As the housing market continues to normalize, FORCE agents are starting to lend their unique skill sets to other niche real estate markets. FORCE member Jack Lewitz is branching out into the field of probate, trusts, and public guardianship.


As we all know, the real estate market in many areas is getting back to normal, and there are fewer short sales and REO properties on the market,” says Jack Lewitz of IL Real Estate Specialists. “So agents need to remarket themselves and use some of their skills to service other markets. One of those markets that has interested me is working with probate, trusts, and public guardianship.”

About 55 percent of Americans die without a will or estate plan, according to the American Bar Association. Without a will, their real estate goes into probate and must often require court confirmation to sell. While some real estate agents do not wish to deal with the extended timeline and sometimes complex process of selling a property through probate, FORCE agents already possess many of the skills needed to succeed in this niche.


A Natural Fit for FORCE Agents

Stepping into the world of probate and trust might require a little additional research, but FORCE agents experienced in the world of REO have already dealt with many of the issues that arise with these types of property sales.

“I feel Five Star agents are well qualified to work with estates, trust, and public guardianship clients, and I hope to pursue this as my own business plan,” Lewitz said.

“Some of the issues that we as REO agents face on a daily basis are similar issues with estate sales,” he explained. “Many of the properties have deferred maintenance issues and may have multiple liens from real estate tax, city water, HOA, reverse mortgage, etc. These properties may also have title issues, executor, or family disputes if there were no wills designating transfer of ownership upon the owner’s death.” Agents who have worked with REO properties generally already have a list of vendors on hand to call for property maintenance and upkeep. They also have extensive experience dealing with title issues, second liens, HOAs, and reverse mortgages.


A Bird’s Eye View

Here’s a quick overview of probates, trusts, and public guardianship:

Probate—“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. The laws of each state vary,” according to the American Bar Association.

Probate sales often require court confirmation and take a bit longer than a traditional sale. Generally, when a buyer makes an initial offer, it must be accompanied by a 10 percent deposit. If the seller accepts the offer, the court must then confirm it. A 30 to 45 day waiting period follows, during which the property is advertised at the price offered by the potential buyer. After this period, any interested parties must appear in court to bid on the property.

Trust—A trust is “an arrangement whereby property is legally owned and managed by an individual or corporate fiduciary as trustee for the benefit of another, called a beneficiary, who is the equitable owner of the property,” according to the American Bar Association. The trustee is responsible for the property sale and property disclosures. Trust sales often take less time than a probate sale and function more like a traditional sale, though they also may face obstacles such as second liens, HOAs, etc.

Public Guardianship—Each state has an Office of Public Guardian to serve as guardians or conservators for incapacitated adults who do not have a family member or friend who is able to serve as their guardian or conservator.


How to Get Started

While training and certifications are available for agents hoping to specialize in probate and trust sales, none is required.

“I believe no specific additional training would be necessary,” Lewitz said.

Lewitz’s background in REOs, combined with his Master of Social Work degree, give him a unique
 set of skills to handle the logistical tasks of the sales, as well as helping him work with grieving families.

“I have recently reached out to attorneys who do probate, trust, estate law; and called the Cook County Public Guardians office to get more insight on the needs of the clients they serve,” Lewitz said.

Forming relationships with title attorneys is a good place to start. Agents can research their local bar association to find real estate or probate and estate planning lawyers. Attending programs and events hosted by these groups is a great way to make contact and develop personal relationships with these attorneys, according to a webinar by Better Homes and Gardens / Mason-McDuffie.

Another way to capture probate leads is to peruse newspaper listings and county courthouse records for probate files. Look to see if there
 is real estate involved, and then contact the executor.

As with REOs, probate properties can take longer to sell and 
be a bit more complicated than
 a traditional sale, but for agents willing to put in the extra effort, there is a large volume of properties available. The probate niche is a vast and stable one.