In a perfect world, all separating couples would adopt a sensible, collaborative, co-operative approach to the sale of their home. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
Being aware of and sensitive to the potential issues which may arise in the sale of a home as the result of a separation, can help you prepare and plan. As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed.
Every separation is unique, however some areas of dispute amongst divorcing couples in the context of a house sale are:
- The sale process (everything from advertising campaign, price, terms of sale).
- Work to be done to the property (improvements or maintenance) to prepare it for sale – whether it is necessary and if so, who bears the cost.
- Contribution to the cost of preparing the home for sale (particularly when one party does not have access to money until the final settlement takes place).
- Maintenance of the property for open homes (who is responsible for cleaning, lawn mowing, gardening and who pays for it)
- Logistics on the day of an auction, particularly if the relationship is strained or if there are family violence issues.
- Release of the deposit monies. Sometimes one party is wanting to access the deposit as soon as possible and the other party doesn’t agree.
Having regard to the common problem areas for separating couples, here are five tips for real estate agents working with separated couples:
- As you might well imagine, there is a spectrum for where couples sit after a separation that ranges from acrimonious to amicable.
Even if relations are relatively civil, selling a home can involve a number of big decisions which can trigger one or both of the parties and exacerbate an already strained relationship. Getting an idea early on, either from the parties themselves or the lawyers involved, may help you understand what to expect and tailor your campaign.
- Similarly, it might be helpful to gauge the level and nature of the communication between the parties.
Many times poor communication patterns established during a marriage can continue into separation. In other cases communication breaks down post-separation because of all the stress that comes with the situation.
Don’t assume parties can or will be able to communicate effectively between themselves. Based on your initial and ongoing assessment of the communication level between the parties, be clear with them about what they can expect from you in terms of communication and be consistent in your communication with each of them.
Remember sometimes trust is at an all-time low for the parties concerned, and so information communicated to one party before another may be viewed as a lack of impartiality. Taking detailed notes or using written communications may help alleviate some of these issues.
- Be prudent about finding out whether there are any family violence considerations you need to be aware of, for example intervention orders in place which prevent or restrict the parties from being at the property, in proximity to one another or communicating with one another.
- If possible, factor in longer than usual response times from the parties. It may be the client will want to run something past their lawyer before they give instructions and therefore there may be associated delays.
- Often much emotion is wrapped up with the matrimonial home and sometimes one party is a reluctant seller. If one party is being particularly unco-operative and the parties are legally represented, it may be the lawyers need to negotiate over the details of the sale.
Similarly, it may be one of the parties needs more support through the process from someone like a divorce coach – who can act as a sounding board to think through decisions.
You are a professional retained for a specific purpose in the process. Don’t hesitate to refer the client on to other supports or advisers if they are struggling.