from the homeowner’s friends;
    • Sentimental documents such as letters, personal writing, journals, etc.;
    • Bill receipts;
    • Stock and bonds as well as any documentation for a bank lock box containing the will;
    • Sensitive documents, especially those containing a Social Security number (Shred all of these.).

Pay the Mortgage and Other Bills: Mortgage lenders still need to be paid. Keep the utilities turned on and notify household services such as gardeners and other maintenance companies.

Change the locks on the home and forward all of the mail: It may be hard to know exactly how many people had keys to the home, so it is important to change the locks in order to prevent unauthorized or unwanted visitors. You never know who will try to contact the deceased, especially around the holidays or on a birthday if they haven’t been informed of their passing. Forwarding mail will allow you to let these friends know what happened, as well as keep up with payments, subscriptions that need to be canceled, etc.

Sort Belongings: This may be the toughest and most emotional aspect of cleaning out the home. The most efficient way to complete this process is to sort the belongings into three categorized piles or tag items with three color-coded stickers, one for each category: items to keep, items to donate or sell, items to throw away.

One of the hardest things about going through this process with siblings or other family members is deciding who gets to keep what. If family members do in fact end up arguing about distribution of certain items, set aside the disputed items until all of the sorting is finished and emotions have settled to some degree. Try taking turns choosing an item or memento and also consider trading items several times for highly treasured items. It’s also wise to get real valuables appraised to determine the actual value.

Preparing the House for Sale

Once the home has been emptied of personal items, you are ready to make the final preparations for sale.

  • Remove all wall décor;
  • Update the flooring: consider whether it needs to be replaced, cleaned, refurbished, etc.;
  • Update all window treatments as well as shutters, or drapes;
  • Patch up holes from wall hangings and give the walls a fresh coat of paint;
  • Replace any light fixtures that may seem a little dated, patch cracks and repaint the ceilings;
  • Remove all items that are signs of a pet in the house.
  • Give the house a complete cleaning from top to bottom, including washing windows, dusting the ceilings and fan blades, and wiping down the insides of cabinets

If you are looking to buy or sell a home in the Dallas, University Park, Highland Park, or Preston Hollow areas, contact Emily Price Carrigan.

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