Executorium Publisher George Compton interviews Probate Weekly Host Bill Gross to explore the title “Certified Probate Expert, a designation used by many Real Estate Agents who specialize in the probate specialty of real estate sales.
A good real estate agent, with solid probate experience, or a certified probate expert, can help an executor navigate many of the challenges and pitfalls of selling the real property of an estate.
This episode of Executorium’s Estate Talk was broadcast on Wednesday, Jan 11, 2023.
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The following transcript has been edited for readability.
EX: Hello, Bill Gross.
BG: How are you doing?
EX: I’m doing fine. This is the inaugural Estate Talks Podcast, and I’d like to start by introducing Bill Gross, whose leadership in probate real estate has brought much-needed attention to this area of Estate Administration. Bill, among other things, is a realtor – licensed in California, he’s an investor, and most importantly, in my mind, he is a teacher. He’s brought awareness to the peculiarities of probate real estate, and this is certainly one reason why we want to talk to Bill. Bill is the moderator of the Facebook group Probate Experts and the host of Probate Weekly podcasts so Bill, thank you very much for joining Estate Talks.
BG: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. I love what you guys are doing, and I want to be a contributor.
EX: Thank you. Thank you very much. So just let’s get right into it.
BG: Specifically, the certified probate expert is a particular designation, and I think it’s the leading designation; there are about four or five. (I have actually five, and if there are other ones, I’m glad to find out about them) but there are a number of them, and I think that most of them are by companies that try to create some sort of intellectual property to get people to use their products. The CPE designation – Chad Corbett’s the coach – he founded the company Probate Mastery three or four years ago. He really focuses on where you come from and being of service to the family, and that’s why it lined up so well with Executorium. For my money, the other companies, for the most part to me, are about marketing and how to get listings from families and how to kind of approach them versus really how to service them and how to solve their problems. As a CPE, we do more with creative financing, rehabbing properties, probate advances, having an empathetic heart, listening, rather than using scripts as a Salesman; more calling as a local neighbor offering to be of assistance, so there are numerous distinctions. So again, the designation is nice, and I have several, and I have one of my email but I think more importantly that if you’re an Executor, you really want to ask questions and make sure the person is focused on solving your problems and being a resource for you.
EX: Executorium loves especially the piece about having an empathetic approach. Being an Executor is a very difficult position to be in. Some estates – are more difficult than others. Some executive duties, all executive duties, are different and have their own peculiar idiosyncrasies and challenges, so that really resonates with us. And that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to talk to you today.
BG: Well, they vary from not very different to a whole different world. Sometimes in probate, if there’s only one heir or executor, they have no there’s no disagreement, there’s no argument; you know, I say the paperwork’s a little different for the most part. Sometimes an Executor, depending on the state they’re in, needs Legal Services. For example, in California, particularly if you’re out of state, the state’s not going to give you the same authority as if you lived here. So, you’re going to need somebody to stand up to get the full authority or to get bonded. If you at least can meet those standards, then again, it’s not very different, but if you can’t – then you’re gonna have a rough ride. I would say that a probate listing can range from its fairly routine… I was saying to people it’s not a problem until it’s a problem. For example, it’s clear sailing, and out of the blue, an heir pops up who says, “Hey, the decedent’s long-lost unknown Son by another marriage before you,” and now you have a contest to the heirship which may or may not be legitimate, but now you’re facing litigation.” So I think it’s really important that if you’re going to go through the process, like anything else, you’re going to do it properly. You know, most states have certain laws: you have to file, they have to wait a certain number of days, then you get the authority. You want to move through those as quickly as you can because the longer you take, the more chance you give for conflict to arise. I find this all the time; also, there are two or three siblings (heirs) all on the same page – day one. Once it goes past a certain point, it’s kind of like keeping food in the refrigerator at some point what was a delicious meal, and the next day might be exciting leftovers, you know, at a certain point, time becomes smelly and stinky. And that’s that can be like probate where siblings start to fight – they think you’re selling the house too cheap or for too much, and next thing you know, they’re lawyering up, and you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars in a civil war. So, I always advise people that it might be simple now, and that’s great; just execute quickly and get it done. Because what you don’t want to do is wait around for problems to find you.
