This is the first piece of my 3 part blog post series, "Maximizing Your Divorce Sale" which centers on the unique elements of selling your home while separating a household. If you are searching for the best Divorce attorneys north of Boston be sure to contact me privately for my personal favorites list.
Divorce is known to be one of the most stressful events that can happen in an adult's lifetime. I can help alleviate a lot of that stress. Today, we will start with my best advice for selling your home when both parties agree parting with the property is the appropriate next step and the home has equity. Next, we will talk about what happens when one party wants to keep the house. Finally, in part three, we will address what to do when the home is worth less than what's owed including tips to avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy.
I tackle divorce sales with sensitive, but smart strategies for my clients. I have worked with divorcing couples that made me doubt that they really needed to divorce, they worked so well together. Some divorcing couples made me wonder how they ever agreed to marriage never mind to buy a house, they were so at odds. And many are simply going through the normal but difficult process.
Over the past 8 years and few hundred sales, I have seen it all. My experience helping divorcing clients will eliminate a lot of stress but ultimately it's my "no drama" policy that will protect your feelings along the way. There are many things to consider when a couple separates and needs to sell property. I compiled my best advice to get you through this time and minimize your headaches.
1. PROPER PREPARATION.
All sales require preparation. Divorce sales require a tad bit more.
Do not tell your neighbors.
Do not tell your coworkers.
Do not tell anyone who doesn't NEED to know why your house is going on the market.
Be selective with the information you broadcast to your followers on social media. Avoid Facebooking your feelings about the home sale. Do not make posts like "Selling due to divorce — great big colonial" or "If this house doesn't sell tomorrow, I don't know what I'll do. " Be sure your agent is clear that your personal business is not to be discussed in person or in ads. You would be surprised but I have seen over sharing happen many times. If you are looking to share about your house sale, try posting content that shows how popular your listing is like this: "I can't believe we have to eat out again tonight. My house has had so many showings in the past few days, I can't get the time to cook in my kitchen that I love so much." Sappy yes, but effective.
When a buyer looks at a "distress" sale, they assume there is a financial need to sell. Often, I have seen agents put in remarks "divorce sale, allow extra time for response." Yup. It's true. This is the worst.
You do not want to publicize the details of your personal situation. You want to maximize the value of your home. Your house is on the market, so the public only needs to know that you are selling your house. It is your private business as to the exact reason.
2. CAREFULLY SELECT YOUR AGENT.
Hiring a family friend, as your agent, seems like a good idea when they offer to help you reduce costs. However, in reality, I see this decision cause more issues than it helps. Often, I am called in after the family friend has bowed out due to conflict. It ends up wasting valuable time and money for all involved.
When emotions are high, you want the cleanest sale possible. Being represented by someone who didn't attend your wedding and won't get involved in the back and forth, is your optimal choice. You want to select someone with a track record of successful divorce sales. You need a realtor that cares about your situation and has the strength to let both parties know the truth about the situation. Read first hand reviews from my past clients here.
3. ESTABLISH GROUND RULES FOR EXCELLENT COMMUNICATION.
Often during a separation communication becomes a nightmare. One person over thinks everything that the other says and how they say it. Let your agent be the one to keep the lines of communication open. I see it as my job to communicate with both parties fairly and honestly. To avoid any confusion or added drama, I have systems in place so all parties are updated at the same time for all showings, feedback, traffic reports, and offers. I have clients that prefer not to be together on group emails, so I can notify them separately to avoid awkward times. I also have clients that feel it is best to only speak with all parties present. Always let your agent know your preferences up front, so no one is missed. A communication plan prevents either party from feeling as though they are not an active participant, if they want to be involved. For those who prefer not to be involved, my staff and I have you covered. We have been through this literally hundreds of times and are committed to being your best advocate.
4. ACCURATELY ASSESSING YOUR PROPERTY'S VALUE.
When there is property involved in a divorce and the decision is made to liquidate this asset, it's not at all uncommon to want the most the market will bear, in order to split proceeds and move on to the rebuilding period of your life. The most common issues occur when one party feels the home is more valuable than it's truly worth. One way to avoid this is to have an appraisal completed by a neutral third party. I work with many local appraisers who truly understand our community value. This is crucial to you when selling. Post appraisal, if the non-believer still isn't a believer, have another done at their expense and average the two to give you your list price. Yes, as crazy as it sounds, this works.
