If you and your spouse want, or need, to sell the marital home as part of your divorce process, there are a few things to keep in mind before you move forward. The marital home is often the largest asset in your in a divorce, and how you manage the sale will impact your (financial) future.
Before you decide to sell, please explore all of the options that are available to you. This might also include a session with a financial advisor/your attorney/tax accountant to get their insights on how your choice will affect you. More here on possible choices — https://www.unravelingtheknot.com/post/divorce-and-the-marital-home-what-to-consider
Also, start to explore your next living situation now so that you have a plan. It may take time to find another place to live, so start as soon as you can. You might want to have a few options so that you can be flexible if necessary.
If you are going to sell your home, remember that your goal is to try to get as much money as possible out of a sale so that your bank account is a bit fatter after the divorce. Remember that you do have some control over this — so listen up!
** I’ve included a list of resources at the end of this article. There are other qualified professionals around, too. If you need help, ask for help. This is a good time to practice this.
CONFLICT IS COSTLY
The greater the conflict between you and your soon-to-be-ex (STBX), the more likely the costs of the sale of a house (and of your divorce) will be much higher, which means less money in your pockets. This is your future — keep in mind that any money going to attorneys to resolve issues that you might be able to resolve one-on-one means that there will be less money after the dust settles.
Also, if the court needs to get involved in the sale because you and your STBX can’t agree on sale conditions, it can delay the sale and therefore delay any money coming to you from the sale. (And again, drive up your legal costs!) You want the sale to be as quick and as profitable as possible. Do what you can to make it happen.
GETTING THE HOUSE READY TO SELL
The house can be an emotional issue in the divorce. We want to stay in it, we have to sell it, what about the kids, etc. Take a breath and try to tame the emotions a bit now while you get your head wrapped the potential sale of the house.
First, try to find a way to talk directly with your STBX about a sale. Remember that every time your attorneys get involved because you and your STBX are arguing over details of the sale, your legal fees ratchet up. And this is money you will need for your next chapter.
Working directly with your STBX can help keep attorney fees lower and also allow you both to find a line of communication about managing the sale of the house with a realtor. This is a good exercise for communicating — what you learn in this sale may help you down the road with other issues.
You may be feeling mad/sad/tired/etc right now. I get this. BUT if you and your STBX can create a means of communication that will make this process less costly for you, the results will be better. Can you meet and discuss the house and the work that needs to be done? If not, can you find a mediator or a trusted intermediary who can help you make a plan? Being prepared for a talk with your STBX on concrete items to be done, and staying focused on this (and not the reasons the marriage is no longer working), can really help. A lot. So write things down. If you do need to get your attorneys to mediate on this, be sure that you do your homework first before you meet with them.
NB: This is NOT to say that you shouldn’t discuss the sale with your attorneys. The court has rules about the sale of the house that kick in once you file for divorce, and your attorney will walk you through this. BUT if you have been able to figure out some of the details up front — at least on your end — you are a step ahead.
You realtor will have a solid plan for you to get your house sold. This will include a suggested price (at market value), repairs that may need to be done, staging ideas, marketing, etc,. The suggestions below are also good for any house going on the market and they are particularly important for you because your future is going to be impacted by the money you get from the sale. So pay attention!
Listen to your realtor’s suggested list price — if you want to price the house higher because you think you want or need to get more money out of the house, please reconsider this (i.e. Don't do it!). The house may sit on the market for a longer time and become ‘stale’, which will drive the interest from buyers and price down. Your realtor has access to the latest local data to help determine the best value.
Don’t be fooled by the estimates that Zillow and other companies provide; these are computer generated and their algorithms for determining the market price are often way out of line with reality and don’t take in to account the specifics of individual neighborhoods. You want to rely on the expertise of someone who can see the nuances in houses and streets and neighborhoods to give you the best market price. An over priced house will sit on the market and demand a price adjustment, and delay the time before you get paid any proceeds.
YOU ONLY HAVE ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION
And this is particularly true with the sale of a house -- so do your homework first!
Your realtor will probably have a punch list of repairs to be done before putting your home on the market. Don’t ignore these. The difference between getting a light switch repaired and not can make a huge difference in a buyer’s interest to a home. If a buyer finds the one light switch that doesn’t work, they might (and probably will) think that the whole electrical system of the house is compromised and either walk away OR submit a lower price. The same with painting and other repairs. We all live with these small things while we are in our homes; once we are prepping to put the house on the market we need to take of them before we list the house. So replace that missing trim. Fix the broken windows. Repair that stair railing. Do as much as you can with your time and budget, and listen to your realtor for the priorities.
While you are working on the repairs, start the de-clutter work. You will probably be dividing furniture and household items after the sale. Now is the time to begin this, with one or both of you putting many of the items in storage for future use. If you can get these things out of the house prior to going on the market, this is better. It helps show how someone can live in the space and removes the personal items that may distract a potential buyer. Once you’ve cleared things out, go back and clear out again. Try to keep minimal items in the house during this time. There are wonderful professionals who can help with this. See the resource list below.
De-clutter, repair, and now CLEAN. Clean and then clean again. And then again. If you are able to hire a professional person to help with this, great. Or grab your family or friends and assign areas to each of them. In one sale I helped the ex-husband clear out the basement while the wife and daughter worked in cleaning the kitchen area. Cleaning is overwhelming (right?), and now is the time to find or ask for help.
Then STAGE your house. But not until you have DE-CLUTTERED, REPAIRED, and CLEANED. You realtor will have some great suggestions for you or may give you the name of a professional who can come in and give you some ideas.
HAVE THE HOUSE AVAILABLE TO SHOW WHEN NEEDED
It may be tough to keep the house super neat while it is on the market, but if it is priced right and shows well, the idea is to get it under contract quickly so you can go back to living again.
Try to allow as many showings as possible — this should be a temporary inconvenience. Communicate with your STBX about when the showings will happen. Be sure you are on the same page with this. Often your realtor can control showing times that will help make your life easier. If you have an uncooperative STBX on this, contact your attorney to see what can be done. Don’t be in the house during showings — let your realtor do their work on this. This is why you hired them.
CONFLICT IS COSTLY
YOU ONLY HAVE ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION
HAVE THE HOUSE AVAILABLE TO SHOW WHEN NECESSARY
As emotional as this sale might be for you both, focus on your future. The sale may allow you to have more money to work with in your next chapter, or help pay down bills. You do have control over some of the sale of your house, e.g. the pricing — listen to your realtor — and the condition (de-clutter, repair, clean, and stage). These are very important in a sale and can help you start over better.