Real estate


Keep vacation homes from splintering your family tree

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Matt Parker, a Seattle real estate agent and author of “Real Estate Smart,” offers tips on how relatives can share a vacation house without putting a strain on the family:

People I’ve known have had diabolical family fights based on summer cabins. The second most difficult type of real estate transaction to navigate is one where there’s multiple siblings trying to decide what to do with a property they’ve inherited. If four names are on a property, you need four signatures to sell [it].

In most cases, there is a family that clearly likes the cabin more and can handle the responsibility. A lot of times, it would be as simple as the person who’s passing the cabin on to just say: “Hey look, brother Johnny clearly likes it more than anyone else. Is it OK if we give it to him and subtract it from his inheritance?” And then you still have a friendly agreement that the rest of you can use it several weekends a year. You need a chain of command and a rotating schedule of who gets [certain] holidays.

A lot of our parents worked very hard over the course of their life. Maybe they lived meagerly. When they get older, they think Well I’ve sacrificed my whole life, and I want to do a wonderful thing for my children and give them a summer cabin. The problem is, our generation’s net worth is far less than that, [and] you have disparate siblings trying to manage these properties.


You want one [sibling who] can pay the taxes and make executive decisions. It’s like in the military; you have one leader. [You could] have a governing agreement decided upon before the person who’s passing [the property] on dies. Grandma could say: “Look, I’m giving you this property in good faith, and here are the rules: You all pay taxes quarterly to this person. If you don’t pay taxes to this person, this will happen. Every year you’re to put $2,000 into this account that will go to making improvements on the property.”

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When negotiating with your family, you always want to frame it so you’re putting their best interests first. You’re not asking them for money; you’re telling them you’re protecting their investment. Face-to-face meetings are good. After you’ve had that loving conversation, you can start a paper trail and say, “We’re not going to continue to incur the taxes and maintenance on this property, so we want to let you know that if we don’t receive these payments, we’re going to try to find a way out of this deal.” You have to take a loving but also a really stern approach. If you don’t do that, the moochers are gonna keep mooching.

This interview had been edited and condensed. Send comments to