5. YOUR LISTING MATERIALS MATTER!
You have made the decision to put the home on the market, you have your price and now it's time to put your best foot forward. I take great care when introducing a home to the market because your listing description is the best opportunity you have to make a great impression on a potential buyer. I've read some doozies over the years and have learned helpful inclusions and harmful portrayals.
Again, you have no need to share with the world that your home is a "divorce sale". Instead, I recommend including in the listing description visible to agents (not public buyers) that you are "selling the home AS IS – no repairs to be made by seller". That way, if the buyer has a home inspection, they already understand there are to be no renegotiations. This will minimize the added strain on both parties and avoid further internal negotiations. Arguing over whether or not one person was supposed to fix the leaky faucet, three years ago, only keeps the conflict going unnecessarily.
It is also helpful for the sellers to write a comprehensive sellers statement to provide comfort to prospective buyers. If you are taking any sentimental fixtures with you, detail them for the buyer. Often a buyer will fall in love with a certain light fixture and request that it remains. Sometimes one person will believe that the other doesn't want it and agree to leave it, causing confusion and stress that should have been avoided. Ultimately, the best solution here is to have anything that will not remain with the home removed before it even hits the market.
Lastly, clearly communicate to your agent what timing is acceptable for closing. How soon do you want to go or how long do you need? If you have kids in school that can't be moved, you will want your agent to know from Day 1, so everything is done to keep them from being bounced around.
6. HOW TO HANDLE SHOWINGS?
If both parties are living in the home, you'll need to have a calendar in place of what days/times for showings are acceptable at least a week ahead. It's best to follow your local proven structure on timing that works. I have a science that works for predicting the most likely showing times, most heavily trafficked open house times and best days. This varies by house type, price point, town, etc. Ask your agent what strategy will work best, share the times in your ads and remember this isn't something to argue over. It's simply the best way to maximize your exposure. Bend a little here and it will protect your bottom line. Be flexible.
Be clear on whose responsibility it is to keep the house clean for showings. Resort to a good old fashioned chore chart if needed. I suggest hiring a good cleaning company, so there is no need to worry about whether it gets done or not. If you are north of Boston or in Southern NH and need a recommendation, let me know. I have a local favorites who are reasonable and fabulous!
7. YOU TOOK MY ADVICE AND NOW YOU HAVE AN OFFER!
You would think this is the best day of the process, however, this is where things can get very complicated as emotions run high. I recommend after assessment, when we have set the list price, that my clients have a pre-agreed upon sale price. If an offer comes in above it, you are thrilled. If an offer comes in below it, you have a starting ground and can negotiate upwards. Time is of the essence when an offer comes in. This pre-planning will help you act quickly and ultimately get more when the sale is viewed as "easy" for the buyer, instead of "delayed" due to parties bickering over a response.
Occasionally, one person will not yet be ready to truly move on and it isn't until some "evil, awful person that is trying to steal their house " shows up that they realize they may not be 100% ready for this. No amount of preparation can take away the sting of knowing newlyweds want your house, when your heart is broken, but this is the time to focus on your new happy life, where you are the sole decision maker. Don't get distracted from the goal, stay the course and move on with your next steps.
TIP: If you aren't 100% sure your agent is fighting to get you every dollar in negotiations, keep your agreed upon sale price between the sellers and attorneys.
8. PRIOR TO CLOSING DAY.
Both parties will need to decide on the division of belongings and furniture. Be clear, in writing who gets what prior to closing. This will avoid awkward conversations at the last minute that can cause issues when one person claims Aunt Edna's bureau and the other remembers as being their Aunt Sophie's.
Having been through a divorce sale, prior to my real estate career, I know what it's like to be on both sides. I take an empathetic approach to ensure everyone feels valued and has the level of participation that they are comfortable with. I don't get involved in back and forth; however, I do everything in my power to create a scenario that eliminates the need for drama. When everyone understands the level playing field, there are fewer opportunities for conflict to arise.
I hope this post is helpful to couples amidst a divorce. Stay tuned for Part 2 & Part 3 of my "Maximizing Your Divorce Sale" series to learn even more about successfully handling different types of divorce sales including when there is little or no equity and what to do when one party can't move on. Do not hesitate to call me today, if your family needs my help or to be connected to my most trusted contacts — 978.457.3406.