Selling Your House While Ending Your Marriage

Divorce usually necessitates a whole cadre of experts – attorneys, financial planners, real estate agents, lenders, therapists, mediators, etc. – all of whom are deemed essential in enabling couples to get through the process intact.

Now there’s a new one to add to the mix: the certified Real Estate Divorce Specialist.

“This is a growing field,” said Bob Bailey-Lemansky, of Keller Williams Suburban Realty in Livingston.  He and his business partner Vicki Stout have just become New Jersey’s first realtors who are certified Real Estate Divorce Specialists.

“Over 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce and 70 percent of those cases involve buying or selling a house – or both,” said Bailey-Lemansky.  “There are real estate and tax issues that are specific to divorce, and couples are not getting all the guidance they need,” added Stout.

The two have a lot of experience working with couples involved in a divorce, so getting certified seemed like a natural next step.  “Some cases can get very nasty,” said Bailey-Lamansky.  “We know about what we’re getting into.”

Splitting spouses might disagree on how to price a house, when to make price reductions, how to handle showings, or any number of issues.  For instance, a bitter husband might be so averse to his soon-to-be-ex wife profiting from the sale that he will sabotage a deal – even it if it means he too will make less.

Divorce is such a minefield of emotions that it presents a unique challenge for realtors.  “You have to prevent either party from feeling that their agent has chosen a ‘side’ in their divorce,” said Mark Slade, a real estate consultant with Keller Williams in Maplewood.  “We all know the movie ‘War of the Roses’ – these situations can become highly volatile.”

Slade, who is not REDS certified but has himself been divorced, said, “The perfect agent to deal with a divorcing couple should probably have gone through their own divorce so they are better understanding of the circumstances.”  Said Bailey-Lemansky, who himself is in the process of being divorced:  “I have experienced firsthand the financial, emotional and custodial issues that divorcing couples face, so I can certainly empathize and relate to our divorcing clients.”

“It can be tricky to work for the best interests of both parties, so we represent the best interest of the house,” said Bailey-Lemansky.

All the agents emphasize that clients should always consult with accountants, financial advisors and divorce attorneys to make sure they are getting advice that is relevant to their specific divorce situation.

“The financial impact of a sale should really be vetted out by true experts in the financial field and possibly by the attorneys, to make sure there are no hidden consequences,” Slade said.

For example, Slade knows of a divorcing couple who also was going through a short sale whose agent advised them to write off their mortgages.  “That was only partly true.  While the first and second mortgages were written off, the HELOC they took out to pay off all marital debts before dissolving their marriage wasn’t.  Two years later, they are still dealing with the financial consequences.”

Bailey-Lemansky agreed:  “Don’t do anything before you talk to specialists,” he said.  “Couples need to know for sure what is considered marital property and what is not.”

Stout described a stay-at-home mother who had long been out of the workforce. The woman was concerned about whether a new job would enable her to make her own mortgage payments. “She had just had the rug pulled out from under her,” said Stout. “We put her in touch with lenders who could help her determine what she could afford, before the alimony was determined.”

Generally in a divorce real estate deal, one spouse takes the lead role in communicating with the agents.  “It’s good that we are partners,” said Bailey-Lemansky, “because frequently the wife will end up speaking to Vicki more often and the husband will speak to me.”

“You become another ear for them to vent, sometimes giving the illusion of being their substitute therapist,” said Slade.

Baristanet readers who have been through the double whammy of divorce and a home sale, here is your opportunity to vent.  Did your realtor do a good job of staying impartial and getting you and your ex the best deal?  If you had to do it over again, would you use a certified Real Estate Divorce Specialist?

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  1. I have been through so many divorces I’ve lost count. My first wife took everything. My second wife took everything from my first wife. My third wife took everything from my second wife and gave it back to my first wife, whom I later remarried.

    So I can personally attest to the need for a real estate agent who is certified, qualified and sympathetic to quarrelsome, selfish couples who want to get the most from the sale of their overpriced house in a down market.

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