Selling a House: A How-To Guide for Post-Bubble Times

Carol Kopp  Jun 17, 2009 11:00 am

Selling a House: A How-To Guide for Post-Bubble Times
Three steps to sold.

Every family’s tragedy is unique, but the problems that grow out of a parent’s death have a horrible sameness in the world of middle-class American economics.

An elderly person dies, leaving a house, a lifetime’s possessions, a billion snapshots of the grandchildren, and little or no cash. The heirs face a big funeral bill and the immediate costs of maintaining the house. They also may owe inheritance taxes on the home’s value, whether it is sold or not, depending on the parent’s state of residence.

My sister and I found ourselves in that fix recently. To be specific, it was well after the real estate bubble burst, shortly before the start of the “greatest downturn since the Great Depression,” and while I was, to put it delicately, “between jobs.”

You want the spoiler now? We accepted a full-price offer on the house 5 days after it went on the market. Taxes settled, costs paid off and a modest inheritance to split, as our mother had hoped and expected. It had taken about 5 months to get it ready for the market.

The strategy in a nutshell: We held an estate clearance sale to empty the house, used the proceeds to spruce up the place, and didn’t argue with our real estate agent.

If you’re not cash-rich, you do all the work yourself. And if you don’t know how, you learn.

It wasn’t a question. We had to sell, and fast. The “average” funeral costs $6,000, or “up to $10,000,” according to various sources, and even that’s hooey. Our mother’s cost $12,000, and it was respectable but not lavish. Her house was in Pennsylvania , which levies a 4.5% inheritance tax. (Bankrate Monitor has a state-by-state guide.) Local taxes were due soon. We owed about $27,000 on our mother’s reverse mortgage. She had no other debts, bless her, but even empty houses cost money.

So, being not-so-gainfully unemployed, I moved back to Pennsylvania , to a suburb I had fled many years ago, and into my mother’s empty home.
24 of 26 (92%) found this helpful
Rate this article:  (26 Votes)
Comments (8) See All Comments »
06-17-2009, 4:23 pm
Absolutely, In fact, you might as well sort through all the clothing at once and haul it off to a charity thrift shop. The chance of finding buyers on your sale day for any particular size and style is dim, while a thrift shop can get the stuff into
Read More
06-17-2009, 7:40 pm
This piece is such a refreshing change from "We invested $10K for (dubious) upgrades and now it's worth X amount. We're waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the market to come back so we can sell."

I'm gla
Read More
06-17-2009, 10:46 pm
This was a well-organized project. I'd speculate that many families cannot work together, in such circumstances, with result that pleasant outcomes become impossible to achieve. I understand what was involved, physically, with what you went
Read More
06-18-2009, 6:31 pm
We just received a contract on our mother's Pennsylvania condo after nearly 9 months on the markets. The Pa 4.5% estate tax would have been more onerous, had our mother not been living in assisted living and NH for several years before her dea
Read More
06-18-2009, 6:50 pm
Just fyi: The link to Bank Rate Monitor in the story (, gets you to a page from which you select a state. For each state, income tax info is displayed but there are tabs for the state's
Read More
discuss this article and more on the mv exchange
No positions in stocks mentioned.

Get real-time options trading ideas from Steve Smith, veteran options trader and newsletter author, plus let him show you the way to cut risk and boost your returns through the strategic use of options.  Click here for a free 14 day trial to OptionSmith by Steve Smith.


Our Professors

rss article alert