Selling a deceased estate: your essential guide

selling a deceased estate

Selling a deceased estate can be an incredibly difficult time. You’re grieving the loss of your parent or loved one, and you’ve got a tremendous amount of paperwork to sort and action items to complete. So the smoother the sale of the property can go, the better off everyone will be.  

As a property advocate, I’ve managed the sale of hundreds of deceased estates, and today I’m sharing my best advice to help you get through it with as little stress as possible. 

A family home can have cherished memories

Many of the vendors selling a deceased estate are the children of deceased parents. One or more children may be the executor of the estate, and others may be beneficiaries for the proceeds of the sale too. This can cause conflict if everyone is not in agreement. Especially when the property holds so many memories, particularly if you’ve grown up in the house or spent many happy childhood days there. I recently sold one deceased estate where the vendors were in their sixties and they’d grown up in the property and spent their entire adult lives visiting a happy family home. So it’s very difficult and emotional to let go of a home that has been a part of the family for decades. 

Be mindful of the emotions that may come up. I have worked with many clients who have insisted they’re absolutely fine, only to struggle on auction day with bottled up emotions that can surprise even themselves. Grief combined with the difficulty of saying goodbye can catch you at vulnerable moments, and that’s okay. Be gentle with yourself. 

Selling a deceased estate often means decluttering 

Many deceased estates are long-held properties of elderly residents. It’s likely that in the last  years of their life as health declines, that property maintenance has fallen behind. People who’ve lived in the home for decades have also accumulated a lifetime of possessions—books, photo albums, paperwork, linen, tableware, tools and more. 

I recently sold the home of a widower in his late eighties who lived alone in a five-bedroom home. His wife had died 20 years earlier but he’d never dealt with her vast clothing collection nor her assortment of sewing, knitting and crocheting paraphernalia. He was quite a hoarder, so the home was also full of papers, books, and surprisingly, a collection of more than 50 pairs of sunglasses. This caused plenty of distress for his three children who were grieving the loss of their father. There was a lot of hard work to be done decluttering the home to prepare it for sale. 

Consider a professional decluttering service 

If necessary, I can arrange professional declutterers to come in and sort the possessions for you. This service is often a worthy investment for time-poor families juggling careers, busy lives and kids of their own. Professional cleaners are trained to recognise legal documents, mementos and items of value like jewellery and antiques, so you can trust they won’t throw out anything valuable or sentimental keepsakes. They will methodically go through items one by one, giving you peace of mind that nothing valuable will be lost. Many families have found hidden jewellery money or antiques around the property — one client found jewellery hidden in sheets in the linen cupboard. A professional will make sure to check for hidden items too. 

Dealing with unwanted items is challenging 

Many deceased estates come with items like old pianos, grandfather clocks, antiques or china cupboards. Many include collections of cookbooks, CDs, books or DVDs. These are often not wanted by the family but difficult to get rid of for emotional reasons. My vendor advocate service includes helping you deal with the decision making around these items. It can be nice to take photos of valued items so you still have a memory of it. You often feel very guilty getting rid of Dad’s wonderful DVD collection or Mum’s great grand piano. But releasing the unwanted items is difficult when charities and local Facebook groups won’t take donations either. We can help you manage this process and remind you that the memory of your parent or loved one isn’t attached to the item and give you the freedom to get rid of it without guilt. 

Maintenance is often required for deceased estates

As the elderly resident’s health declines, they’re often unable to keep up with property maintenance. As such, selling a deceased estate typically requires: 

  • sprucing up the garden, especially weeding, mowing and pruning
  • carpet cleaning 
  • high-pressure surface cleaning to paths and driveways 
  • painting and chip repairs on doorways and stair rails
  • conducting minor repairs like creaky floorboards, chipped tiles, cracked windows 
  • removing worn out rugs and curtains 
  • cleaning all fixtures and fittings like the oven, lighting and skirting boards 

There’s no need to go overboard with extensive renovations, but it does pay to brighten up the place. Deceased estates can be dark and gloomy if they’re neglected or if they feature heavy furnishings, lace curtains and antiques. A really detailed clean can freshen out the property and remove any dust or mustiness which in turn makes it more appealing to buyers. 

Do not list the property until probate is finalised 

It’s much easier to sell the property when probate is complete, which typically takes about three months. This also gives you a bit more time to deal with the grief and other administrative matters. Even three months is still a short time after death to be listing the property, so by all means take more time if you need it. I work with several families who wait a year or longer to sell the home because they’re just not ready to deal with it. 

As the vendor advocate, I can liaise between executors and beneficiaries to keep all parties informed of timelines and future plans to sell. It can also be beneficial to wait until the right time of year (such as avoiding a sale very late in the year around Christmas) to maximise the potential sale price. 

Choosing the right agent for selling a deceased estate 

Some agents are lovely and sympathetic with families going through the difficult process of selling a deceased estate. Whereas others can take advantage of grieving families to give themselves higher commission, rush the property for sale or agree to a lower selling price. Therefore it’s important to be selective and find an agent who can understand the sensitive time you’re going through. Choose an agent with experience selling deceased estates and who makes you feel comfortable throughout the process. 

Buyers can see deceased estates as a bargain and therefore you need an agent who’s experienced in dealing with buyers who expect lower prices and set the right expectations in the market. 

There can be cultural sensitivities around selling a deceased estate in some nationalities and an experienced agent will be understanding and respectful of these beliefs amongst buyers and be able to deal with them sensitively. 

Deciding how to stage the property 

As a vendor advocate, I can help you decide what furniture can be kept at the property during the sales campaign. If it’s an older style or mid-century property, an ultra modern style can clash with the property aesthetic. For example, if there’s a grand old dining room, it’s better to keep the antique dining table and chairs rather than hire modern staging furniture. 

Knowing what to remove and what to keep for sale can be confusing, especially when emotions are involved about Grandpa’s favourite recliner or Grandma’s china set. We can help manage this on your behalf to stage the property in its best light. 

Don’t let emotions cloud your judgement on price 

Just because the home means a lot to you doesn’t mean it’s worth top dollar to the buyer. Accept your agent’s estimation of the price guide and don’t insist on an unrealistic price. If the property fails to sell at auction it could linger on the market for months. As vendor advocates we make sure the pricing strategy is fair and reasonable, in line with market demand. It’s not  up to you to determine the price—the market dictates it. It’s often best to accept the best possible price and move on rather than waiting months or longer for an unrealistic price. 

To summarise: selling a deceased estate 

  • Expect to deal with strong emotions of grief and guilt when selling a cherished family home
  • Invest time in updating the garden
  • Give the property a top-to-bottom clean, especially floors and carpets
  • Consider a fresh coat of paint 
  • Consider investing in professional deceased estate declutterers 
  • Freshen up the home by removing heavy drapes and lace curtains
  • Allow time for decluttering and dealing with unwanted items 
  • Do not list the property until probate is finalised 
  • Choose an agent with experience selling deceased estates 
  • Choose an agent who makes you feel comfortable 
  • Stage the property with respect the style of the home – not too modern  
  • Be realistic with your price expectations

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