E279 How to Sell a New York City Loft in Probate

E279 How to Sell a New York City Loft in Probate


We’ll discuss how to sell a loft in probate. This is yet another type of apartment that is unique to New York. We’ve talked about co-ops in the past, which seem mind-boggling to many people (even New Yorkers).

What is an artist-in-residence?

It is too much to cover in depth, so this is a link from Street Easy, a local real estate blog: https://streeteasy.com/blog/sohos-artist-in-residence-law-101/

To live in a loft that has been converted from commercial use, the buyer is supposed to be an artist who lives in their studio. In other words, a work-living space. Not that many people are professional artists, but buyers may be required to be a “certified” artist.

What is an artist-in-residence

This impacts probate by sorting through paperwork to confirm that the decedent was an artist-in-residence. This requirement also limits your pool of buyers.

There’s a process to get certified as an actual artist by the City of New York. As with any bureaucratic process, apparently there are lots of workarounds. And there must be, because I’ve never seen an actual artist living in these multi-million-dollar lofts. Note that there is an income requirement; you can’t just make finger paintings and declare yourself an artist.

It’s a niche issue, so make sure to work brokers who have deep experience. Otherwise, you will end up wasting a lot of time and limiting the number of potential buyers.

Cleanout: the elevator problem

Many of these were warehouses converted into lofts. That means there is not a traditional lobby with an elevator. The elevator goes directly into the living space. There is a key to each floor, so the elevator won’t randomly go to someone else’s loft.

Cleanout- the elevator problem

While this living situation is cool and unique, it leads to some issues from the executor’s perspective.

For example, when you are using the one elevator that leads to all the floors, you are denying the other residents use of the elevator while you are cleaning out the decedent’s loft. This is not unique to probate; it happens when anyone moves in or out. It’s just one more twist for the executor to deal with.

We experienced an odd situation where we didn’t have the key to the door that led from the elevator to the loft. The locksmith drilled, held the elevator door open with one hand, and then had to undo everything to let someone else on. Then he had to start over again to help us.

The positive side is that these elevators are huge, since the lofts used to be warehouses. You can fill it with stuff and might only need two or three runs before giving the elevator back to the rest of the building.

Unique layouts of New York City loft apartments

Unique layouts of New York City loft apartments

There are no rooms; just a huge open space! You can get an architect and a contractor to put up some walls, but in its raw form, it is just a huge open warehouse floor.

Again, this is not unique to probate, but to anyone selling a loft. You’ll have a narrow set of buyers who are interested in living like that. Executors, since you have many other things to worry about, make sure you are working with a broker who is familiar with selling these lofts.

Lofts are very unique, but plenty of buyers love the space and uniqueness. And as a double-whammy, many of these lofts are co-ops, as well! So, you may deal with extra problems and rules.

To read about various probate-related situations, check out my book, “How Probate Works,” available on Amazon.

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E276 Problems Selling Probate Real Estate Septics, Brokers, and Co-op Listing Prices

E276 Problems Selling Probate Real Estate: Septics, Brokers, and Co-op Listing Prices


We’ll share 3 recent problems we encountered while selling probate real estate: a bad septic tank, firing a broker, and co-op listing prices. We’ll share these stories with you and add key takeaways for executors and those facing probate.

Septic tank problems in probate

Septic tank problems in probate

Any leak or other problem involving a septic tank is a huge headache. Septic water leaking into the ground soil is an environmental violation.

In our case, a problem appeared during the septic inspection (thankfully it was not a full-blown leak). It required our whole team (me, the other attorney, and the real estate broker) to work together quickly to save the deal by replacing the tank. As we’ve mentioned several times before, selling probate real estate quickly is key. Otherwise, the estate bleeds money while the property sits on the market (not to mention impatient heirs and looming IRS deadlines).

Takeaways:

  1. You need a great team (broker, executor, attorney) who understand probate, the need for speed, and the risks to the executor. These are tough situations that require competent professionals. The team must be able to communicate well and do it quickly.
  2. It is best to have a local executor: someone who understands local laws and customs.

How to fire a real estate agent

How to fire a real estate agent

This situation is never easy, but being an executor is not for someone who avoids conflicts. Speed and risk assessment are two things that are important during probate.

So, if you have a broker that is taking too long to sell, it will anger the heirs. Taking too long to sell also puts the executor at personal risk for the loss of property value. The executor can’t just let it sit and let the bills accumulate.

