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Selling a family home after a death

Brothers Larry, 30, left, and Joseph Laimo, 32,

Brothers Larry, 30, left, and Joseph Laimo, 32, have a many good memories of growing up in this home on Indian Well Court in Huntington. Their mother passed away this past October, so the two brothers and their younger sister, Danielle, have put the house up for sale. (April 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

When Joseph Laimo's mother died and left her house to him and his two siblings, he knew the situation was emotionally charged. All three had fond memories of growing up in the sprawling Huntington residence. But none wanted to return, since they were grown and leading their own lives. They considered selling to distant relatives or renting, but in the end they agreed the house should go to a new family.

"We want to sell it to a family whose children can have as happy a childhood growing up there as we did," says Joseph, 32, an underwriting director for Travelers Insurance who is selling the property with his brother, Larry, 30, and sister, Danielle, 20, for $679,000.

Families across Long Island are facing difficult decisions about whether to sell a home they inherited -- such a transaction is called an estate sale -- as aging baby boomers begin to fade away and leave their homes to relatives.

"I've gotten more of these types of sales in the last four years than I've had in the twenty years I've been in this business," says Barbara Tomko, a broker with Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates. "It's the natural progression of things. We're an aging Island."

Estate sales can be a challenge for several reasons, not the least of which is emotional.

Tomko says she has seen sons and daughters appear to be stoic, then break down while cleaning out the home, signing papers at the closing or when handing over the keys to new owners.

"There are different triggers for different people," she says.

Occasionally, this element can affect a sale. Tomko says she once represented family members who became upset upon learning that a buyer wanted to purchase their property only to tear it down. They were actually glad when the deal fell through. "In the end, they sold to someone who just wanted to remodel it," she says. "They were much happier with that sale."

Steve Rosmarin, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, has also seen the opposite -- relatives for whom the residence has little emotional attachment, such as a second home, where the parents moved later in life, that held no childhood memories.

"In those cases, it's more of a commodity as well as a nice legacy for the next generation," he says. "They're looking at it as something to liquidate, since it's costing them money in taxes and insurance and heating costs. That's a great equation for a buyer to get a bargain on a house."

One potential difficulty with estate sales is that relatives -- because of their bond with the home -- can have an inflated estimation of its market value. Palmer Gaget, with Prudential Douglas Elliman, says the best way to counter this is to get an appraisal from a professional firm to determine a more objective sale price.

"We'll all be sad to see it go," Laimo says of the Huntington home, adding that the sale will bring some closure. "We're glad Mom maintained such a beautiful property and glad that we can use that asset in our own lives."

Other LI homes in estate sales

Westhampton Beach, $899,000

Location.  43 Jagger Lane

Listing history. On the market three months with one price change

Annual taxes. $8,223

What's for sale. This is a Contemporary with three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms on 1.2 acres that was left to grown children by their parents. It has an eat-in kitchen, a dining room, a den and a family room, a loft room with a patio, a fireplace, a full basement, a mahogany deck, an in-ground pool and a two-car garage. The house overlooks a creek.

Listing agents. Palmer Gaget and Steven Rosmarin, Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 917-929-3449 and 631-255-2213


Location.  4 Indian Well Ct.

Listing history. On the market for a month with no price changes

Annual taxes. $14,729

What's for sale. This is a four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom ranch on an acre of property left to two brothers and a sister by their mother. The home has a formal dining room and a vaulted family room with a fireplace overlooking a large rear deck. It has an eat-in kitchen, a skylight and a full finished basement with a bar. The home backs on a county park.

Listing agent. Noreen Cribbin, Signature Premier Properties, 631-335-7226

Roslyn Heights,  $529,000

Location. 51 Macgregor Ave.

Listing history. On the market for two months with one price change

Annual taxes. $10,436

What's for sale. This is a Colonial in the heart of Roslyn Heights that was left to two sons and one daughter by their parents. It has three bedrooms, 1½ baths, a formal dining room, a skylight, an eat-in kitchen, a fireplace, a full basement, a garage and a back deck.

Listing agent. Brian Jeacoma, RE/Max Universal Real Estate, 917-416-4530

Tips for participants in an estate sale

Communicate. Have a meeting with siblings or relatives who have a stake in the sale. Come to an agreement about what specifically is for sale and a price range acceptable to all. Establish a quick way of contacting each other, especially if someone lives out of state or country. Keep in touch about developments to eliminate potential conflicts and misinterpretations. This helps when the agent needs to move on an offer.

Decide on a time frame. Some may want a quick sale because of financial considerations and are ready to jump at a first offer. Others might be willing to wait for a better price. Find out what the expectations are. If the latter, make sure everyone realizes there will be expenses with keeping the home for sale, such as insurance and upkeep. The costs usually are shared, either paid along the way or taken out proportionally after the estate is sold.

Declutter. When cleaning out home possessions, either follow the instructions in the will or, if none, consult an attorney regarding how they should be divided up. Consider a tag sale to get rid of the rest. Assets from items sold are usually divided equally. Some families may decide that a member who served as the executor might get a larger share of the proceeds since he or she has done more work. Afterward, either spruce up the place yourself or have a professional home staging company give you tips on how to clean up an estate and provide things like accessories and art to maximize the home's appeal. "Arrange to have furniture brought in, and set up flowers," says Brian Jeacoma of RE/Max Universal Real Estate. "Put plates and forks on the table as if someone were living there."

Taxes and attorneys. Since state estate taxes start at $1 million and federal at $5 million, even a relatively modest home (by Long Island standards) might have a significant tax bill after its sale, says Martin P. Cohen, a Rockville Centre attorney who has advised people on real estate and tax matters. "Sometimes, a house has to be sold in order to pay the estate taxes," he says.

Also, if family members inheriting an estate don't get along, it might be a good idea for each to hire an attorney individually. This can avoid contentious issues, Cohen says.

"There's no particular advantage to it unless there's a lack of trust," he says. "But this way, each person can have their own attorney review everything and make sure the terms of the will are being followed closely."

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