Divorces are extremely difficult for everyone involved. In addition to the emotional and psychological pain of a failed marriage, many divorced or divorcing couples often must face the challenges of selling a home, which can be a very tricky situation for even the most experienced agent

  • Divorces are an unfortunate reality in life and real estate, and each one presents unique challenges and opportunities to the agents involved.
  • Both the selling and buying agents need to be extremely patient in these cases, and work together to overcome the emotional and psychological issues of their clients.
  • The selling agent of a “divorce home” should be upfront with their colleague on the situation at hand, while the buying agent should advise their clients to be reasonable with their offers.

donna-bloomIn this monthly column, a member of Miami’s Master Brokers Forum will examine and
positively resolve potential differences that may arise between real estate professionals in the field.

This month’s edition is written by Master Broker Donna Bloom, a broker-associate with Douglas Elliman in Coconut Grove.

The situation: Two Miami real estate agents must work together to overcome the challenges presented by a ‘divorce home.’

“Divorce is expensive. I used to joke they were going to call it ‘all the money,’ but they changed it to ‘alimony.’ It’s ripping your heart out through your wallet.” – Robin Williams

Divorces are extremely difficult for everyone involved. In addition to the emotional and psychological pain of a failed marriage, many divorced or divorcing couples often must face the challenges of selling a home, which can be a very tricky situation for even the most experienced real estate agents.

Having worked through both the sale and purchase of many divorce-associated homes over the years (often with colleagues doing their best to manage these awkward situations with their own clients), I have learned many valuable lessons.

Selling a divorce-associated home

Generally, there are two distinct situations to manage when trying to sell a divorce-associated home: the divorce is imminent, or the divorce is finalized. Each situation has its own unique challenges but also offers opportunities to help your client close this chapter and move on with their lives.

In cases where the divorce is pending, be prepared to walk through a virtual minefield.

Emotions are extremely high, and you may not be able to get both sides into the same room, much less on the same page. The first instinct for each spouse will be to disagree (just to “stick it” to the other one), and simple decisions on pricing, staging and showing schedules might take an unusually long time to finalize.

In some extreme cases, I have had couples forced to go to arbitration just to get a contract signed.

The best approach in these circumstances is to be sensitive and patient and consistently address the shared goal and common ground. You might need to continually remind your clients that, for this situation at least, you are all on the same team and need to work together to sell the house.

Your clients might unintentionally place you in an awkward “marriage counselor” position to air out grievances, but you must keep everyone focused on this one goal in a gentle but firm manner.

Although riding out these early shared decisions can be extremely challenging, the reality of the mutual need to sell the home will usually override any hostility and force the two sides into eventual agreement.

When selling a post-divorce house (usually with just one seller), the early sales process will be much smoother, but other long-term challenges remain — two in particular.

First, these sellers often have emotional attachments to their homes that make them amenable only to the most generous of offers. It can take a good deal of “stroking” to get them comfortable with the idea that the home — with all of its memories and emotional ties — will no longer be theirs.

The second challenge is the house itself. Buyers and their agents can usually detect a “divorce home” pretty easily — photos of only one spouse are on display, only one closet in the master bedroom is being used and so on.

Rather than try to hide this fact, I would advise going the extra step to “brighten” these homes during showings with extra lighting, flowers and sparkling-clean surfaces.

Working with colleagues (on both sides of the deal)

Whether selling or buying a divorce-associated home, real estate agents on both sides should exercise extreme patience and advise their customers to do the same.

Although financial realities have a way of eventually getting these deals done, I have found that two experienced and savvy agents working together can “grease the wheels” of what can be a challenging process.

On the selling side of the equation, it is important to be upfront about the status of the divorce (if asked) and the timing expectation with your buying agent colleagues. Let them know the true extent of your buyer’s seriousness to sell and their range of acceptable final offers.

Does the seller need to get out from under the home quickly? Letting your colleagues know this can bring offers quickly, but likely at lower price points.

Can they wait out a market cycle or two? This will likely narrow your pool of prospective buyers, but you will know that any offers are serious, which will allow you to be more demanding.

When I work with buyers considering a “divorce home,” they are usually very tempted to make lowball first offers, which I advise against. In my experience, this usually annoys people who are already stressed out and poisons any trust down the road.

I try to develop a strong relationship with the selling agent, find out his or her clients’ reasonable expectations for price and timing, build a file of comps and recommend to my clients a legitimate first offer that also leaves room for further negotiation.

This will usually start a cooperative dialogue between the two parties, eventually leading to the sale.

However, there are some rare situations (particularly in divorce cases) where my buyer and my colleague’s seller get entrenched in their final offers and refuse to budge; often within just a few thousand dollars of each other.

In cases like these, I sometimes ask my colleague to allow me to make my client’s final offer directly to the seller in person; presenting the “case” for why it is legitimate and acceptable.

(Although this personal appeal does not always seal the deal, I have found that it makes a tremendous impact on a divorced or divorcing seller and helps them feel respected and appreciated during a difficult time.)

As a final thought, remember that the end of your client’s relationship with their spouse does not have to mean the end of your relationship with a colleague. On the contrary, use these situations as opportunities to build trust and respect and work through any issues that may arise on the next deal with them.

The Master Brokers Forum is a home-grown, elite network of South Florida’s top-producing real estate professionals, built on a core foundation of ethical and professional behavior.

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