A real estate agent who is not a good fit may make poor pricing decisions on your behalf. Perhaps the agent is a slow communicator or a poor evaluator of buyers. You don’t want to waste time on buyers who cannot close.

Takeaways:

  1. Take time to choose the broker carefully.
  2. Make sure they understand probate’s unique risks and priorities.
  3. You should try to hire an executor with a trusted network of reliable, experienced agents.
  4. If the executor doesn’t have a specific real estate agent to work with, a savvy executor knows to sign a limited listing agreement so he can get out of it quickly if needed.

Co-op pricing strategy

Co-op pricing strategy

This is kind of NY-centric, since there aren’t a whole lot of co-ops elsewhere.

We’ve talked about why co-ops are a pain for probate, and pricing is one of those reasons. In probate, you want to price aggressively (low) to sell with speed. You wouldn’t want the neighboring unit to sell faster than yours because you wouldn’t come down $10,000. But you don’t want to list too low, because you must get a good value for the heirs.

On top of this balancing act, the co-op adds more complexity: the co-op board must be satisfied with the price, so it can’t be too low. The co-op has the right to reject deals that don’t preserve the value of the building as a whole.

Because of this, co-ops listings can:

  1. Make the price too high for the market but make the co-op happy. Then it sits for months.
  2. Make the price lower and get buyers, only to have them frustratingly rejected by the board over and over. This ends up being a waste of time, and the co-op goes back on the market.

Takeaways:

  1. You need savvy executor who can set realistic expectations for heirs and explain to them that co-ops are just difficult to deal with. In this situation, an executor outside of NY with no knowledge of co-ops would be a huge disadvantage.

We hope these anecdotes were helpful to you. To learn more about how probate works, check out my book, “How Probate Works,” available on Amazon.

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E254 Best Renovations to do Before Selling Probate Real Estate

E254 Best Renovations to do Before Selling Probate Real Estate


Selling probate real estate can be tough because properties are usually out of date, very “lived-in,” and attract discount buyers.

Here are a few minimum renovations and repairs that executors should consider in order to receive a flow of serious buyers, without spending too much in estate funds.

1. Clean out the clutter

Clean out the clutter

Cleaning out clutter is more expensive than people realize. For example, cleaning out a one-bedroom apartment in the Manhattan area will cost between $1,500 and $2,500 for several cleaners/movers, a truck, and a dumpster.

Though cleaning out is expensive, it is a MUST. It’s very difficult to sell a home with the deceased person’s belongings everywhere. Do your best to get the home at least broom-clean or better. Even buyers looking for a sweet deal aren’t really excited to clean up someone else’s mess so that they can move in.

You’ll probably need to pack and ship some items to heirs anyway, so cleaning out the place completely just makes sense.

2. That fresh paint smell

That fresh paint smell

We’ve seen so many homes with outdated colors or tones. We have one right now with blood-red colored walls. Though certain colors may have been popular at one time, you need a neutral color like beige, light gray, or white to sell a home. Don’t try to get fancy with different shades of the same color. We had a house with at least eight different shades peach freshly painted throughout, and it was not appealing! Give the buyers a blank canvas to work with and let them pick their own colors.

Don’t use wallpaper –  stick with paint.

Besides being aesthetically pleasing, a fresh coat of paint can help reduce odors. To put it bluntly, most probate properties smell like the person who lived there. Again, give the buyer a blank canvas that smells fresh.

3. Let there be light!

Let there be light!

For some reason, really “lived-in” places seem to feel dark. Maybe there are too many curtains, or the windows haven’t been cleaned.

Most realtors will say that maximizing the light very important. You can do this by updating all of the lightbulbs to LED lights (which is a cheap fix, by the way!). It is also good to wash and fix the windows, if feasible (this may not be so easy in a high-rise building). You may want to consider getting rid of curtains to brighten the place. Additionally, getting rid of curtains can reduce odors trapped in the fabric.

4. Refresh the floors

Refresh the floors

You don’t need to do a full reflooring, as this can be quite expensive. Just replace or remove the carpet. If you find hardwood floors under the carpet, leave it exposed. People tend to like hardwood floors. Sanding and refinishing old wood floors is way cheaper than putting new flooring in. If you have to put carpet in, choose a light, neutral color.

5. Minimum bathroom updates

Minimum bathroom updates

Bathroom updates can get expensive, but there are some minimum updates you can do to maximize its appearance. Don’t replace the tub, just re-caulk it. You should consider replacing the vanity, as it is fairly inexpensive and easy to install. Many old vanities have stained outlines of where pill bottles and other items sat.

