My father died recently, leaving me and my two brothers and sisters in a house without a mortgage. Sell?


Dear MarketWatch,

My father died recently and left me and my two brothers and sisters a home without a mortgage. I am in the process of being declared by the executor of the will. My brother goes to the house every weekend to “rest”, but my sister and I live in other states and can only return to our hometown a few times a year.

My sister and I think now is the right time to sell the house and divide our inheritance, but my brother thinks that we should keep it as it grows in value. Of course, this will require some maintenance, insurance, taxes and utilities.

Is it better to keep it as an investment or sell it and then invest in stocks or retirement accounts? I am 65 years old, brother and sister 60 and 57 years old.

Thank you,

Feud over family home

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Dear Feud,

I am very sorry that you have lost, and I understand what an awkward position you are in. My colleagues at MarketWatch often hear from readers who find themselves in the same stressful situations. As steward of your parents’ property, you have the unenviable task of dividing up their property, balancing the emotions of others – and in doing so, you need to grieve alone. I hope you took the time for yourself to deal with your emotions around your father’s passing.

Basically: It’s clear to me that you suspect your brother has ulterior motives when he invites the family to keep the house. After all, he’s the one who essentially inherited the country house to use it alone, and it looks like he’s only partially responsible for its upkeep and taxes. You are undoubtedly offended by this setting.

The real estate market is hot right now, and homes in many parts of the country are receiving many bids that push the final sale price even above what you can charge. Especially in the suburbs, there is such a shortage of homes on the market that buyers put up bids for almost any property that appears on the market.

This could be good news for you and your siblings, given that it could mean you don’t have to work hard to get your home listing up and running. Of course, all properties are local. You don’t say where your father’s house was, and that may determine whether or not it is worth selling. In a hot market like Boise, Idaho, you can hardly sell. However, in rural Iowa, this might not be the case.

Homes in many parts of the country are seeing multiple offers that have even higher final selling prices than you can specify.

Your brother is generally right in his belief that the value of the home will rise. The question of whether a real estate bubble will form is still unresolved. Many economists say nobut some who have been burned down by the latest housing crash report that Americans are more cautious about the housing market… Some observers believe the property market could cool off as buyers become more and more concerned about affordability.

But even if the bubble bursts, this does not mean that you will lose money on the house. You don’t have a mortgage to worry about, and if you can hold it long enough, you will see its value rise, whether it slumps or not.

With all this in mind, I believe that you and your siblings should sell the house, unless you live in a part of the country where the real estate market is not so popular. Then you can split the money between the three of you and do whatever you want with them.

If your brother uses the house more, then he should pay more on maintenance and property taxes.

Let’s say your brother decides that he really needs a second home to stay in for the weekend, or just investment property. He can then use his share of the proceeds from the sale of your father’s house as a down payment on one house. If he really wants to keep your late father’s house that bad, he may offer to buy you and your sister out. You and your sister can then channel the proceeds from the sale of the home towards more liquid investments that you can use when you retire soon.

If you do keep your home, you need to set clear boundaries and have an agreed plan for what to do with the property. It is inappropriate for your brother to use it as a vacation home while you and your sister are paying equal shares in upkeep, utilities, and taxes. If he uses the house more, he should be paid more.

If you all keep the house, I highly recommend the three of you consider turning it into an investment property and renting it out to long-term tenants or on a platform like Airbnb.

Since your brother is around, he could help manage the property – perhaps for more profit – and then all of you can hopefully be able to get some good passive income after expenses are accounted for. Alternatively, you can transfer it to a property management company.

After a few years, you will be able to return to the conversation about whether to sell again.

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