Sell, Wait or Develop? Seeking the maximum income from property bequests

October 27, 2021

For the majority of donors, the highest value asset they own will be their house. For charities receiving property as gifts this could amount to a sizeable percentage of their total income making obtaining full value from a property’s sale a critical part of a legacy officer’s duties.

In this year’s Excellence in Legacy Administration conference on 2nd December, Rebecca Massey, Senior Legacy Management Lead, Cancer Research UK and James Stebbings, Head of Legacy Income, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Chair of the Institute of Legacy Management, share how their charities manage the administration of property gifts. You can click here to book a discounted ticket to the conference.

A sellers’ market?

Due to the recent pause on stamp duty, and the increased demand for non-urban property caused by the pandemic, the past two years have seen a significant increase in house prices. Surely ideal conditions for making the most of a property gift? But does a quick sale in economically unstable conditions mean the highest income was achieved? What if the property in question has fallen into disrepair – or local planning issues cause a delay to the sale?

Rebecca Massey: “30% of Cancer Research UK’s legacy income derives from legacy property sales, and this funds up to 20% of our cancer research. These gifts are vital for all charities. In a period of economic uncertainty, a Legacy Officer’s role in protecting and identifying opportunities to maximise the benefit of property gifts has never been more important.”

Working with other charities and third parties

Often, a single property bequest will be shared between several charities of various sizes, each with its own income requirements, and differing levels of urgency for that income. Add to that the possible involvement (and interests) of lay executors, the opinion of neighbours and local authorities on planning permission, and the resulting case can be a masterclass in stakeholder management.

How can a charity simplify the process of the case, and take the lead on a property bequest and keep all the parties involved on side during the various stages of the process?

James Stebbings: “Whilst executors have a duty to beneficiaries to get best value from property sales, it is the charities who derive the benefit and have the motivation to achieve full value. I believe charities can significantly increase their income by helping the executor identify the right experts to assist with the sale and, where necessary, challenging them. We should be looking for opportunities to suggest a change of estate agents, get surveyors reports to advise on alternative methods of sale or a realistic valuation or perhaps even justifying investing funds in preparing the property for sale. This isn’t needed in all cases but whenever there are issues with the sale our involvement can add significant value.”

Time management

Aside from stakeholder management and third-party issues, a complex property gift case will necessitate many additional hours of attention by often over-stretched legacy teams. How can legacy managers decide when their team has given enough time and resources to a property case – and when should they draw a line under proceedings and settle on a sale?

James Stebbings: “Sometimes we just have to accept that a sale, at a lower price than hoped, is preferable to waiting for an offer that might never arrive. This is particularly the case with retirement properties where often there is significant depreciation from the initial sale price. It is often worth spending money on a report by an ILM corporate partner or other trusted advisor to give you the confidence to accept a lower offer than initially expected.”

You can hear more on this discussion – and add your experiences of property bequests – at the Excellence in Legacy Administration conference – online on 2nd December. Book your place here to take part in the day.


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