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Selling Your Home in a Divorce: Tips to Stay Calm and Move On

Divorcing couples often have to make a host of difficult decisions before they can move on with their lives and face a new emotional and financial reality.

At the top of the priority list is thinking about the kids, followed by figuring out what to do with the home, according to Debbie Miali, a top real estate agent in The Woodlands, TX, specializing in working with divorcing couples to sell their homes.

In Miali’s experience, usually one or both spouses wants to keep the home — desirability isn’t the issue.

However, most of the time it’s fairly simple to remove someone’s name from the title of a home, it is a bit more complex to get someone off the mortgage. If both spouses originally qualified for the mortgage, it’s possible that neither would qualify on their own, especially in more expensive markets.

This experience then leads many divorcing couples into what may be their only option: to put their home on the market and sell it.

Talk about stressful! According to Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, a tool mental health professionals use to categorize taxing life events, divorce is the second-most stressful life event, and moving is among the top 30. Together? Well, that’s going to be a lot to handle at once.

As Miali explains, above all, you don’t want to let the stress of the divorce impact the marketability of your home.

Here are some great top tips to sell your home in a divorce quickly, successfully, and without creating any more strain during an already-trying time in your life:

Don’t Move Out Too Soon When Selling Your Home in a Divorce

Oftentimes, Miali says, most divorcing couples want to move out of the home they’re selling and move on, but that can be a mistake. It is greatly suggested for at least one party to stay in the home.

The problem with both spouses leaving the home is that they will usually take their stuff with them, leaving behind an empty house that is less attractive to buyers. A home always shows better with furniture in it so the buyers can visualize how their own furniture would fit.

It is possible that you could stage the home, a strategy that 39% of seller’s agents say can greatly decrease your time on market, according to research from the National Association of Realtors. But staging a home can be quite expensive, says Miali, whose clients have often spent thousands on staging their empty homes. If it is possible, keep some nice furniture, fixtures and accessories in the home, that will bring down your expenses immediately.

Another benefit of having at least one person living in the home until it sells is keeping your monthly housing expenses in check—it is very difficult to have three housing payments every month between divorcing couples.

Miali recommends couples to wait until their closing is guaranteed at the closing table before both moving out of the home. After all, getting divorced isn’t cheap: the average mediated divorce costs couples $5,000, and the average contested divorce is more like $15,000-$30,000.

Save where you can!

Find an Agent With Experience in Divorce To Help Sell Your Home

Like with any home sale, your first step will be to find an agent to help you sell your home. It is well worth it to find an agent who specializes in working with separating couples, a situation that presents some unique challenges.

Your real estate agent has the ability to double as a mediator, according to Miali.

"It seems as though most people going through a divorce require more hand-holding," she says. "Unfortunately, couples are coming to the closing table with mistrust, fear, and anger."

Find an agent that you both can trust and feel comfortable with, so that as the process goes on, neither of you feel that the agent is on the other person’s "side."

Even in the best-case scenario, hopefully where the divorce is completely amicable, it is in the best interest of both of you to have an agent that understands the particular communication challenges of this situation.

Miali gives an example: Normally, an agent can tell one partner there’s a planned open house on Saturday from 1-3 and expect them to communicate that to the rest of the family. In a divorce, agents have to realize that couples are not communicating reliably.

"In a divorce situation, generally every single communication needs to be communicated to both parties, she says. "Every text message, every email, every phone call, every voicemail, you have to make sure those communications are corresponded correctly so one spouse doesn’t feel like they’re in the dark."

One spouse feeling alienated from the process, or having the sense that conversations are happening behind their back, can make the entire sale a more strenuous experience, creating unnecessary drama and hurt feelings.

"You want to hire an agent who is really going to be your advocate, who will go above and beyond and outside of your traditional scope because you’re dealing with a lot of emotions and stress," says Miali.

Make Sure You Agree On Price and Scheduling Before You List Your Home in A Divorce

Another great reason to go with an experienced agent in divorce is that he or she will urge you to agree on key details before the home is listed, so that you don’t hit a bump in the road mid-sale.

Before you list your home, decide:

  • What is the lowest offer you’re willing to accept?

  • Who will remain in the home, and who will leave?

  • How you pay for any staging costs or repairs?

  • What services like cleaning, minor repairs, and painting will you be willing to hire out?

  • How involved in the day-to-day marketing of the home does each person want to be?

  • Will the spouse who has moved out be OK with not knowing about every single viewing appointment, or is it important that both be in the loop for every detail?

  • What are each spouse’s specific responsibilities in terms of the home sale?

  • What real estate agent will you use, and do you both agree on their fee?

  • What is your pricing strategy?

  • How much notice does each spouse need for a closing date?

  • If you are in a state that uses real estate lawyers, do you agree on the attorney for the sale?

  • What times are off-limits for appointments, and will the spouse living in the house be expected to accommodate last-minute showing requests?

Follow up next month for more tips to help you when selling your home during a divorce!

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