This article was originally published in Real Estate Agent Magazine Twin Cities, written by Charity Malmberg, Founder and President of Trademark Title


You’re in a bustling open house and you hear your cellphone ring. The caller on the other end says they’re looking for an agent to help them sell a home, and sell it quick. They mention something about a relative dying and needing to get rid of the property before leaving town. You’ve never met this person and you know very little about them. Though the temptation may be to get right to work getting the house out on the market, the first step you need to take is to verify the seller’s authority.

It’s easy to assume that someone trying to sell a home would have the authority or rights to do so, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes an individual may even think they have the authority to sell the home, but digging a little deeper will reveal they don’t.

As a professional and business owner, when you come across these scenarios, it’s important to do your homework. The last thing you want to do is harm your business or reputation by being hasty and helping an individual sell when they don’t have the legal authority to do so.

Common Scenarios to Watch For
Here are a few common scenarios in which the seller may not actually have the authority to sell. We’ve offered a few tips on how to verify the seller’s authority in each scenario, but keep in mind that there may be more work to be done. Checking tax records at the county level will help ensure you are working with the correct party. Always go the extra mile, checking with estate attorneys, legal attorneys, your broker and your title company to ensure you are working in the right direction. The information contained is not to be used for or in place of legal advice.

  1. The seller’s parents or relatives owned the property and are now deceased. In this scenario you need to ensure that ownership of the home has actually legally switched to the seller. Check with their estate attorney and have them look into the intricacies of the will, if there was one. Sometimes an appointment of a personal representative will be needed for these instances.
  2. A person selling a home on behalf of the seller (power of attorney). Check to be sure that the seller has achieved legal power of attorney for the individual they are signing off for. Keep a copy for your file. Keep in mind, that as they sign documents, they sign their own name and then POA for__. They should never sign someone else’s name.
  3. The seller is a trust. Though the seller may have partial responsibility for the property and home, this does not guarantee that they have the right to actually sell the home. There may be several trustees and perhaps only one has the authority to actually sell the property. Double-check with the attorney who drafted the trust instrument and ask to take a look at the documentation to confirm which trustee or co-trustees have the authority to sign the paperwork.

Once you’ve uncovered the seller’s authority to sign, be sure they sign the correct title behind their name otherwise it may cause you to have invalid listing contracts and sales contracts.

Though these scenarios may not come up often, it’s important to be prepared. Many times uncovering these scenarios during the closing process is too late. Estate issues can cause weeks or even months of delays, for example after an appointment of a personal representative there is a 30-day wait time to ensure validity of the document. Keep yourself and your business safe by extending the little extra effort it takes to ensure your closing won’t be postponed or worse yet canceled.