Monday, November 11, 2019

5 Steps to Selling a House During a Divorce

As if going through a divorce wasn't stressful enough, adding the sale of a jointly owned home turns the process into a minefield.

Whether the home is occupied by both partners, only one, or neither, decisions about the sale will take ongoing cooperation -- something that's often missing when a couple is calling it quits. If you are currently in the process of divorcing, or perhaps contemplating a divorce, the more you educate yourself about your rights and how the home home selling process happens, the more you'll be able to protect yourself now and ongoing, as well as create a quick sale at a good price.

Dissolving joint ownership of property, although painful, is a necessary step so each of you can establish independent finances. Done equitably, you'll both will get money you need to start over.

The sale also allows both of you to see yourselves in a new light.

If you are sure you are going to sell the house, you should have already consulted a divorce lawyer. Laws regarding jointly owned property vary from state to state, and you'll need to know your rights. 

Then, to help you make sensible decisions and create a peaceful transaction, review these five steps to selling your home.

1. Choose a Real Estate Agent

I never recommend selling a house without a real estate professional, and especially when the owners are divorcing. The agent provides a buffer and acts as a mediator just by nature of the job description.

If you and your ex-to-be agree that the agent you worked with when you bought the house is a great match for you, see if that agent is still available. If not, you can each make a list of agents you know or who have been recommended. Then, you can compare lists and see if any one name pops up on both lists.

Alternatively, you could each enlist the aid of a friend or relative, and these two people could as a "committee" choose a real estate agent together. The important thing is that you not begin the process of selling by arguing about who the listing agent will be.

Do not hire a personal friend or one of your relatives as your agent. You want someone both parties implicitly trust and feel comfortable with, and you don't want to put a friend or family member in what could become an uncomfortable position.

Image: simplehousedfw.com

2. Decide on the listing price.

You can't set a listing price based on how much money you need. Or on what you originally paid for the house. Or what the Zillow Zestimate is. You need relevant facts and figures to establish its current market value.

Your Realtor will give you the data necessary to determine an asking price for your property. He or she will examine homes like yours in your area that have sold in the past three months and then zero in on a fair price. The agent might also show you specs on homes that have sales pending, and homes near you that have not sold, including how many days they have been on the market, and homes that have lowered their prices waiting for a serious buyer. All this info will give you the big picture,

You could also pay for an appraisal by a licensed real estate appraiser. He will survey other sold properties and compare them to the condition, features, and location of your home.   

When you base your asking price on what the research shows as fair market value, you're more likely to sell quickly for a price you can't argue with. Rather than bump heads with your ex-to-be, you're deferring to the unbiased experts --- the Realtor and the appraiser. This deferring is a common tactic all successful negotiators use.

Your buyers, if they finance the purchase, will pay for their own appraisal, and it may not jive with yours, but that's okay. At least you've set your asking price and you're ready to list it, show it, and accept offers.

Once your home is staged, and you've removed personal objects, you'll see it with new eyes. It's always best if one spouse moves out, and the other takes responsibility for keeping the home show-ready. Photo: Meg Braff 


3. Fix and Stage the house.

Before the house can be shown to potential buyers, you'll need to get it market-ready for the competition it will face. Here's where things can get dicey, when you and your "insignificant other" may differ on what needs to be fixed, removed or replaced.

Almost every home needs minor repairs before it is ready for showings. Rather than bicker over what needs to be done and who will pay, once again it's best to get the opinions of your Realtor. Making these decisions will call for maturity and level-headedness. Remember that you both want the same outcome -- a sold home, so it's no time for petty jealousies or vindictiveness.

If you can jointly draft a list of repairs and updates deemed necessary to command a good selling price, and then get price quotes, and split the bill evenly, that's ideal. Otherwise, one party might provide the labor and the other one the money. Or agree to some other equitable arrangement, depending on your financial circumstances.

Hopefully, you can both agree on the necessity of staging. Staging the home will help you both disentangle emotionally from the property. Once family keepsakes, valuables, photos, and memorabilia are removed, it's easier to see the house as a major investment instead of "our home."

DIY home staging can be economical. Try to agree on a budget in line with the value of the property. According to Realtor.com, a staged home sells for 20% more than an unstaged home, and staged homes sell 88% faster than ones that aren't. With these statistics in mind, it's easier to justify spending some money on things like repairs, painting and some trendy, new accessories. One percent of your asking price is a realistic figure to use when you calculate how much to alot for home staging.

Do not let your listing agent include terms like "motivated buyer," "must sell," "all offers considered." It only makes you look desperate.


4. Review offers together

When the time comes to review purchase offers from potential buyers, you'll need to work together to make sure you both feel you're getting a good deal. Your agent will advise you during this process, but you and your ex-to-be will ultimately be making the decision together. Follow the lead of your Realtor. You are paying for his or her expertise.

No matter what kind of offers you get, always counteroffer. It will keep the negotiating ball in the air and can lead to an agreement. It's best if your buyers not know that you are divorcing. It will only encourage low ball offers and hard-nosed negotiating.

5. Let lawyers distribute the money 

You don't need to sweat the division of the proceeds once the house has been sold. The escrow company will distribute the money to you and your ex after all the obligations on the house and other payments have been made. The attorney you hire will educate you about laws in your state. 

In the U.S. between 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce. So, you're not alone if you are in the midst of the divorce process. Selling the home can be a rocky road, but it doesn't have to be. It takes patience and compromises for both partners to cooperate and trust their real estate and legal advisers. Once the house sells, you'll both be ready financially and emotionally for a new start.

For more valuable tips on how to get your home ready to sell, be sure to check out my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar. Go here to see what you get!


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