Jeremy talks to Catherine Masters from OneRoof about selling your home during a separation.
Selling a house is stressful enough without the piled on pressure of an acrimonious divorce, siblings who are snapping at each other over their late parents’ home, or for people in financial hardship who have the bank nipping at their heels.
All sorts of pressure cooker situations can lead to the need to sell a house but when there is high emotion in play the advice is to pause as best you can, take a breath and get everything sorted before you list.
Jelena Freeman, of Premium Real Estate on the North Shore, says an agent’s job involves a lot of hand holding when people are going through tough times.
She says people need to have someone alongside them who is supportive, not judgmental, who can give solid advice, be that person a friend, a senior member of the family or a lawyer.
“Don’t try to handle these situations by yourself, it’s too much. It’s overwhelming – you’re going through emotional upheaval, you’ve got stress, you might make the wrong decisions.”
Once the decision to sell has been made, the next important task is to find a good agent – and they are out there, Freeman says.
“Some people think agents are the devil incarnate but if they find a good agent who’s been in the business a long time, who has a good reputation. And if they’re honest from the get go with the agent, an agent can be your biggest and strongest advocate.”
If someone tells Freeman their husband has cancer and they can’t afford care, Freeman says she will give 150 per cent and fight for the last $5000 from the sale.
It’s important to be honest with the agent from the start because the situation affects the method of sale they will recommend, she says.
If somebody says “oh, my God, I’m in the poo, I’ve got to sell this for the mortgage, or my husband needs treatment overseas, we need everything we can get out of it” Freeman will likely recommend sale by auction which can provide the cash they need.
On the other hand “if there’s a bunch of beneficiaries arguing over mum and dad’s property” she will more likely recommend a tender process.
“A tender is for five working days which means all the beneficiaries can sit around a table, they can take their time, they can choose the offer that’s going to be the easiest for them or that’s going to return them what they need to move on.”
And for the couple in the middle of that messy divorce? An auction would be the best bet, Freeman says.
“Because it’s visible to both parties. It’s a transparent process. No one’s going to say ‘oh, you screwed me over’ or ‘that was done secretly’.
“It’s above board, it’s irrefutable and it’s visible, social proof. There’s no arguing about it. It’s clean.
“You cannot kill each other over an auction.”
Divorce lawyer Jeremy Sutton says bitterness gets in the way of the process sometimes, often in the first six to 12 months of the break up.
Over time, though, if people get support from their family or get some counseling, time tends to heal things a bit.
His advice includes people having conversations about what is going to happen in terms of the details – is the house going to be staged, what will happen to the chattels, does the roof need replacing or is there painting needed?
“You need to talk about those things which is sometimes quite hard but it’s best to talk rather than go through a lawyer because obviously a lawyer is too expensive.”
An agent has to be found that each person is comfortable with, as well, he says.
“If you can agree all the terms before the property is placed on the market then it’s just mechanics after the property is sold. But if you haven’t agreed to all of those things, then the money will just remain in the solicitor’s trust account after the sale.
“For example, if the property is going to be sold by x agent and it doesn’t sell at auction, then what’s to happen after that? If the property is listed with x agent for so many days and it doesn’t sell, what’s to happen?”
UP Real Estate director Barry Thom also urges people in crisis get the details sorted ahead of listing.
“If there’s not fundamental agreement as to what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it then it can be an exercise in frustration.”
There are often instances of people who want to take the house to auction only for the agent to find out at the last minute the matrimonial settlement has not been agreed – and if that’s not signed off, one party might refuse to sell until it is which holds everything up.
“You learn these things the hard way but often you’re not told the whole story,” says Thom.
Once all this has been sorted out, the usual rules apply around getting the house ready for sale, such as, landscaping/gardening, decluttering and painting.
But even this can cause issues in a break up.
Often one party has moved out and the house is not in a good state but the owners quibble about what to do to get it ready.
The end result is a house that goes to market unprepared and doesn’t fetch as good a sum as it might have.
This article was first published in OneRoof.