“Our daughter is getting divorced and plans to list their home with an agent she really likes from a parenting group they both belong to. I feel the personal closeness may not be a good idea, but I don’t want to give her bad advice. What would you suggest?”
– A Santa Monica Homeowner’s Mother
I wonder how the husband feels, and if they are all good friends. It may put a great burden on the agent and could be more stressful on the various relationships if they are all quite close and the agent switches roles from “friend” to “agent”.
In times of crisis or stress, some people may be more vulnerable than under ordinary circumstances. When children are involved, it only adds to the emotional difficulties and challenges for the whole family. Selling a home can be somewhat stressful under normal conditions and certainly much more so when a relationship is also being terminated. I think at such times that a completely neutral and objective agent might be best suited to help all parties involved.
When sellers are stressed by a separation or divorce, it poses logistical and emotional challenges for both of them and their real estate agent. In many instances, the communication difficulties require that the agent have a good deal of counseling skills and the ability to remain focused on succeeding in the home-selling process.
Before signing a listing agreement, all parties should agree that the agent’s job is to sell the home at the best possible price, and not to take sides in any personal dispute or differences. If all parties agree to focus on that job at hand, the objective third-party agent will be better able to succeed for both of the sellers’ best interests. For that reason, it may be much better for the sellers to select an agent who is not related or a close friend with either seller.
It should be agreed that all correspondence and communication will be made to both spouses, whether concurrently or successively. It may also be helpful to follow up any phone conversations with memos. Both spouses should also sign every document used in the selling process, from the listing information and authorization to all of the necessary disclosure paperwork, whether or not they are still living together.
As an intermediary, the agent’s role should include firmly focusing all of the parties on the job of selling the home for the best price. If the couple is not in agreement on that, then it may be better for all concerned to delay marketing until they are in agreement.
Likewise, it would be ideal if both sellers are present when an offer is presented – or at least when it is discussed. This “presence” could be done by a conference call if meeting in the same room would be too difficult for one or both of the spouses. If one spouse is not responsive to a good offer, the agent’s role should be to encourage the process of negotiation. If one spouse seems to be making the process difficult, their agent should remind them that every unnecessary roadblock ultimately could result in less money in their pockets.
Since every situation is unique in one way or another, the sellers should be strongly advised to consult with an attorney and/or accountant for information from their areas of expertise. A real estate agent is not qualified to give legal or accounting advice. For example, if there is no agreement on how to divide the proceeds from the sale, each spouse should consult their attorney as well as an accountant. Filing tax returns is another area where expertise is critical. A tax expert can help each to determine their filing status, depending on the time of the sale and the filing of the divorce decree.
The sooner the sale process is completed, the sooner each spouse can more easily get on with their new lives. If the sale gets bogged down by relationship battles or underlying ill feelings, it may delay the process to a point that the home sells for less than it could have.
Michael Edlen has counseled many separated or divorcing couples about the sale of their home. His professional approach has been very helpful to dozens of clients in the process of making difficult decisions about real estate. He can be reached at 310.230.7373 or by email at Michael@MichaelEdlen.com.