Hit the Bull's Eye - How to Select your

Probate Real Estate Agent


By Matt DeLine

The Sale of Real Property in Probate

When a loved one passes away, the disposition of real and personal property is often entrusted to one or more of the surviving family members.  Of course, the survivors seek to follow the wishes of the departed, and commonly the instructions for disposition may be provided in a number of testamentary devices, including a simple will.  But even with those instructions, the road to distribution of the estate can be riddled with procedural challenges.

In most states, if the estate does not pass by living trust, it must be submitted to the Probate Court, which demands a specific inventory of assets and demanding reporting of the process through ultimate disposition to the beneficiaries.  Because of the technical demands of the Probate Court, retaining an attorney experienced in trusts and estates is strongly recommended, particularly when the assets include the decedent’s residence.  Accordingly, the selection of a real estate agent, well experienced with probate sales, familiar with working with probate attorneys is of critical importance.

The Value of a Real Estate Professional

Each state requires strict compliance with its Probate Code, and the sale of real estate in accordance with prevailing probate law requires a seasoned professional to avoid common pitfalls and delays in distribution.

An inexperienced real estate agent may resort to common practices and fail to follow correct procedure or fail to use mandatory forms.  If so, the Probate Court – bound by the strict procedural requirements to protect the wishes of the deceased – will quite likely disapprove the sale of the real estate and deny any request to close the probate estate.  The ensuing delay to correct the procedural deficiencies can amount to weeks or months, given the burdened calendars of the courts.  Even more damaging may be the loss of the sale entirely, with the frustrated buyer walking away from the troubled transaction. 

One must also consider the relative fees of retained professionals.  If one uses an inexperienced real estate agent, the probate lawyer will certainly demand close review of all real estate documentation to ensure compliance with local law, resulting in increased billed hours on the matter.  An experienced probate real estate agent will ensure compliant documents within the scope of a commission agreement, and without a lawyer’s costly review.

An experienced probate real estate agent will also be associated closely with supporting professionals, including accountants and estate appraisers, to ensure payment of accurate estate taxes and proper reporting of obligations to the Probate Court. 

Sale of real estate in a probate estate may have special procedures, varying from state to state.  In many states, a sale will require court confirmation, and the court may demand sale in accordance with a strict timeline.  This complex transaction calls for an auction-like proceeding known as “overbidding.” Before the court confirmation hearing, the executor and the agent list the home and accept an offer, and in many states, the property is to re-list at the accepted offer price for a period of 30 to 45 days.  It is just this type of idiosyncrasy that an experienced agent will handle easily, and without the delay and cost of a bungled sale at the hands of an unqualified agent.

The Selection of a Probate Agent

Like the selection of most professionals, choosing an experienced real estate agent requires care and diligence.  Most trust and estate lawyers will have several contacts who are time-tested, and internet research will provide a broad array of competent options.  From those potential agents, selection of the best fit should be based on a thorough interview process, including the following important criteria.

1. Determining the Number of Probate Transactions

Obtaining the number of probate-specific transactions not only determines the agent’s experience, but also allows the agent to explain the challenges those transactions presented.  Further, this line of questioning leads to a list of past clients, who should be contacted in due course.

2. Distinguishing Probate from Standard Transactions

Any faltering in this explanation will expose an inexperienced agent.  More importantly, an experienced agent will be able to communicate a complex process in understandable terms. 

3. Exploring Sale Options

A probate sale is a unique transaction, and each sale may present unique opportunities to achieve the best results for the estate.  Explore an agent’s familiarity with the following techniques.

- As-Is for Cash:  Freeway off-ramps are littered with “We Buy Houses” placards.  These real estate investors offer the benefit of a quick liquidation. However, such transactions rarely serve the estate’s best interests.  An agent should be associated with legitimate investor buyers who will perform from start to finish without delays or re-trading of the sales price.

- Conventional Sale:  Most probate sales will require some personal attention by the executor and beneficiaries.  The residence may be cleared of personal property, cleaned, and repaired to saleable condition with minor repairs.  Potential buyers will typically obtain a loan for purchase. This method requires a firm understanding of the expectations of the estate and the agent’s ability to meet those goals.

- Renovation: The real property may hold its most value if it is completely renovated to be in excellent condition with the most recent updates.  Determine if the agent has design and renovation experience and can manage the process. Even if the estate is not financially able to bear the burden of renovation expense, but the better certified real estate agents can arrange for remodeling that is paid at the close of escrow.

4. Obtaining Qualifications

Experience with probate sales is an excellent qualifier.  However, discover if the agent has probate-specific training or certification.

The USPS and ATL offer specialized training for dealing with the complexities of probate sales and court confirmation procedures.  Ask if the agent is a Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist (CPRES) or Certified Probate Expert (CPE).

5. Creating the Team

Keep in mind that the probate process can be lengthy, extending from six months to a year in some cases.  Therefore, it is important that all members of the team – from the executor to the probate attorney to the probate real estate agent – must be committed to the success of the process.  Before engaging an agent with a listing agreement, meet with the agent and attorney to cement the relationship and develop a mutual plan for the real estate sale.  Based on this foundation, the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries will certainly be best served. 

I hope this article has been informative and helpful. I would be honored to assist your family. Every situation is special, so our team is available to discuss your needs in a preliminary telephone conference.  Based on the information gathered, we research and analyze your circumstances and needs in preparation for a personal meeting with family members.  We discuss all options and answer all of your questions, then set out to execute our strategy to meet all your needs.  

Call me to see how we can help.

Matt DeLine, CPRES, CPE

619-736-0234  / matt@delinerealty.com / www.delinerealty.com/probate

These articles are made available for educational purposes only, and not as legal advice. By reading our articles, you understand that there is no binding relationship created between you and Keller Williams, New Value Realty or Matt DeLine. You should not act upon this information without seeking advice from a lawyer licensed in your own state or jurisdiction. The articles should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state or jurisdiction. Your use of the articles is at your own risk. Keller Williams, New Value Realty or Matt DeLine is not responsible for any errors or omissions in the content of this site or for damages arising from the use or performance of this site under any circumstances.