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Fischer: Decisions about deceased relatives’ homes are rarely easy

By Jen Fischer - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 21, 2022

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Jen Fischer

What to do with mom’s home? Although this is a frequent question, it is also a loaded one as there are oh so many options dependent on oh so many factors, none of which can make for a quick and easy decision.

Just a few days ago, I received a phone call from a woman asking this very question. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. She explained that her mom had passed away and that the home was currently being occupied by her brother. Since she had been assigned as the sole executor of the estate, it was up to her to determine what to do with the home. She could sell it and split the proceeds with her brother, she could rent it out and split the proceeds, or she could rent it to her brother and only charge him half of the total rent that could be collected, as he would be entitled to the other half if it were being rented to a party with no claim on the property. Much like the cereal aisle in the grocery story, so many sugary choices, so few good ones (unsweetened rolled oats, people — the only good choice).

Ultimately, the choice was hers to make. I could supply her with the information she needed to make an informed decision, and then I can help her in moving forward with whatever decision she makes, but she had to be the one to decide.

Seems simple. In my mind, it is an easy decision. Whatever nets you the most, pick that. I let her know what she could realistically collect each month for rent, which was significantly more than what she had initially thought. I also pulled the numbers and let her know the range in which she could sell the home as an option too. She had estimated much lower with that number as well. As a side note, please remember that a “Zestimate” is in no way representative of what your property is likely really worth. Without going off on a tangent about that, just please, for the love of all that is holy, take my word for it.

Herein lies the rub … not only is there oftentimes an emotional connection to the home, in this case, the brother has been living there rent free for a number of years and can in no way cover even half of what the current rent would be for the home. What to do, what to do.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, wants to do the “right” thing. It is not always clear, however, what the “right” thing is. Is the right thing to continue to let the brother live there rent free or for a highly discounted rate? Or is that only enabling the brother to make less money than he is, perhaps, capable of making? Could the brother “figure it out” if given half of the equity from the home to work with for the next several years? Perhaps he could get a couple of roommates to help pay the rent, or find another place to rent with roommates. Although the home is in a great, highly desirable location and the market is still moving in an upward trajectory, without consistent updates and maintenance, over time, the value of the home could be affected. As the local market currently exists right now, updating the home would not even be necessary to sell quickly and, most probably, for higher than market value, since the location is prime.

Other items of consideration need to be evaluated as well. Even if a home is paid off, there are consistent costs associated with ownership. Taxes, utilities, home insurance and maintenance items equate to money going out but not coming in. These are not just black-and-white decisions for the family. As a Realtor, I can be neutral and provide information. I can advise them on the market. I just can’t make the decision for them. Again, it’s the cereal aisle at the grocery store.

And this is just one scenario. Each family has their own unique circumstances and variables. I have yet to see any two situations that mirror one another. I’ve seen everything from five sisters disagreeing on everything with the exception of overvaluing their mom’s home, to an only child who was willing to nearly give the farm away and all its belongings (fortunately, I was able to talk some sense into him and he ended up netting a pretty good profit from the sale of the home and belongings as well). Either way, a professional Realtor can provide the concrete information you need during this oftentimes tumultuous transition.

Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or jen@jen-fischer.com.

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