Purchasing a property from a deceased estate is no ordinary property transaction. While there might be a great opportunity to buy a home at an attractive price, it’s essential to understand the complexities involved, including the possibility of prolonged waiting periods, says Andrea Tucker, Director of MortgageMe.
“Owing to additional requirements that enable the executors of a deceased estate to sell immovable items, including property, long delays in the transfer process can be expected,” she says. Nor do deceased estates always mean a bargain in the same way that buying a distressed or repossessed house might. “Buyers might be lucky enough to snap up a house at below market value, but generally executors are looking for a market-related price in order to satisfy the needs of the heirs and beneficiaries of an estate,” says Tucker.
Identifying a house that is specifically being sold by an executor is the first challenge for prospective buyers. This requires checking the Government Gazette or newspaper notices known as ‘advertisements for creditors’, which are placed in newspapers on Fridays. In these notices, executors give notice of the settlement of a deceased estate and invite any creditors with claims against it to come forward.
“Buyers can contact the executors and ask if there is any property in the estate and if it matches their search criteria and budget. It’s important when speaking to the executor to establish upfront that they have the mandate and an appointment by the Master of the High Court to administer the sale,” says Tucker.
Additional legal clearance for a sale includes 100% agreement – and not a majority – of all the heirs or beneficiaries of an estate to the sale. Without this signed agreement and the appointment of the executor by the Master, the sale cannot proceed.
Once a buyer is certain that all the processes that allow the sale to go ahead have been followed, the offer to purchase, acceptance and transfer steps are the same as in any regular property purchase. However, there are different considerations for the buyer in purchasing a deceased estate property.
“It may be that a house being sold as part of a deceased estate has been standing empty for some time, or it may have been neglected in the last months of the deceased person’s life,” says Tucker. “Buyers should have a full and professional building inspection done ahead of signing the offer to purchase in this case. The repair of any defects should be a condition of the sale and written into the offer,” she says. Any outstanding rates, taxes and utility bills are generally settled out of the estate and proceeds of the sale, but buyers should get clarity on any outstanding amounts owed by the estate in respect of the property.
Given that delays in the transfer should be expected, buyers should negotiate their occupation date and an occupational rent if they are keen to move in before completion of the purchase. This enables buyers to budget for what often turns out to be a lengthy period before they become the legal owners.
“While there may be price benefits to buying a property from a deceased estate, the process is not always straightforward,” says Tucker, “and buyers must be cautious before proceeding. The condition of the property, potential co-ownership of the estate with a living relative, tenants and historical debt should all be thoroughly investigated before signing on the dotted line,” she says.