Joan Rogliano, Wildflower Group founder and Real Estate Divorce expert, originally penned this blog for the Denver Metro Board of Realtors. If you are a real estate professional looking to work with divorcing families, this blog is a must read!
Yes, you might think it takes a brave broker to work with divorcing clients. With the right system and tools in place, it’s really quite rewarding, both professionally and personally.
Professionally, if the family sells their home and each party buys, the result is three transactions. Personally, you will help family members sort through their options to keep a roof over their heads, and that diffuses anxiety for everyone.
Communication skills are vital and so is having an organized approach during this time of uncertainty. Start with this 10-point checklist so everyone has clear expectations.
1. Meet with each party
It’s important that you meet in person with the parties, either together or separately, to assess the environment in which you’ll be working. The parties can be collaborating well or operating under high levels of conflict, in which case you will play the go-between.
A real estate broker can contribute to minimizing the stress involved with the transaction by understanding the motives and goals of each party and by clearly presenting a roadmap for the transaction. On the other hand, it might become apparent to you that this is a transaction that you’d prefer not to take on.
2. Review the Final Divorce Decree
If you are working with anyone who has recently divorced this step is a must! You don’t need to read the entire final decree document, just the part pertaining to the disposition of the home. Frequently, with the high level of emotion and anxiety, parties are confused about what the decree actually says and might provide you with false information. Read the decree yourself so you are sure what is legally dictated.
It’s also helpful to understand the dynamics before you move forward. I did have a situation in which the court gave the husband complete power to make decisions regarding the home, and all the proceeds. The wife was still on title and didn’t want the home sold. You can see where this was headed, and yes, she dragged her feet on everything. It was helpful to anticipate this possibility before it became a reality. It would have been easier for her to Quit Claim her portion over to her husband, but her attorney wouldn’t agree.
3. Divorce takes a team of professionals. Introduce yourself to the other members.
Usually there is a team of advisers in place: attorneys, mediators, financial planners, etc. You’re all working together for the benefit of the family, so it’s helpful to have open communication. Taking the lead on opening the lines of communication shows your professionalism. A phone call is usually appreciated by everyone and gives you a chance to assess those you’ll be working with.
4. Provide a list of professional referrals
Real estate brokers can be the first call when a divorce is on the horizon. Usually the largest asset they own, families want to know the value of the home and if they’ll have a roof over their heads. It furthers your level of service to have a group of trusted advisers to offer, and establishes a strong referral network for your business.
5. Clarify the lines of communication
Technology offers an assortment of options for communicating and many people are particular about their preference. If you frequently use email and one of the parties never checks email, that will present a problem. Be sensitive to a possible generational preference, and also be aware that a phone call might be beneficial. A person’s voice can convey what a text or email cannot.
6. Offer separate but equal communication
Yes, sometimes it feels we do twice the work when helping divorcing couples. To avoid hard feelings and one party feeling you are playing favorites, you must be sure to copy each person on every communication. Occasionally, one party also wants everything copied to their attorney. Be sure the attorneys are supposed to be in the loop and that this has been verified. The attorneys I’ve worked with charge for each email or text they read, so be sure this has been cleared with the parties.
7. Create a realistic timeline for communication and put this in your Listing Agreement
When working with a hesitant seller, a party that resides out of town, or someone who travels a lot, your level of frustration can quickly escalate. Have the parties agree that a specific period of time to respond is reasonable to keep the process moving. This is a great way to set the tone for expectations and to create a specific reference point. This really comes in handy should one party not be responsive.
8. Confirm financial responsibilities
Who is going to pay for the repairs to get the house ready for sale? How are the proceeds divided? I just had a transaction where the sellers were upside down and the husband’s company was going to give him the funds necessary to close. These particulars are also a good idea to mention in the Listing Agreement. That way there are no surprises or last-minute negotiations on these costs. Perhaps a home warranty, while the home is listed, would be a good idea. You might be called upon to confirm these financial arrangements with the legal providers when settlement negotiations are being decided.
9. Remember that you are a real estate agent, not a therapist
Often emotions run high about the marital home and people want to vent. Don’t become the sounding board for this conversation as it will quickly become lost time for you. You must become adept at steering the conversation back to real estate. Remind your clients that this is not your area of expertise and refer them to a mental health professional if needed. As always, be sure to offer multiple references.
10. Document, Document, Document
It’s always important to document everything for your files, but it is especially important for these transactions. Sometimes emotions run high and recollections may vary between the parties. It’s vital you keep a clear paper trail of all communications so you can quickly verify any point that might be questioned.
Want more tips? Read more from Joan and other Denver Metro Real Estate bloggers here: https://www.dmarealtors.com/10-tips-working-divorcing-clients-contributed-piece