Legally, probate is the court’s procedure to determine the validity of the deceased’s will and verify the identity of the beneficiaries.
A typical scenario is that Grandma Smith died. She bequeathed everything to her loser son, Bobby. Bobby doesn’t have the money or fortitude to fix up the house, so he sells it, as is, through probate. "Most of the time these houses have worn shag carpet from 1978, rhinoceros wallpaper, and will smell like an 80-year-old woman," explains real estate agent John Barnette. "This is exactly what you want."
Because of the often poor condition and the insanely frustrating and complex purchase process (every state’s is different, but can include putting 10 percent down at the time of the sale), these houses generally sell for 5 to 10 percent under their value. In real estate, these are huge numbers.
Furthermore, if the deceased died in the house, the property could be even more undervalued. Many cultures view living in a house where someone died as strictly taboo; others simply view it as gross.
But if you don’t mind having a clay-stained Patrick Swayze massaging your shoulders every time you do the dishes, a probate sale is a gold-mine opportunity for the truly adventurous (and nonsuperstitious).
Join Dwell+ to Continue
Subscribe to Dwell+ to get everything you already love about Dwell, plus exclusive home tours, video features, how-to guides, access to the Dwell archive, and more.
You can cancel at any time.