Cover story: Divorce-caused sales carry own considerations

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Selling a home can be tough enough these days, but couples in the midst of a divorce face additional challenges. When two of life’s biggest potential stressors are mixed, experts say it can wreak havoc on the real estate transaction if couples aren’t careful.

Jeanne Koerber, Realtor with Remax in Potomac, said that although each divorce situation is unique, it often is complicated by legalities and emotions. Even in a divorce that starts off amicably, discussing the sale of the marital home could lead to rash decisions.

Experts say it’s important to make sure couples don’t let emotions lead them into bad decision-making. Realtors and lawyers agree that communication is especially crucial.

As divorce remains prevalent, some Realtors have found a niche through professional certification in helping divorcing clients navigate the sale of their home. Ms. Koerber is a certified divorce real estate expert and said 95 percent of her business is working with divorcing couples who have been referred to her by attorneys representing one of the spouses.

“I can usually defuse the emoting feelings before they escalate too far,” she said.

She especially advises against using a friend or relative as the Realtor in the situation of a divorce.

“A neutral and experienced agent will know the right questions to ask even before the first meeting to assess what steps are needed to ensure a smooth transaction,” she said. “The most frequent problems occur when the agent does not have the training and understanding of the legalities, or is too close to the parties.”

Marc Cormier, a Realtor and certified divorce real estate expert with Keller Williams in Reston, said one of the biggest problems arises when one spouse wants to sell the home and the other person isn’t quite ready to let go. He said he also has experienced situations in which spouses say they have great communication, but it turns out to not be the case.

To lessen the conflict and stress, Mr. Comer said he advises clients to give one spouse power of attorney.

“Getting a power of attorney is good because it gets one person eliminated and gives the other spouse complete authority,” he said.

He also advises clients to have the home appraised as the first step.

“This way they can know exactly what the strategy is and whether or not there’s equity in the house or if they’re upside-down on the property,” he said.

Experts say many soon-to-split couples may be forced into seeking a short sale during a divorce because they owe more than the home is worth.

“Because property values have now dropped, couples are trying to do short sales when going through a divorce,” Mr. Cormier said. “Often one spouse can’t carry the [mortgage] by themselves since the income is being cut in half.”

Carolyn Goodman, a Dupont Circle attorney who specializes in divorce and family law, said drawing up a separation agreement is recommended so the couples know who is responsible for what, especially in the case where one spouse remains in the home until it is sold.

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