Left Behind: Selling the Home of Someone Who Has Passed Away

Mourning the death of a loved one is never easy. Once the initial wave of planning their memorial and grieving their immediate loss has subsided, it can be overwhelming to then have to deal with everything from their personal belongings to the property they have left behind. Whether you are taking care of the sale of the deceased’s home as a family or going through a trust, probate, or legal team, putting a house on the market comes with a whole new set of decisions. 


Furnished or Unfurnished?

When you’re trying to sell a home from out of the area, it can be especially challenging to find the time to go through your loved one’s furniture and personal items to decide what to keep and what to sell. Should you pack up everything before you put the house on the market or should you wait until the house is in escrow? 


Well, it depends. 


From a buyer’s perspective, an empty house can appear less welcoming and the bare rooms will often draw attention to any imperfections the home may have. Additionally, an unfurnished home doesn’t photograph or show as well. Buyers like to have a sense of how the home is used. A furnished home can help the buyer envision the layout of their own furniture or assist them in making design decisions.


On the other hand, a home with 50 years of family memories and collectibles can feel stifling and cluttered to a buyer and make it seem smaller. Too many personal items in the home can make it challenging for a buyer to imagine themselves living there. Another issue is that the standard escrow is only 30-60 days and once the residential purchase agreement is signed, everything can go into motion pretty fast - often too fast for you to deal with sorting through and packing up a lifetime of memories. 

The more work a buyer perceives they will have to put into the new home in order for it to fit their aesthetic and functionality, the less value they put on the home. Thus, if you are seeking to maximize the sales price as well as the speed of the sale of the home, I recommend taking the time to assess what should stay temporarily and what should go before putting the home on the market. You may want to keep some furnishings in the home and store or sell others. Consult your realtor, a home designer or a stager for advice. 


Home Inspections - Before or After Listing?

Although most home inspections happen once you go into escrow, when selling a residence you haven’t lived in, it’s generally a good idea to have home inspections done on the property in the process of getting it ready for sale. Especially when the inhabitants have been ailing or the house has been sitting vacant for a while, it’s advantageous to understand what work the home will need to have done to get it ready for the next owners. As a seller, you don’t want to have any surprises when it turns out that the roof is falling apart or the entire HVAC system needs to be replaced. Knowing what needs to be fixed, whether you decide to fix it or not, can give you a better idea of how to price the home for sale and help you and the buyer manage their expectations.


Fix It Up or Sell It As Is?

Once you’ve discovered what work needs to be done on the home to make it move-in ready for the next owner, you’re faced with the decision of whether to repair items identified as needing attention. Sellers often wonder what they are legally required to fix and why they would even bother putting any money into a home they are about to sell.


By law, the home needs to have functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Additionally, California law requires that water heaters be braced to prevent movement during earthquakes. 


As for other repairs, according to the Residential Purchase Agreement, unless otherwise specified, all homes are sold “as is.” However, prior to buyer inspections, it is not always evident what the current state of the property is, which is why the Request for Repairs option is built into the purchasing process. Buyers of a home that is marketed and priced as a deal or fixer upper are often psychologically more willing to close escrow on a property that requires work without requesting major fixes if they had already financially factored in those costs in the purchase price. Alternatively, a buyer who is paying full price for a home, particularly in the luxury market, expects to move into a home in which everything is fully functioning. 


Thus, when it comes down to making repairs to a home, consider your pricing and marketing strategy. If you are looking for a quick and easy sale for yourself as the seller and hoping to put the impetus for repairs on the buyer, plan on pricing your home to incentivize its purchase. If you are aiming to get top dollar, plan on delivering a quality of home your buyer is happy to pay for. When deciding what that exact price is, it helps to go beyond the number of bedrooms and square footage of other homes on the market and use the pictures and description to compare the quality of the homes. 


Even in a seller’s market, a buyer’s desperation can be two-fold. Sometimes their eagerness to get their offer accepted turns into buyer’s remorse when they compare the cost of repairing a home with the amount they had to buy it for in a competitive market. Whether you decide to repair or not to repair, the sooner you reveal the home’s true condition, the more likely you are to make it to closing.


To Tell or Not to Tell?

In California any death on a property (peaceful or otherwise) needs to be disclosed if it occurred within the last three years. The seller must also disclose any known death in the home if the buyer asks. 

If you or someone you know is mourning the loss of a loved one and needs help navigating the sale of a home, please feel free to contact me for a private consultation 619.884.8379.

Linda Lederer Bernstein

Linda Lederer Bernstein

DRE #1527365
Inquire Now Realtor