When a person passes away, it’s often left to family members to handle their final business affairs and determine the fate of their belongings. In most states, estates of a certain value that have not been placed into a living trust must go through the probate process.
Probate is the court-supervised legal procedure that ensures the proper people are given the rights to and responsibility for the decedent’s financial and physical assets. Many legal aspects of the probate process—such as filing the initial and closing petitions—will be handled by your probate attorney.
If I Have a Probate Lawyer Why Do I Need a Probate Real Estate Agent?
Even the simplest probate sale (that proceed much like traditional home sale) has nuances that need to be done according to your state’s probate laws.
You should use a real estate agent for any type of real estate transaction but a probate property requires some additional experience.
For example, a regular real estate agent may not know the correct probate procedure or to use probate specific forms when completing the sale. If either are incorrect at your final petition hearing, the probate judge will not close out probate. The need to make corrections can lead to rescheduling a new hearing weeks or months down the line.
If you don’t have a probate agent, you’ll need to rely on your attorney to check over the probate sale documentation to ensure it will be approved by the courts.
Attorney’s fees get expensive when they’re spending hours doing the work a probate agent would do as part of their standard commission.
In some cases, especially if estate taxes are due, you may need to get a
specialized appraisal to establish the date of death value of the property. A probate agent will know if this is needed in your case and have relationships with trusted estate appraisers.
Probate sales have a timeline that must be adhered to—especially if the sale requires court confirmation. This is a complex process in which the probate property is sold in court through an auction-like proceeding called the overbidding process.
Prior to the court confirmation hearing, you and your agent need to list the home and accept an offer. In many states, you are then required to relist the probate property at the accepted offer price for a period of 30-45 days.
A real estate agent with probate experience will know these probate-specific procedures, timelines and deadlines that a regular agent won’t—preventing costly mistakes that could delay proceedings.
How Do I Find a Probate Agent?
It’s never easy to bring up topics related to the death of a loved one in casual conversation, so you’re unlikely to find a good probate agent by word of mouth.
Your probate attorney—having worked with various agents on numerous cases—is good option for personal recommendations.
Alternatively, you can use HomeLight to find a real estate agent with probate experience.
HomeLight tracks agent sales statistics and hosts agent profiles all in one place—so you can compare facts, see who has the most probate experience, and narrow down your list.
Once you’ve settled on a few potential agents, you’ll need to know the right questions to ask to help select the best agent for you.
What Should I Ask Probate Real Estate Agents Before Hiring One?
“Have you sold probate real estate before?” is a good start but it’s not enough.
You need to phrase your questions in a way that invites the prospective agents to go into detail about their experience.
1. How many probate transactions have you handled?
By asking how many transactions they’ve handled, you’re really providing the agents with the opportunity to tell a few stories about specific properties they’ve sold.
If they don’t go into detail about probate transactions on their own, follow up by asking about their best and worst probate sale experiences. This will give you insight into the steps they’ll take to ensure things go smoothly and how they’ll handle any difficulties that arise.
This is also a good time to ask them for references from past clients that you can contact. Calling these clients will give you first-hand perspectives from people who’ve successfully completed their probate sales.
2. How do probate sales and traditional sales differ?
If you’ve done your research and spoken with your probate attorney, you might consider skipping this question in your agent interviews.
Even if you’re confident that you know the differences, this question isn’t really about the answer itself. What you’re looking for is their ability to explain this complex process in away that you can easily understand.
Selling real estate during probate is a complex process within the already complex probate process as a whole. It’s more than likely that difficulties will arise during the sale, so you need to be sure that your probate agent can clearly communicate these issues with you.
3. Are you certified or educated in probate?
Experience selling probate real estate in the area where the property resides is the number one qualification your agent needs to have. However, it may give you peace of mind if your agent has probate-specific training or certification.
The U.S. Probate Services offers specialized training in probate to teach agents how to deal with the complexities of probate sales and court confirmation procedures. Agents who’ve received this training are known as Certified Probate Real Estate Specialists (CPRES).
If your agent doesn’t have CPRES certification, that’s okay.
Some states, such as Arizona, offer their own probate training materials that focus on state-specific regulations. There are also conferences that address probate laws and procedures, so ask potential agents to tell you about all probate training and education they’ve had.
One Last Thing Before You Hire Your Probate Real Estate Agent
Before you sign a listing agreement, ask your chosen agent to attend a meeting with you and your probate attorney. The average probate process lasts six to nine months, so you want to be sure all three of you work well together.
Selling the home of a dearly departed family member can be a heartbreaking step to take. But having the right probate real estate agent on your side can make that difficult task a bit easier to bear.