EX: That makes a lot of sense given my experience. And I love the food [annaloogy], “This delicious meal the one day”, and then through decreasing marginal utility, it’s something we’re throwing in the trash with regret, and this is a process to be undertaken without regret as much as possible. It has its challenges – so anyone that can whisper in your ear with some knowledge and some context to help you see it through in that way, we’re all for it.
I might note that Executorium is working very hard to bring to the fore: mediation. We find that mediation can avoid a lot of costs and relationship loss, so that is something for all executors to be aware of as an off-ramp, possibly prior to litigation.
BG: The thing that I always tell people is try to stay in your lane. For example, I don’t pretend to be the expert in selling a four-million-dollar luxury home. Now frankly, it’s not that different than selling houses, but often the seller wants to feel as though they’re getting a concierge experience, and I just don’t offer that at that price point. There are people who do it and spend a lot of money on it. I think a lot of it is hype. But what I will say is that if you’re inheriting a property, if it’s vacant, the longer it sits, the more risks you have. I literally had last week a lady who two weeks ago said, “No problems, and we’re clear” now she’s calling me because the house got broken into, and now, she has squatters. So, it went from no problem to all; of a sudden, she’s got a major problem… major problem.
BG: On the other side, I see more sophisticated heirs who say, well, I inherit this property, and I’m going to get into the Fix and Flip business. I’m going to fix it up! You know it’s worth $400,000, but somehow magically, if I spend 20,000, it’ll be worth $500,000. So what I say to people is, you know, I stay in my lane. I don’t do that because I know that you can’t get more the dollar for each dollar you put in a property. There is a great resource, Remodeling Magazine, which is online, and you can search in any region any state in America; different remodeling projects or different, you know, rehab projects – what it costs on average and what the return in terms of investment is. What you’re going to find is, other than clean up and clean out which is important, there’s probably nothing you can do that by adding a dollar of investment; you’ll get more than a dollar return. Worse I find families that try that -yeah, last two years, everything you did made money. If you try to rehab a house two years ago, and it took you six months, the house went up in value 20 percent in six months if you did nothing, so you look like a genius. Today that’s not the case, and by leaving it vacant for an extra three or six months, you’ve got taxes due, maybe a loan payment, the risk of somebody breaking into the property all for probably are not going to get more money than you spend on it in my experience. So, I would really advise people to stay in your lane and take the good, sure victories. I don’t think that the largest asset of your life is the right thing to be gambling with, that somehow now here’s a new business you’re going to get into. I think fixing and flipping is a good business – if you want to do it, sell the property, take some of the money and invest that and find good partners to work with and learn. But to inherit a property and then start to fix ‘n flip business – I’ve just seen that not work over and over again.
BG: Well, the first thing is always to look at their track record and ask them to send you a list of similar properties they’ve sold. I think we expect them to have sold a lot more. Oftentimes even a couple, if they can show you the property, give the name of the seller for references, I think it’s really important and overlooked. I think, second of all, if you’re talking about somebody who works in the probate space, [ask] “Do you know a name of an attorney or two that you work with?”, would be a great reference as well. I find that asking your attorney for [a real estate agent] reference is often a mistake because most attorneys do very few and then they end up now referring you to the only realtor maybe that they know. So I would say do your own research on that because the fees you pay the realtor are about as much, if not more than you’re going to pay the attorney. When it’s all said and done – I would say track record; I would look for references from people that you work with, would be the most important way to find somebody. I think also you know you want to have your own feelers and sense about this, you know. Every case is different. If somebody came to me and said, “Hey Bill, we inherited a showpiece six-million-dollar house in Bel Air, and really we just want to buff it up and sell it, but we want to have a beauty pageant-style marketing program with every realtor in town to come see it…” I’d say, “To be honest with you I’m glad to do it, and I don’t think anybody’s gonna get you any more money, but if you want all that fluff, there are other people to give you that fluff”. But I think that each case is different, each property is different, each neighborhood’s different, each situation is different, and the list of services you’re going to need is different. So there are real estate agents to do a good job just selling property; there are others like me who know – you might need a trash-out company, an estate sale company, a storage company, a moving company, who’s gonna sell the antiques, who’s gonna sell the guns who’s gonna sell the collectibles and manage all that and give you the accounting of it. Maybe advance the money for you – that’s a different sell too. So make sure you ask questions and that you have a sense of what your game plan is and make sure this person will help you be a partner in your game plan. The key that we present to Executorium as a resource – what I’ve presented when I interviewed George and, in our interview, and when I promoted [Executorium] on my website is that we would be partners. We want to always be adding more value and how we can help our customers get the desired outcome that they want at the end of the day.
