For some of us, after the shock of loss and the impact of facing grief, comes the challenge of another loss
The family home is usually the place of countless memories, and family times together. After the loss, comes the immediate question of what to do with the family HOME/house. As in grief, there is no right or wrong path - only the one that is right for your and your family,
Keeping the Home:
One of our Volunteers had been born and raised in their family house, and the thought of parting with it - was just not a possibility for him. He disagreed with the decision of the siblings to sell the home, and bought their portion of the home. He is very happy he did and the siblings are still coming for the holidays to gather at the house. As in every family going thru grieving process, they still have a hard time sleeping in the parents bedroom, but the nephew's new baby changed of that because of the necessity to provide them with enough space.
If you are keeping the home and/or buying the home from other family members, please make sure to get the assistance of a non-family related attorney with experience in managing estates, real estate sales, and taxes involved from the start. You will need an unbiased legal expert to help you thru this process.
Selling or Renting the Home:
For other of our volunteers, the memories of a house full of laughter, cooking smells, joy, parties and family annual events was too painful to endure, and the decision was unanimous to sell the home.
First step is to decide if you will sell it yourselves thru one of the many sale by owner sites, or if you will contract with a real estate agent. Below are some of the suggestions from one of our volunteers who just went thru the sale process, and some of the lessons they learned:
1. Real Estate Agent - If there is a family member or a trusted friend of the family who is a real estate agent in the local area where the property is located, that may be a good place to start. If you do not, a free online service Homelight.com (We are not associated or get paid by that service in any way) will provide you with a list of some of the agents with the highest number of sales in the area of the property; along with actual homes sold statistics on each of the agents recommended. If you do not like the initial agents suggested by the service, ask for more. However, in all cases - whether a family friend or a homelight recommended agent - you should always check online reviews in yelp, angies list, google reviews, homelight, status of real estate license with state/any complaints and others to read about the experience of others, and if necessary - ask about those reviews from the agent.
2. Initial Listing - Whether the family friend or the suggested agent, you will need to negotiate:
a. Length of initial contract - Our volunteers chose 3 months to evaluate traffic, marketing efforts, and offers brought in by agent. Beware of some tricks as the end of the listing agreement comes near, and some agents will come in with very low offers generated internally from their own agents (remember if they represent and sell the house - they will make the total 6%), so tell them upfront that you do not want to see any tricks as the close of the initial listing agreement, and ask them what is their plan marketing plan for the property ONLINE and LOCALLY prior to signing initial representation agreement.
b. Commission - Our volunteers were selling the home in california and the usual commission is about 6%: 3% to seller's agent and 3% to buyer's agent. In some cases, real estate agents hoping to earn both the seller and buyer commission will offer to list for 5% or lower. However, in those cases, our volunteers suggested that you clarify what the percentages will be if you or your family identify and brings in the buyers, and to also make sure that any buyer's agent will still get 3% on a sale. Homes in which the buyer's agent gets less than 3% are not as attractive as homes where the buyer's agent gets less than 3%, so get that defined and on the representation paper upfront.
c. Showings - You will need to specify how to show the property, whether by leaving a lockbox at the property but making sure that anyone who gets access to the property is registered with the real estate agent. In addition, you can ask that people take their shoes off when they enter your home to avoid floor scratches, and daily cleaning costs. In the case of our volunteers, they highly recommended putting a video camera at the front door to get an idea of who is at your property, and they bought $99 self-installation battery operated doorbell camera called "Ring" thru amazon (we are not associated or get compensated with either Ring or Amazon).
d. Offer - When your receive the offer, you will need to ask if the offer is coming from internal (same real estate company who is selling your home) or outside. Then review the terms, and decide if you would like to counter with higher price, or "as is" acceptance; meaning you will accept the lower price but that no other renovations or repairs will be done; except any that might be required by the bank for the owner to approve buyer's loan.
e. Terms of Acceptance - If the offer is accepted, then comes a long list of documents that you will need to review closely, and some of the suggestions from our volunteers include:
- 30 Day or less Escrow: Our volunteers in their sales process were caught in 3 cases where the buyers' asked to extend the escrow beyond the 30 day because they were not getting bank approval, or because their house was not yet sold. Prime time for home sales in many parts of the country is spring to beginning of autumn, and the extension of escrows may put you out of the prime selling window and into a season that will mean having to lower your price.
- Pre-Approved for Mortgage: You and your agent should review the pre-approval mortgage letter that most buyers carry with them now to the purchasing process and determine whether it is solid and worth taking the risk of progressing with escrow.
- Repairs/Alterations: In the majority of cases, every buyer and every buyer's agent will ask for repairs/modifications/cosmetic changes, and in the case of our volunteers, even after specifying the sale "as is" upfront, repair requests were made. As they stipulated in the contract, 4 repairs were made that were required by the bank to approve the loan, but the rest of the cosmetic repairs by the buyer were negotiated to half of them, and in the interest of time - they included a credit on the closing costs at the closing of the transaction. In this way, our volunteers were not doing cosmetic repairs that this specific buyer wanted and then stuck with their bill if the buyer was not ultimately approved for their loan.
- The Escrow Company: Whether you select the escrow company or the buyer, you will need to do or have your real estate agent research any complaints, license status with state, and overall customer reviews. If they have no online reviews, you need to talk to previous recent customers.
- Optional Items: Make sure you know and your real estate agent tells you what is legally required of you, and what is optional; For example, buying the owner title insurance is optional in some states.
- What Stays in the House: Upfront and in writing, determine what will be left in the house (ie, furniture, paintings, outdoor furniture, washer/drier, etc) upon closing
- Escrow Closing: IMPORTANT - Make sure that you get in writing from escrow prior to accepting them, that they will wire you the funds of the transaction immediately upon completion or at the latest within 24 hours if they miss the cutoff for wire transfer. Our volunteers had to deal with an escrow company chosen by the buyer because that escrow company was supposedly handling the buyer's own home sale. However, the escrow company chosen by buyer ended up being a nightmare for our volunteers because instead of wiring the funds from the sale immediately after the sale, they were being given different excuses for delays, and it was over 48 hours after closing on the sale that our volunteers finally got their money. Our volunteers found out that the owners had gone overseas to asia without telling anyone about it, and the one escrow officer onsite needed the owner's approval, but the owner was not responding to text, emails or calls. Our volunteers even had to file a police report, and it was soon after that - that another person from another business owned by the overseas escrow company owner called to apologize and reassure them that the money would be wired that day. It was late that evening, and more than 48 hours after closing and new owners taken over the home that they received the wired funds. Therefore, CHECK THE ESCROW COMPANY AND THEIR COSTS UPFRONT AND GET ASSURANCES OF WIRE TRANSFER IMMEDIATELY AFTER CLOSING IN WRITING, and check escrow company state license, and their owner's name/contact information, and reviews.
3. Communications - Our volunteers were out of town, and working full time so they asked that any and all communications be done via email and copying all three brothers. If you are doing this, make sure that the agents or escrow company's email are not caught in your junk files/filters, and our volunteers suggest that you have your real estate agent "text" you every time they have sent you a document online. Our volunteers, like many people, did the entire transaction remotely using a service called DocuSign and a notary for title documents.
The sale of any family's home is not an easy emotional process for any one of us grieving, so make sure to get trusted help and support to make sure that the transaction/process does not add to yours and your family's hardship.
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