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What to Do When Your Parent’s House Won’t Sell

Deb Hipp
By Deb HippJanuary 22, 2019

If you’re responsible for selling your parent’s home after a move to senior living care, you probably want to close the sale quickly. However, trying to list a parent’s house doesn’t always go as smoothly as selling your own.

Read our top nine tips on what steps to take when your parent’s house won’t sell.

9 Steps to Take When Your Parent’s House Won’t Sell

“There could be plumbing issues or structural concerns that might take tens of thousands of dollars to fix,” says Alex Hubler, a Minneapolis realtor. Adult children may not want to manage contractors to renovate and make repairs or could live far away. Sometimes, emotional attachment can get in the way.

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“The pull of emotions and memories comes with almost all home sales, and it can be tougher for some than others,” says Hubler. Whether you’re having trouble selling your parent’s house or still considering whether to invest money in repairs before you list, you may have more options than you think.

Here are some ways to approach selling a house that’s not show-ready:

1. Consult with a realtor on what’s worth fixing.

Ask one or more realtors to weigh in on expensive repairs. “They know the local market conditions and will be able to tell you what’s worth fixing and what’s worth leaving,” says Hubler. “Selling ‘as is’ may sometimes be an option, but other times, it might be worth making repairs.”

2. Declutter completely.

Remove everything that doesn’t add visual value to the home, says Andrea Brundage, a professional organizer in Mesa, Arizona. “Buyers need to be able to imagine themselves living in the home,” says Brundage. “Their ability to do so is severely challenged when there is clutter, piles of mail and paper, too many pictures or a garage filled with stuff.”

3. Enlist help from a professional organizer.

Adult children often feel they need to hang on to their parents’ things to honor them, says Brundage, who recommends hiring a professional organizer to help you decide what to donate, keep or toss to prepare the home to show. “Time is often limited to get the home emptied and the longer you wait, the harder the job becomes,” says Brundage.

4. Focus on less expensive updates.

If the house has good bones but is outdated, try inexpensive updates such as painting and replacing worn carpet with contemporary flooring or removing old wallpaper, says Karen Gray Plaisted, a professional home stager in Warwick, New York. “These types of fixes have minimal cost but will give the seller a return on investment,” she says.

5. Obtain a repair cost estimate.

If the house has pricey issues like foundation problems or a plumbing system that needs to be replaced, Hubler suggests getting multiple estimates from contractors so you can give potential buyers a ballpark figure of repair cost. “You can include what it would cost to fix as part of the sale, with repairs to be completed prior to closing,” says Hubler. “Or, you can put in the contract that it’s the buyer’s responsibility to make repairs or live with it.”

6. Price lower than market value.

People will flock to a house priced at 10 to 20% less than its market value, says Hubler. Lowering the asking price may seem like a loss but consider how much you could spend over time in carrying costs like insurance, mortgage payments, ongoing maintenance, property taxes and utilities, especially if the home has been listed for months.

7. Properly stage the home.

As sad as it may be to get rid of Dad or Mom’s items, potential buyers don’t want to imagine anyone but themselves living in the house. “You want all identifiers as to who lived in the home gone,” says Gray Plaisted. She recommends hiring a professional stager to stage the home with an objective eye.

8. Sell to a distressed properties buyer.

If repairs and updates will cost more time and money than you’re willing to invest, there are a multitude of house-flipping companies that pay cash for homes in poor condition. However, proceed with caution. This type of company will typically offer only between 40-60% of what the house will be worth after renovation. Then it sells the house later for a sizeable profit. Disreputable buyers may also charge hidden fees or change the initial offer later. ”Anyone can put up a sign or send a letter claiming they are investors and can pay cash for your house in seven days, says Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers, in Atlanta. Always check the Better Business Bureau and other reviews, not just the testimonials posted on the company’s website, before doing business with a house-flipping company or investor. “Only use someone who is transparent about how they come up with their offer and can give you a step-by-step timeline for buying your house,” says Breyer.

9. Tap into investor networks.

Just because the house isn’t show-ready doesn’t mean there isn’t a buyer for it, says Hubler. He keeps a contact list of real estate investors who buy houses to fix up and rent or sell. Check with local real estate agents who may have similar contacts looking for a house to flip.

When It’s Time to Let Go Positively

It can be hard to let go of a house that holds memories of your childhood, holiday gatherings and parents. However, emotional attachment can be one of the biggest deterrents to selling your parents’ house.

“Ultimately, the emotional process needs to be overcome in order for the home to sell,” says Hubler.

“Try focusing on the positive by letting the house be a place of great memories and now a new place for a family to make their own.”

Do you have any other suggestions to add to our list? What did you and your family do when your parent’s house wouldn’t sell? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.

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