- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

Q: I need to know the pros and cons of using a trustee versus a real estate agent to sell my property, which is jointly owned with my spouse. My spouse has not lived in the United States for the past four years, while I am living in Maryland.

My divorce lawyer told me the property can sell through a trustee. I need information on advantages, disadvantages, the process and cost of using a trustee instead of a real estate agent.

All I know is that a power-of-attorney document can be used in place of an absentee seller with a real estate agent.

A: First, I am not a lawyer. My expertise lies mainly in the purchase and sale of property through various means, and I always use a lawyer in the transaction. Therefore, you want a good lawyer's advice in the transfer of property when the transaction is not a clean one. Divorce sales usually are not real clean.

That said, I am baffled why your divorce attorney would suggest that you use a trustee to sell your house in Maryland. You have not mentioned that the house is a distressed property or that your mortgage is in arrears, two of the reasons you would go a nontraditional route.

Buyers who come around trustee sales are like me. I'm not looking to move into the property, I'm looking to get it for as little as possible. I'm looking for a margin of profit of at least 25 percent below market price.

Most of Maryland is in a seller's market today. Why would you use the alternative method of sale that primarily draws tire kickers and bargain hunters? People looking for a bargain on a car go to a car auction, not a dealership.

You want as much money for your house as possible; thus, you and your estranged spouse need to get over any differences about the property. At this point, you're trying to liquidate and disperse the proceeds of the sale. What you want are multiple "market rate" contracts from buyers who want your house because it would serve their personal housing needs, not multiple contracts from buyers who see it as a house on the auction block.

Begin with the end in mind. What is your primary goal? Is it to get rid of the house quickly and disperse whatever you get from it? Or do you want to get as much as possible from the sale so both of you have enough cash to start new lives?

I'm amazed at the commission phobia people have. They think they can "save" thousands of dollars by bypassing professional Realtors, but they wind up cutting their own throats through costly mistakes.

About a year ago, I talked with a woman who sold her house herself. She was very excited about not having to use a Realtor to sell the property. She was so excited about not having to pay a commission that she lost sight of the overall goal: to sell the house for as much as possible.

She used an online for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) service, read the manual, placed the house on the market and was surprised to see it sell in a matter of days. She was truly happy. Then she said this, and I'll never forget it: "I do wonder if I priced it right. I sold it for $1,000 more than the last sale."

My mouth dropped open in disbelief. She was selling her house in a marketplace where homes regularly were selling for tens of thousands of dollars above the last sale, and she didn't even know it.

Hopefully, your attorney is looking out for your interests and trying to help you save money where you can. However, instead of putting your house on the "auction block," get it ready for showing. Clean, paint and repair it and get it on the market. Across the country, but especially in your market, real estate is the "stock of choice." Step forward with your best foot and go for the gold ring.

M. Anthony Carr has written about the real estate industry for more than 14 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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