Getting an inheritance when a loved one dies doesn’t always feel like a windfall — especially when it’s real estate that you don’t want. If you live in a state with an inheritance tax on property, you might not want to deal with a tax bill, or you’re dreading the hassle of selling the property. There’s also the possibility that just have no idea what to do with it.
The reason why you don’t want to keep property that someone has left you doesn’t really matter. The important thing to know is you have options. You simply have to learn how to navigate a tricky inheritance situation.
Observe Your State's Waiting Period
The loss of a loved one can be an emotional time, so you shouldn’t rush any decisions about property you’ve inherited. In fact, you might be forced to wait if you want to sell unwanted property. For example, “in Arizona, usually there is a 90-day waiting period before a home can be sold,” said Michael Zschunke, a Realtor in the Phoenix area who sells inherited properties. He recommends working with an attorney and real estate professional to evaluate your options before taking any action.
Avoid Hungry Real Estate Sharks
Another reason to take your time and work with professionals is to avoid making costly mistakes. Avi Sinai, owner of private real estate lending company HM Capital, said you should never sell unwanted inherited property right away. “Nothing gets real estate investors drooling like children selling their parents’ real estate after they pass away,” he said. “Investors love those because they assume the new owners know nothing about the true value of the property, and, therefore, they can purchase the property for a discount.”
Find Out the Value of the Property
Before deciding what to do with inherited property you don’t want, find out how much the property is worth. “Now that you hold the title to the real estate, you need to know the market value of the property,” said Matt Halper, a broker with commercial real estate brokerage firm Kiser Group in Chicago.
An appraisal might have been conducted as part of the valuation of the estate left by the person who gave you the property. But that appraisal might not reflect the property’s market value, Halper said. Getting a real estate broker to value the property might help you decide if you want to sell it and how you want to sell it.
Sell With a Realtor
You can turn your unwanted inherited real estate into cash by selling it. To get top dollar, enlist the help of a professional. “Ideally, you want to go through a realtor because a realtor will get you a higher price,” said attorney Kevin Goff of Goff Law Firm in Bowling Green, Ky.
Selling the property with a real estate agent also might make the process easier if you don’t live in the same city where the property is located.
... But Remember Commission and Other Costs
Remember, however, that you’ll pay the price for a smoother, more convenient process. The real estate agent will get a commission — typically 6 percent of the property’s sale price.
And for all the convenience the realtor provides, you might still have to take steps to get the best price possible, such as making repairs, adding fresh coats of paint and touching up the landscaping.
Sell As-Is at Auction
If your goal is to sell your inherited property quickly, Goff said you could unload it at auction. You might not get as good of a price as you would by listing it with a realtor. But you can save yourself some of the hassles of making it appeal to buyers by selling it as-is at auction.
Sell the Property to an Investor
Selling unwanted inherited property to a real estate investor is another quick way to make money without having to spend your time and money to prepare the property for sale. “An investor will buy your home ‘as-is,’ allowing you to walk away from the property without making any repairs,” said Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers in Atlanta. “Some investors will even let you sell without cleaning out the inherited house. You can keep what you want and leave the rest.”
... But Make Sure They're Experienced
That said, Breyer recommends that you work with an investor that has experience with buying inherited homes that must go through the probate process. “They will be able to guide you through the process so that you do not encounter any hiccups,” he said.
Rent the Property to Others
If the property you inherit is in good condition, you could turn it into rental property to create a stream of passive income. However, the rental income might not be that passive if you plan to manage the property yourself, said Goff, who owns 10 long-term rental properties. “There’s a learning curve to it.”
Hire Professionals to Manage Your Rental Property
If you don’t have time to deal with tenants or if the property is in another state, Goff recommends using a management company to oversee the rental property. Expect to pay a management company about 10 percent of your rental income, he said.
Fix Up the Property and Flip It
If you inherit property that isn’t in good condition, you could take advantage of the opportunity to fix it up and flip it for a profit. You stand to make the most money if you’re the DIY type and can renovate the property on your own.
... But Remember Capital Gains Tax
If you live in the property you’re flipping for at least two years before you sell it, up to $250,000 of the profit is tax-free if you’re single, and $500,000 in profit is tax-free if you’re married and file taxes jointly, Goff said. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay capital gains tax of up to 20 percent on the profit.
Make It a Vacation Rental
You might be able to make more money from your inherited real estate by turning it into a short-term vacation rental by listing it on websites such as Airbnb or HomeAway. Data from Mashvisor, a real estate data analytics company helping investors find lucrative traditional and Airbnb rental properties, shows that the return on investment for short-term rentals exceeds the rate for traditional rentals, said Daniela Andreevska, marketing director at Mashvisor. “However, you have to check the regulations in your location to make sure that vacation rentals are legal and to become aware of any existing restrictions or fees,” she said.
You’ll also need to invest in furniture, linens, plates, utensils and other necessities for guests, said Goff, who owns a vacation rental property in addition to long-term rental properties. And even though the return can be greater on vacation rental properties, the income isn’t as guaranteed as it is with long-term rentals, he said.
Renounce or Disclaim the Property
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling or renting the property, you can reject it by renouncing or disclaiming it. “No one is required to accept an inheritance,” said Philip J. Ruce, an attorney with Stone Arch Law in Minneapolis. “It can feel strange contemplating the rejection of an inheritance, but it is more common than you think.”
With a renunciation or disclaimer, it’s as if you had died before receiving the inheritance, and the property passes to the next person in line to receive it as spelled out by the original property owner’s will or state law. So you have no say over where the property goes, attorney Ruce said. Typically, you have a certain amount of time in which you can disclaim inherited property, and you have to record the disclaimer with the county recorder of deeds office, he said. It’s best to work with an attorney to disclaim property, Ruce said.
Transfer the Property With a Quitclaim Deed
If you don’t want inherited property but want to have a say in who gets it, you can use a quitclaim deed to transfer the property to someone else. “A quitclaim deed is a legal instrument that is used to transfer interest in real property very quickly and easily,” said David Reischer, an attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. No money is involved in the transaction, no title search is done to verify ownership and no title insurance is issued, he said. Basically, you give away the property with no warranties.
... But Remember Gift Tax
Be aware, though, that the IRS will view your bequest of real estate as a gift, which means you might be subject to the federal gift tax. If the value of the property you gift is more than $15,000, you have to file a Form 790. That doesn’t mean you’ll owe taxes, though, unless you transfer property worth millions of dollars. Although the annual exclusion amount is $15,000, the lifetime exclusion currently is $11.4 million.
Donate the Property
You could donate property you don’t want to a charitable organization to get a tax deduction. If you itemize on your federal tax return, you can claim a deduction for the fair market value of the property, the price at which it would sell. You’ll need to get an appraisal by a professional appraiser and file Form 8283 if you claim a deduction for a donated property of more than $5,000, according to the IRS.
You could simply do nothing with real estate you inherit that you don’t want. If you don’t pay the property taxes, the city or county taxing authority could sell the tax lien. The person who buys the lien can try to collect it from your or foreclose on the property, Goff said.
... But Remember Liability
However, you’re taking a risk by neglecting the property and letting it go to a tax sale. “If it’s an old building, and someone went in there and got hurt, you could have a liability issue,” Goff said. Then you could get sued, which could end up costing you money.
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About the Author
Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.
U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.
She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.