Estate Sales: What You Need to Know

The demographic reality in Ontario is that the population is ageing. Baby boomers are reaching the age when they are dealing with the passing of parents. Many now find themselves dealing with a rite of passage, selling a relative's home in an estate sale.

As the older generation ages, the middle-age children will often find themselves negotiating the sometimes tricky, complex issues around an estate sale. Unlike a standard home sale, an estate sale involves a couple of extra steps. There are legal considerations around the passing of the title of the home from the deceased to the executor (the person named in the will). Typically the process includes the liquidation of the contents of the home as well. For those who find themselves suddenly dealing with a sale, it can help to have a real estate agent on your team.

by Madelinetosh
by Madelinetosh

Removing items from the house and decluttering

Holly Chandler is a Sales Representative with Keller Williams Neighbourhood Realty. She recently met with a potential client concerning an estate sale and talks about the unique nature of this type of a transaction:

I think the first thing to remind ourselves is that it's a sensitive time for the client. You really have to be attuned to the needs of the client, in terms of process, but also emotionally. It can be a tough time.

That said, there are some basic steps that need to be followed:

There are a couple of the things that usually have to be done. One of those is removing items from the house. That can be overwhelming. With older family members it can be difficult with sentimental items, and so it can be quite a bit of work.

It is during the divvying up of the estate that problems can arise:

If there are other people on the title, if you have benefactors from the will, there may be people with differing opinions on who gets what from the proceeds. This requires a good eye and a sensitivity.

If the claims on the contents have been settled but there are still items to be removed from the home a real estate agent can help by making the process clean and simple. Real estate agents will know where to go, who to call, to help with the clean-up of the home. Chandler says, they can introduce the client to any kind of a company that will facilitate cleaning out the house.

by Half Alive
by Half Alive

Bringing in an expert can be especially important if there are a lot of antiques in the home. Real estate agents know "de-clutterers" who can help stage a home for sale. Another service that might be necessary is storage facilities. Storage companies to bring in pods that can be packed with the items in the home and then delivered to a storage facility. This can be useful in a case where the family might want to take more time later to go through the contents of a home, but want to get the sale of the home underway.

If the house is in a bad shape, it's better to have it repaired before selling

It is sometimes the case that there may be a need for a contractor to come in. Chandler says it's not always the case that the house is in great shape, especially if the owners have been in the house for a long time.

Some people get to the sale right away. But if there is some more serious work to be done it can take longer. A home that is in better condition, of course, will sell for more than one that is in general state of disrepair.

You can't sell the property before probate

Once the home is ready for sale there are a couple of legal issues to keep in mind. This is where the lawyers get involved. Confirming the will and passing along title (legal ownership) of the home to the executor is a basic legal process that typically unfolds without issues. But this is a basic legal process that needs to occur.

The lawyers do get quite involved - not with the actual deal, but with the legalities around the sale. Someone will be appointed an executor.

The process of confirming the will and moving the title to the executor is called "probate", a legal term describing the process whereby a will is "proved" in court and accepted as a valid public document. The will has to be approved by a court before title to the property can be transferred to the executor. This process needs to be completed before the home can be sold. You can't transfer title to the will and sell the home without probate. That can't be done if the will is contested.

by André Carrotflower
by André Carrotflower

Assuming the will is uncontested the executor will eventually be granted a probate order that allows that person to transfer the title of the home. But again, remember, if it hasn't passed probate the Land Title office won't allow the sale to go ahead.

I think the biggest thing to remember in an estate sale is the probate. Sellers have to understand that it won't be able to be sold until probate is cleared up.

It can be the case that a home will be listed for sale before probate has been settled. It can take some time for the probate process to play out. Leaving a home unoccupied for long stretches tempts break-ins and weather damage. In other cases, the executor may live far away. When it comes to listing the home before probate has been granted Chandler says she doesn't it see it all that often:

It is rare. But if the homeowner has confidence that it will pass soon they might go ahead and list it. It can be done.

If it is the case that a home is listed before probate has been granted the buyer's agent will have to put in a condition that the home passes probate before the sale is complete.

by Valerie White
by Valerie White

Estate sales can be harrowing

Other beneficiaries of the proceeds of the sale may start pressuring the executor to speed up a sale. But executors need to remind beneficiaries that there is "little the executor can do to speed up the process." As a matter before the courts, it will be the case that the institution dealing with the probate order determines the speed of the process, not the executor.


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