EX: One of the strong takeaways I get from that, and I’m latching it on to a previous answer you gave, was the “stay in your lane” piece and asking questions. Being very clear with a candidate-realtor and just defining your expectations, and talking about, you know, the timing and not letting the leftovers get to that stinky stage as an example would be something. You want to be as clear and transparent with your realtor as possible so that you can have that transparency if they are in their lane and that you’re in your lane, and that their lane and your lane are the same lanes going forward with the sale of the real property.
BG: Sure. So in most states, there are two levels of licensing. There’s ‘agent’, and there’s ‘broker’. [A] Broker can act independently and have agents work underneath them, and agents are salespeople who have to work typically for a broker or brokerage in order to do business. So in California for example I’m a broker. I do operate through a major national company – it’s called “associate with another company”. I could broker on my own, I have, but I find being a broker with a large company gives me the best of both. So, [the term] “broker” versus “agent” is a level of authority the state gives, as well as probably education [required] to get that. “Realtor” is a specific designation that means you belong to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). So that’s a specific designation of membership that you belong to the National Association, which probably means you belong to the State Association, and that in turn allows you to join the Multiple Listing Service. If you’re not a Realtor, you can’t join the Multiple Listing Service in most venues. What that means is, the people who don’t spend the money to join being “Realtors”, and save some money, but then they can only offer their customers, for the most part, a lower level of service. So [in these cases] a [non-realtor] agent, can list your property meaning, agree to sell it, and share with people I know but can’t put it on the MLS. An [Non-realtor] agent can even list it on the MLS for a fee, but then we’re not representing it as colleagues [to] other agents – it gets kind of complicated at that point. I would just say in general that a realtor is somebody who belongs in a National Association of Realtors, holds to a standard of ethics, and also has more resources than somebody who’s merely an agent.
BG: Multiple Listing Service really is US Realtors getting together and saying, “Hey, I have this for sale, how about you? I have that for sale… well, let’s share that information with our groups and that way we can all try to sell each other’s listings.” And so the Multiple Listing Service really at its core is real estate agents, who are realtors, came together, and working together, to share each other’s listings. The biggest misconception I think customers have is they’ll come to me and say, “Well, do you have a buyer for my property?” I’m a listing agent. My basic business is representing families and attorneys – that’s a different skill than driving people around in my car to show them property. On average, my experience is, buyer’s agents who drive around with buyers, are going to make 30K- 40K a year. I can I make 10 times that because I give valuable service to my customers: the attorneys, the executors I work with. Underneath me I have buyer’s agents who I will send out to show properties because really, driving, you get paid like an Uber driver, and showing property get paid like a clerk at a at a grocery store. But negotiating and writing contracts and making the business decisions with your client and helping them make the right strategic decisions, that’s where the value as a realtor can bring to a transaction – that’s what I do.
BG: Well I think at the end of the day, you know, you have to look for what you want and be clear on that. I think that the assumption is, “Oh, that’s how business is done, so I have to go along with that” – that’s a mistake. Each executor’s situation is unique, and so I think you have to think about what do you want to accomplish and what resources do you need. Now, you may not know how to get them, but a partner like a Certified Probate Expert like me should be able to help bring those resources to you. I tell people, “Either I’m the guy to solve the problem or I’ll get a guy to solve the problem or gal”, but my job is to solve the problem. I may or may not have the right person in my Rolodex, and I’ve done a lot of business, but you know I just because I know an estate sell person in one area of town doesn’t mean they’ll work in the other area of town. Or that person might be busy this month, and you need them now. So you need somebody who’s going to take responsibility to solve those problems with you as a partner. That’s what I think as Certified Probate Expert. That’s what I seek to do is to say, “Hey, let’s work together, roll up our sleeves, and solve your problems, not just my problem.”
EX: Thank you Bill for joining the first Estate Talk!
Bill Gross’ leadership in the area of Probate Real Estate has brought much-needed attention to the probate specialist and the Certified Probate Expert Certification. Bill, among other things, is a Realtor, licensed in California, Investor, and a teacher.
Disclaimer: The opinions of Executorium’s Estate Talks hosts and Estate Talks guests is not necessarily the opinion of Executorium.com LLC, its principals or its employees.