If you and your spouse own a home, then you’ll need to know how to choose a realtor for your divorce. And, this applies whether one of you is going to keep the home or if you’ve agreed to sell it.
For many people, the marital home represents the bulk of their assets and it is usually their single largest asset. Deciding what to do with the marital home typically has both long and short term consequences for both parties. Making sure that you consider all the potential impacts before deciding what to do, starts with finding a realtor to work with.
That shouldn’t be difficult – most people have at least one friend who is a real estate agent, but using your friend may be the first mistake you make. You need to find a realtor who is knowledgeable about the complications that can come with divorce.
Joining me for this episode of Conversations About Divorce is Peggy Spiro. Peggy is a realtor in Colorado and as a Real Estate Divorce Specialist, she was one of the first agents in the nation to focus on helping people going through divorce.
Listen as Peggy and I chat about
- what special expertise to look for
- why some agents don’t want to work with divorcing couples
- how an agent needs to communicate with you
- why you shouldn’t wait till your divorce is final to find an agent
- why you might not want to work with your friend.
In case you’d rather read … here’s the detail of my conversation with Peggy.
Your Agent Must Have Divorce Experience
When I say divorce experience, it doesn’t have to be their own but you do want someone who is familiar with the divorce process in your jurisdiction. That understanding means they’ll be aware of deadlines and also events, such as a court appearance or a filing deadline, that may be emotional triggers when calling you for a decision would not be good timing.
You want someone who is comfortable with talking about divorce and understands that the marital home, is a business transaction. They’ll guide you through the tough conversations that need to happen rationally and without bias.
Your Agent Must Be Neutral
As a married couple, you and your spouse are a single entity. Your interests are aligned. So when you’re working with a Realtor as a married couple, the Realtor is representing your interests as a couple. Divorce changes that. While you may still be legally married, your interests may no longer be aligned with your STBX’s. This is particularly true if one of you is keeping the marital home but can also be true when the home is being sold.
Your chosen Realtor must be a neutral third party. Their job is less about building a relationship and more about the transaction. In Colorado, an agent in this role is identified as a transaction broker, rather than a Seller’s or Buyer’s Agent.
Both Parties Have To Sign With The Agent
If you are selling your home, then both you and your STBX will have to sign the listing contract with the agent and that means that one way or another, you’re both going to have to agree on the agent. Sometimes that means one party deferring to the other or both parties voluntarily coming to an agreement. In more contentious situations, it can mean the parties’ respective attorneys negotiating it. If you and your STBX are not able to agree on the choice of an agent, that’s a red flag to the agent. The question they’ll be asking is, “If they can’t agree on me, how are they ever going to resolve items that come up on inspection?”
Communications Must Be Transparent
One of the skill sets that comes with being comfortable around divorcing couples, is open communication. To maintain their neutrality, your Realtor must be sure to share the same information with both you and your STBX. For example, if your STBX asks a question by phone to the Realtor, then the Realtor might not only discuss it over the phone but may also send an email to both of you recording the conversation. Peggy Spiro says she never assumes that one party is going to tell the other and her standard practice is to communicate everything in writing to both parties. This can be more time-consuming for your agent than working with a married couple where the presumption is that whatever is said to one party is shared with other. This is one reason why some agents won’t work with divorcing couples.
Understand How The Agent Is Paid
If you’re selling your home, then typically the agent will receive commission from the sale of your home and is paid from the sale proceeds. That’s disclosed in the agreement upfront. If the house isn’t being sold, or you’re trying to decide if you should stay or go, then you may be working with the Realtor on a valuation, such as a Broker Price Opinion. Some agents will charge a fee for this while others may provide it at no cost, in the hopes of securing the listing if you decide to sell the house.
While it is an additional expense, paying a fee for the BPO may ensure that the agent’s neutrality is not compromised.
You Don’t Have To Use Your Friend
We all have friends who are Realtors and you may feel pressured to use them or to use the Realtor who sold you your home but making your choice based on loyalty is not smart. You may not want your friend to become familiar with the financial details of your divorce or you might not want to work with them at this difficult, challenging time. Your STBX will want to be assured of the agent’s neutrality and if they sense that your agent-friend is aligned with you or may be biased, then insisting on using them may make the whole house-selling process difficult and volatile.
It all comes down to this. You have to choose the agent who you feel has the expertise you need and who will work best with your style of decision-making. Whoever you choose, be sure to bring them into the discussions early so you can use their expertise to inform your decisions and to minimize unforeseen obstacles.