Dear Jeanne & Leonard:
My siblings and I recently inherited a house from our father, a house that my sister’s ex-husband wants to buy. He and my sister remain on good terms, and we are happy to sell it to him. Here’s why I’m writing: Dad’s house was assessed for $550,000. Selling it directly to my sister’s ex would mean that we wouldn’t have to pay a commission to a real estate agent. What’s the fair way to handle the fact that, by selling it ourselves, we’ll be keeping more of the $550,000 than we otherwise would?
— Gary, Santa Barbara, California
Humor us: Before you do anything else, look up the estimated value of your father’s home on a couple of real estate websites, such as Zillow and Trulia, and be certain that $550,000 is a reasonable price for the house. There are assessments, and then there are assessments. The one you have might not reflect the true value of your father’s home.
To answer your question, though: When a house is sold without the involvement of a real estate agent, the buyer typically negotiates a small discount from what the house would otherwise sell for to reflect the real estate commission the seller doesn’t have to pay. In the situation you describe — one in which apparently nothing is being negotiated — the fair thing to do is to split that savings 50/50 with the buyer.
One more thing: Don’t forget that you will still need to hire a title company to handle the paperwork associated with the sale of the home. In most real estate markets, there is a well-established custom as to who pays for these services. The title company you retain can tell you whether, in your location, the buyer or the seller conventionally pays these fees plus any transfer taxes, and that’s who should pay them in your case.