The Unsettling Challenges of Selling an Inherited Home—Missing Paperwork, Overgrown Yard, and Big Delays

by Garcia Chris
12 minutes read
The Unsettling Challenges of Selling an Inherited Home—Missing Paperwork, Overgrown Yard, and Big Delays

Homes go up for sale for a variety of reasons, but one of the most challenging is when the property owner has died—leaving family members scrambling to figure out what to do with the house.

This is how the story began for a recent listing represented by Kelly Provost, broker and owner of The Pros Real Estate Services near Worcester, MA. In June 2023, she was contacted by a home seller whose mother had died a year earlier, leaving him the home. While he had initially hoped to fix it up himself, he eventually realized the house required more work than he could handle. So he had decided to sell.

But selling an inherited home comes with distinct challenges. In this installment of “Real Estate Confessions,” Provost sheds light on all the things that can derail such a sale, and how to navigate these hurdles.

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The challenges of selling a house as is

This two-bedroom, 1.5-bath, 912-square-foot, ranch-style home was built in 1953 in the neighborhood of Greendale, just outside Worcester. Provost knew the property was in a desirable location as the area is home to one of the city’s biggest industrial plants, Norton.

“It is considered a valuable neighborhood due to its close proximity to amenities, public transportation, and access to the highway,” says Provost.

Also, the home had a recently replaced roof, a paved driveway, and hardwood floors. The stone fireplace was updated and working.

The wood floors throughout the house were a positive selling point.

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

There’s nothing like a fireplace to warm a home during a cold New England winter.

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

Despite those great features, the house was a mess inside and it was being sold as is.

While homebuyers typically have the option to negotiate certain repairs with sellers, selling a house as is makes it clear to buyers that what they see is what they get. Any repairs they want to do will have to be on their own dime.

Such homes are typically not in great condition, but Provost was horrified upon entering the property, which was in various stages of being updated. Construction equipment and materials were strewed about, the plumbing had been turned off, and the basement had a leak that showed signs of mold.

The basement held piles of construction equipment and materials.

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

The floors weren’t meant to be green.

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

“The basement had been finished at one time, but the water damage now there was severe and the basement needed gutting and mold remediation,” says Provost. “The smell was also pretty pungent and hard to overcome.”

The kitchen was another work in progress, with unfinished cabinets and walls. More puzzling were the two full-sized refrigerators.

“One was just in the middle of the room,” recalls Provost.

She persuaded the seller to clear out the home, which took about two months.

Once it was about 80% cleared out, Provost decided it was ready to be photographed. In the listing description, she called the property a “rough diamond in the right location.”

“When we finally got there for the photo shoot, we needed to be purposeful to show its potential, but also not be deceptive of its condition and the work needed,” says Provost. “The kitchen is a good example of the workarounds we did, trying not to focus the photos on the extra refrigerator in the middle of the room.”

Who needs one refrigerator when you can have two?

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

Keep your lawn trimmed—or you may face a fine

While Provost was working with the seller to finalize getting the house on the market, another challenge cropped up after a neighbor complained to the city about the home’s overgrown yard.

“My client’s mother had been an avid gardener and had many wildflowers around,” says Provost. “But after a year of vacancy, the yard became overrun with high grass and weeds.”

A year of neglect led to an overgrowth of grass and weeds in an otherwise nice backyard.

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

The city warned the homeowner to clean up the yard, or else they’d send in a landscape crew to do it for him—at a cost nearly three times that of hiring a landscape company.

“Unbelievably they contacted us on a Tuesday and gave us a deadline of that weekend to complete the task,” says Provost.

“No one was available for over a week, so I hired a bunch of teenagers to help and we showed up with mowers, weed wackers, and hedge trimmers and saved the day. We even found a koi pond under all that brush.”

The overgrown yard was hiding a koi pond.

(Kelly Provost/ThePros Real Estate Services)

Keep financials in mind when considering offers

Once this house hit the market, Provost received multiple offers within three days. Because the home was being sold as is, it wouldn’t qualify for all types of financing. (For example, USDA loans require a home to be move-in ready.)

As such, finding the right buyer required getting the right offer—ideally all cash.

“It listed for $250,000 but sold for $241,000 cash,” says Provost. “The seller felt most comfortable accepting the cash offer with no contingencies from a buyer who was also a local Realtor®. We knew he would be able to navigate the hurdles without concern.”

It was a good thing they went with a cash buyer, because their challenges were far from over.

Two surprising things that can slow down a sale

After the offer was accepted, Provost learned that they couldn’t sell the house quite yet.

“We believed the probate was complete and the home was licensed to sell, but since a year had passed since my client had filed the paperwork to take control of the home, apparently some new requirements needed to be met,” says Provost. “The attorney handling the estate had to resubmit [paperwork].”

Then another problem reared its head in the form of solar panels installed by the deceased owner.

While solar panels can increase the value of a home, title or ownership of them must be transferred separately from the rest of the house.

“We could see there was solar, but we had no information on who the company was or anything about the purchase or lease program it was under,” says Provost.

Without that information, they could not finalize the sale of the house.

Solar may be a valuable asset, but it also slowed this sale.

(Kelly Provost/The Pros Real Estate Services)

Provost had to find the name of the company on the solar junction box on the side of the house. Then the seller had to dig through items he’d cleared from the home to locate the necessary documents. Then they had to send the previous owner’s death certificate to the solar company. This delayed the closing yet again.

“Solar transfer doesn’t tend to be an easy process on any home, but this was the most complicated one the buyer and I had ever experienced,” says Provost. “It was a big mess.”

Why inherited homes take longer to sell

Once the home cleared probate, the solar panels were transferred, and the yard was fully tamed, the deal finally closed on Aug. 28, 2023—four months after Provost started working on the property.

While that might seem like a long time, it would have been much longer had she not been experienced in navigating the unique challenges of selling inherited homes.

“If you are working through an estate and need to sell a property, do not attempt this on your own,” says Provost, who advises home sellers in this position to work with a real estate agent specializing in such sales.

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“They will be more of an asset than their cost paid at closing as they can create the roadmap you may be missing,” she says.

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