Ready to get started?
Let’s boost your lead gen.
Ok, we admit it: the word “probate” is a snoozer. Not only that, it implies something few of us wish to contemplate – DEATH. So, to put death anywhere near “gee, that’s a great lead-gen idea,” seems almost creepy. But, when you consider how few agents specialize in probate real estate leads, and how much money is on the table, you may quickly get over that slimy feeling.
Somebody will list these homes, right?
And most of the time, it’s an agent who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Not an expert on probate real estate leads. Not an agent who specializes in probate sales.
Although we couldn’t find an official statistic on how many homeowners die each year, we came close. Consider the following:
But, they aren’t divided evenly. And, again, we were unable to find pertinent statistics on a statewide level.
But, thankfully, the courts keep track of these things. For instance, there were 4,147 probate filings in FY 2015/2016, in Miami-Dade County, according to Juan C. Antúnez at flprobatelitigation.com.
Now, suppose all of those filings included a home. At the area’s median home price, that’s more than $34 million in per-side commission sitting on the table.
Ok, not all probate cases include a home. So, let’s get conservative and assume that only half do. That’s more than $17 million in commission (per side).
Quite the lucrative real estate niche if one were to become the probate expert in the area.
As a decade-long agent (before I quit), I performed a whopping one probate sale. Then, as a real estate consumer, I sold my parents’ home in probate.
Far from an expert, I’ll try to explain the basics. A probate attorney would be the wisest choice to consult, however, if you have deep questions.
“Probate is the formal legal process that gives recognition to a will and appoints the executor or personal representative who will administer the estate and distribute assets to the intended beneficiaries,” according to the American Bar Association.
The process varies, depending on state, so it can be quite challenging finding probate law information. And, the more “stuff” the decedent left behind, the more complicated the process becomes.
What you need to know as an agent is the name of the contact person in charge of the deceased’s probate. What that person is called varies across states.
In my case, I was the “personal representative,” but in some states they’re known as the executor (male) or executrix (female). Then, there are states that only use executor, regardless of the person’s gender.
This representative’s job is to inventory the deceased’s belongings and dispose of them, according to the will (which takes precedence) or, if the person died intestate (without a will), the state’s laws of inheritance.
Lucky you if your MLS offers probate training like California’s Orange County Association of Realtors does. Taught by a probate attorney, association members pay only $15 for a class packed with valuable information.
If not, you’re on your own, but thankfully, it’s not as tough a nut to crack as you might imagine. Check out The Sanborn Team’s explainer, this one at realtor.com, and at probaterealestatesales101.com.
Naturally, there are companies that are happy to sell you probate real estate leads.
Ah, but agents are a thrifty bunch, so if you’d rather try the DIY route, read on.
Locating probate court records is easier said than done
“Because probate files are public court records that anyone can read, if a will has been filed for probate then you should be able to obtain a copy of it.”
“And with modern technology comes the ability to locate information about a deceased person’s estate online, and in most cases for absolutely free,” or so says attorney Julie Garber at thebalance.com.
Not all counties place their records online, which means a trip to the courthouse. But, which one?
According to Garber, the probate records will be located in either the county where the deceased person lived at the time of death, or “the county where the deceased person owned real estate.”
If you’re unsure of which county a particular city is located in, use the search function at naco.org. Once you know the county, you can do an online search for probate records.
Then, be aware that not all counties call them “probate records”
Which is why we warned you that the DIY route is easier said than done. Some counties refer to them as “circuit court” records or any number of other names.
“There are over 3300 counties in the United States and each one of those counties has a different procedure for getting the information that you need to work in this niche,” claims Sharon Vornholt at biggerpockets.com.
She recommends calling the probate court in your area and asking “How can I get a list of probates for my county?”
Garber offers tips on how to search online, and what to do if you can’t locate online records, here.
Since we aren’t the experts in this niche, we’ll direct you to some of the best. Most of them, by the way, recommend writing a letter, rather than calling.
The investors who hang out at biggerpockets.com have loads of great advice on how to make the first contact.
Brandon Barnes, an investor who specializes in probate real estate leads, suggests “addressing the elephant in the room” upfront, in your initial contact. He offers condolences on the death and then heads into his soft pitch.
You may want to consider offering services to potential probate clients – things of value they won’t get with an agent who generalizes. See the ingenious list at probaterealtypdx.com.
While the personal representative is the estate’s contact person, be ready to deal with the entire family. It happens a lot.
Many agents avoid probate real estate leads out of the fear of offending the bereaved. Knowing how to handle these touchy situations is crucial to generate real estate leads.
Consider this, however: by the time they get ready to list the home, the loved-one’s death is most likely fading into the rear-view mirror and the hassle of owning another home is squarely in front of them.
They feel the need for speed—to avoid yet another house payment and having to pay more utility bills out of their own pockets.
In other words, these are serious sellers
Of course, there are the personal representatives who have that “I-grew-up-in-this-house” emotional attachment. It’s wrenching for them to think that someday they’ll close that front door and never step foot in the home again.
But you’ll find that same type of attachment in many traditional home sellers as well. Be sure to keep informed so you know what these sellers are looking for.
Part of specializing in the probate niche is to learn why the family feels the way they do and, more significant, how to deal with these emotions
“Childhood homes, even those we lived in for a short time, become repositories for our memories, and even years later, when we see a home we once lived in, hundreds of evocative memories can flood in,” Dr. Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at California State University at Los Angeles tells Danielle Braff of the Chicago Tribune.
Consider as well that the last time these family members moved out of this home it was voluntary. This time, it’s not and, this time it’s final.
There’s the why
Probate real estate leads can be tricky because of the nature of probate. The loss of the home may resurrect the grief over the loss of the person who owned it. And, people react to loss differently. Anxiety, anger, sadness and helplessness are some of the emotions they may be dealing with.
Encourage these clients to talk, and let them know it’s ok to feel sad. Avoid giving non-real estate-related advice and never be afraid to utter these four simple but comforting words: “how can I help?”
Suggest that the client take pictures of the interior of the home, especially areas that contain potent memories.
Durvasula also suggests encouraging them to take fixtures, such as lighting, doorknobs or anything else that will help them maintain a connection to the home long after the sale closes.
Want to learn other amazing secrets to generate real estate leads?
Want to increase your real estate conversion? Learn 5 better ways to talk to leads in this video.
Let’s boost your lead gen.