It is also beneficial to update the showerhead and the fixtures. You can go to any hardware store and pick up inexpensive, shiny, updated fixtures. The $50 spent to replace a leaky shower head with a fancier one, will be worth it to help the home sell.

If there are enough funds and the heirs agree to use the estate funds, then you can make costlier updates. However, I assume that most heirs want to maximize their inheritance and just get the home sold. Besides, you don’t know what taste the buyers will have. You might spend a lot of money on updates that look good to you, and the buyer ends up ripping it out to suit their own style.

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E220 5 Ways to Secure the House When Someone Dies

E220 5 Ways to Secure the House When Someone Dies


When someone passes away and you are in charge, one of the top priorities is securing the house. In order to do this, you need to start with the following five steps.

1. Take care of the lights, mail, etc. to keep criminals from thinking the house is vacant.

Use automatic lights and don’t let mail or newspapers pile up on the porch. Just think about things you might do when going on a long vacation.

2. Change the locks…maybe.

In most cases, you want to change the locks in case someone else out there has an extra key. However, if there are tenants, you cannot change the lock without a court order in New York. If you do, you could be charged with a crime. If there is a possible tenant (even your sister or cousin), don’t change the locks.

3. Winterize the home.

This can mean different things in different parts of the country. Take into consideration things like pipes freezing or bursting or snow piling up on a roof. Make sure you don’t incur any additional damage based on the weather. Probate can take a long time, so start thinking about winterizing in the beginning.

4. Set a routine to check in on the home or ask a neighbor to check in.

If you live close, you could drive by often. If not, you can ask someone to routinely check on it for you. You want to make sure that the home is in good shape and there is no criminal activity.

5. If you live in New York – tell the doorman.

There could have been a dog sitter or cleaning person who has ongoing access to the apartment. The best person to stop that (a gatekeeper) is the doorman. Let him know that your loved one has passed away and there is to be no more plant watering, dog walking, or house cleaning until someone is appointed to do that.

To learn more, read my book “How Probate Works.”

E209 Do Tenants in Common Need Probate_

E209 Do Tenants in Common Need Probate?


In a recent case, Liz’s dad had bought a co-op with his girlfriend. Liz’s dad broke up with his girlfriend but continued to co-own the apartment as “tenants-in-common.” Liz’s dad passed away, so what happens to the co-op now?

What Happens When a Tenant in Common Dies?

What happens when a tenant in common dies?

Unless there is a specific percentage for the tenants in common, the property divides equally.

If they had owned as “joint tenants” instead of “tenants-in-common,” then the girlfriend would become sole owner. But, the co-op shares certificate states “tenants in common.” So the girlfriend is a half owner, and Liz’s dad’s estate is now a half owner.

Is Probate Required for Tenants in Common?

Is Probate Required for Tenants in Common?

The short answer is yes. Liz and her siblings must probate their dad’s estate to inherit their half share of the co-op. Right now, Liz and her siblings must appoint an executor who has legal authority to conduct business for the estate. A court-appointed executor has the right to enter the premises, to gain information from the co-op, and eventually to sell the property.

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E195 How to Sell a Deceased Person's House

E195 How to Sell A Deceased Person’s House

Quite often we are asked by family members and heirs what the process is to sell a deceased person’s home. It can be a complex and typically you should have a lawyer, but this blog shares a general understanding of how it works and what you can do to get started.

Did the Deceased Own Property?

While most people assume that the decedent owned their home, we have seen on many occasions that isn’t the case. For example, they may have been renting or owned the home jointly.

Did the Deceased Own Property?

The first thing you should do is look up the deed. This is actually easier than you think. Most counties have online searching capabilities, and a quick Google search will help you find the right place (the New York City system is called ACRIS). By pulling the deed, you will be able to confirm if the property was owned by the decedent, owned along with another person, or owned by someone else.

Two Names on Deed, One Person Dies

You may discovery that the decedent owned the property along with another person. If it’s a husband and wife, then you generally don’t need to do anything in terms of probate. The house will simply go to the wife.

Similarly, if it is a Joint Tennant deed, wherein two people are the joint owners. Using Jack and Jill for this example, then the house would be solely owned Jill if Jack dies, without having to go to probate court.

Lastly, the deed may say that Jack and Jill are the non-married owners or Tenants in Common. If that’s the case and Jack dies, then Jack’s estate still owns 50% of the property. You would have to go to probate court to deal with Jack’s half.

