Posted onJuly 25, 2018
Dividing assets during a divorce is always unpleasant. And when there’s a home involved, warring spouses can get cutthroat.
Battles over setting the list price, scheduling showings, and even accepting the best offer can delay both the sale and the divorce. In worst case scenarios, these skirmishes may even lead to you selling the house for less than it’s worth.
Top agent Annpauline Creamer—who ranks #8 out of 665 agents in the Mahopac, New York area—explains:
“The agent’s job is to get both spouses the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of inconvenience. The challenge in negotiations is getting them to agree and getting them to communicate. So you need to have an experienced agent who knows what the challenges of divorce real estate sales are before they happen.”
There’s perhaps no other scenario where picking the right professional is more important. Let’s examine the facts you need to know to find the right agent to help you sell your home during a divorce.
Why Divorcing Couples Clash Over Selling the Home
All couples fight—often about money, so says the American Psychological Association. Financial expert Dave Ramsey discovered that the more in debt a couple is, the more likely they are to fight about finances.
In fact, a recent Ameriprise study found that 31% of surveyed couples fought about money at least once a month. And according to the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA), 22% of divorcing couples cite money issues as a primary reason for the split.
Since money is a sore spot in many marriages, it’s no wonder that the selling of the home during a divorce—often a couple’s biggest financial asset—becomes a major bone of content between them.
But fighting over the house isn’t just about the money.
Your house is also home to many happy, sad, and mad memories from your marriage. And those memories give couples petty things to fight about beyond the bigger financial issues like setting the list price and accepting an offer.
For example, a husband may push to remove the custom kitchen countertops that his wife loves so much as part of the pre-listing renovations. Or a wife might insist on gutting her husband’s treasured lawn under the guise of improving the curb appeal.
A couples’ inclination to battle over every detail of the home sale is the very reason why they need an agent with divorce home sale experience. The right agent becomes the neutral voice of authority on things like pricing, marketing, and what home improvements will actually help the house sell.
“Divorce is a challenge all by itself, as is the process of selling a home—that’s two major challenges at once. So you need an experienced agent that you both can trust; an agent who will have open communication with all parties involved. Years of experience make agents better communicators, which makes the transactions smoother,“ says Creamer.
Hiring the right agent who can communicate clearly and calmly with both spouses is absolutely essential. But how do you find one?
How to Find an Agent Experienced In Working with Divorcing Clients
Selling a home during a divorce is challenging due to animosity between the homeowners. That’s why divorce attorneys get involved in the proceedings—especially when it comes time to divvy up the proceeds from the sale.
Dividing both property and debt during a divorce falls to the attorney. This can get tricky, especially in states with community property laws. That’s why profits from the home sale are sometimes held in a trust until the divorce is finalized.
The complications of dividing assets aside, the process of a divorce real estate sale is no different than a traditional home sale. So researching the top real estate agents in your area is the best place to start.
HomeLight’s own real estate agent search engine combs its database of 2 million agents and over 29 million transactions to present you with up to 3 top agent matches based on your needs.
Your attorney is also a good resource to ask for a list of agents that they’ve previously worked with on other divorce home sales.
Once you’ve compiled a solid of candidates, both you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse should interview them separately to narrow down the list.
You’ll want to ask each agent specific questions about their references, number of homes sold, and experience selling homes during divorce proceedings. It’s also a good idea to ask hypothetical questions about potential conflicts that might arise (like over the lawn or those kitchen countertops), and ask how they would handle the situation.
As they answer your questions, home in on which ones offer the clearest communication and highest comfort level.
Another question you may want to ask is whether they have any special training or certification in handling divorce real estate transactions.
Is There a Real Estate Divorce Specialist Certification?
Enlisting the help of an experienced agent is important—but does that agent need to be a certified real estate divorce specialist?
Since a divorce home sale proceeds just like a traditional sale would, it isn’t required for your real estate agent to have specialized training. If there are any complications that might arise, such as those related to community property laws, it’s your lawyer who’ll be handling the issues.
What your agent really needs is great interpersonal communication skills, a knack for conflict resolution, and lots of patience.
“It’s more the soft skills than the technical skills that are required,” says Jordan Bennett, a top 1% real estate agent in Mission Viejo, CA, who is a certified specialist in working with divorcing couples to sell their homes. “Being able to deal with high emotionally charged conversations, being able to be diplomatic.”
If you know that your divorce is highly contentious—and the home sale is destined to become a bitter battleground—hiring a real estate divorce specialist with training or certification may be the right move. There are several places where agents can get specialized divorce home sale training:
- Those who train with the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts earn the designation of Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). Professionals with this training typically have a background in accounting, finance, or matrimonial law, rather than real estate.
- Agents who study the master course devised by the Divorce Real Estate Institute earn the title of Certified Divorce Real Estate Expert (CDRE). Unlike CDFA, CDRE certification focuses specifically on the real estate market and training active real estate agents.
- Harvard and Stanford-educated Kelly Lise Murray, J.D., devised her own state-specific training program for divorce real estate. Agents who complete her course receive the designation of Real Estate Collaboration Specialist-Divorce (RCS-D).
- Since 2008, Carol Ann Wilson, recognized as a leader in the field of divorce financial planning, has offered a Real Estate Divorce Specialist program for real estate agents. Agents who go through this training study tax issues in the sale of the family home; maintenance, alimony and child support; divorce and pensions; bankruptcy of divorcing couples; and more. They then earn the Certified Real Estate Divorce Specialist (CREDS) title.
Hiring the Best Real Estate Agent to Navigate Your Divorce
After you’ve interviewed your real estate agent prospects and verified their experience, you’re in a good position to hire your agent…that is, if you can get your spouse to agree.
Rather than getting into lengthy debates over the merits of each agent, simply rank your top three picks and ask your spouse to do the same. Then—if you can manage a civil discussion—compare your lists and select the one closest to the top on both.
If your divorce isn’t amicable enough to make this decision together, don’t let the selection of an agent become the first of many battles over the home sale. Instead, present both lists to your attorney who can impartially make the final call for you.
When a marriage is ending, selling the family home has the potential to get incredibly combative. It takes the help of a patient, communicative real estate agent to keep the home sale sailing smoothly through the rocky seas of a divorce.
Former art and design instructor Christine Bartsch holds an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. Launching her writing career in 2007, Christine has crafted interior design content for companies including USA Today and Houzz.