What Happens to House in Trust After Death?

Another scenario you may discover when you review the deed is that the house is owned by a trust. In this situation, you need a copy of Jack’s Trust to see what should happen to the property when he dies. You most likely can avoid probate court, depending on the trust wording.

Didn’t Own His Home

As we mentioned, it’s common for the person to not own their home at all. They could be a renter, be living in a home owned by a deceased grandparent, etc.

It’s important to pull the deed to figure out the ownership so you can move forward properly.

Do You Need Probate to Sell A House or Can You Sell a Deceased Person’s House Without Probate?

The short answer is yes, you can sell it without probate if the property was owned by a spouse or in a trust. However, if it’s in the decedent’s name alone, then you will need to go through the probate process.

Do You Need Probate to Sell A House?

PRO TIP: Some will try to tell you that technically you can sell without probate, with simply signing a document called an Affidavit of Heirship. Some fast-moving brokers may try to sell you on this idea. However, be aware that in most cases the title company may not accept it. The title company does not want the liability of ensuring that there are no issues with the estate and property. It’s too risky for them.

How to Get Access to House After Death

Another reason you may have to go through probate is to gain access to the house. In New York, if a decedent died at home, then the house is sealed with police tape. No one can enter the house until you have proof that you are entitled to be there. If the home is in a condo, co-op, or other managed building, they’ll want to see proof of authority before giving access. This proof comes from the court in the form of Letters of Testamentary.

Who Does Probate Protect?

Although you may think you want to avoid probate at all costs, that may not be the right concept. Probate is a process meant to protect you as an executor as well as the heirs. It safeguards all parties from being held liable for debts, such as the IRS and creditors that may come up down the road.

Considerations When Choosing an Executor

Specifically relating to selling a deceased person’s property, there are a few key points to keep in mind. See How to Choose an Executor, which digs deeper into how to choose an Executor.

Considerations When Choosing an Executor

Does Executor Have to Live in Same State?

Technically, no. You can be a US citizen and live outside of the state. But there are major drawbacks to not living in the state where the estate is probated.

Do I Have to Travel to New York for Probate?

Yes! Although as the executor it’s not technically required to live in New York, be aware that the executor will need to travel to New York. Typically, this is not just one trip. Even though we’re in 2020, some things still must be done in person, such as opening an estate bank account. So yes, living in New York is the best option.

When is an Estate Bond Required?

Bonds are sometimes required of the executor by the probate court. To get a bond, the executor will need excellent credit. When you are deicing about an executor, make sure it’s someone who will qualify. Those with financial issues and bankruptcies are not good candidates. They most likely will not get a bond.

How to Empty a House After a Death

When it comes to a deceased person’s home, not only do you have to empty the contents, but you may have to remove people that live there.

Eviction After Death of Owner

There are times that eviction may be necessary to remove a tenant. Commonly, once the owner dies, tenants feel they don’t need to pay, essentially living rent free. Therefore, eviction is necessary to be able to sell the home.
Eviction is a long process which takes on average 6 to 9 months. Therefore, you should get the ball rolling right away. If you wait for the tenants to do it on their own, you may add months or even years to the process.

Can an Heir Be Evicted?

Absolutely. Even if it’s family. While there are steps and complications, it can be done. And it may be necessary for it to be done.

Removing Items from House After Death

How to Empty a House After a Death

Lastly, you will need to clean out the items from the house, possibly disposing of the belongings. When serving as a professional executor, we take photos and videos of everything. After items are distributed according to the will, we send the photos to the heirs and ask what they would like. From there, we either have to find others that would like the items, donate them, or simply dispose of what is left.

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How to Deal with Nightmare Tenants in Probate

E157 How to Deal with Nightmare Tenants in Probate


One bad tenant can blow up any real invest investment. Being a professional executor has shown me just how nightmarish a tenant can be.

We’ll discuss:

  1. Which estates have nightmare tenants?
  2. What are “nightmare tenants?”
  3. What to do about bad tenants?

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E146 How Do I Sell My Deceased Parents Home

E139 How Do I Sell My Deceased Parents Home


Selling a Decedent’s home, especially parents, can be tricky. So we’ll share some tips from our experience as executor and probate attorney

  1. Who owns it?
  2. Go to court
  3. Vacate the house
  4. Clean it out
  5. Only minimal prep

Lastly, I talk about how to deal with a common problem: the wannabe flipper

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