Selling the family home because of a divorce is deeply personal. When the hammer comes down – as they say in real estate – entire chapters of a life you’ve been building with someone else is coming to an end.
As a real estate agent, I sometimes receive requests to appraise a house for a divorce sale. On the phone, the client doesn’t divulge the reasons for the sale. I find this out when I’m sitting in their kitchen. It gets me every time.
Real estate is in my DNA. When I visit a property for the first time, I am excited. From the minute I get out of the car, I am looking at its best features and making mental notes to myself how to sell the property.
Knowing it’s a sale for a divorce settlement moves me differently. Divorces are deeply personal. In most cases, emotions are high. It can be a challenge for a young agent. In many of my cases, the family home was the largest asset to be divided. I stay grounded by not forgetting that the assessment I make must be one that is fair, impartial, and accurate. That is the best way I can ensure that both parties get a fair deal.
Clients asked me all the time how I will appraise their properties. This week, I would like to discuss the important factors in property appraisals. Keep these factors in mind when you arrange for an appraisal of your property.
1. Most real estate agents’ appraisals are based on comparable properties
When I inspect a property, I take my time to note down all the special features about the home.
Most real estate agents use ‘comps’ to arrive at a fair market value for the property. ‘Comp’ or comparable properties are properties that have recently sold in the area. The comparable sales must be in conjunction with any special features of your property for a more accurate assessment.
The more recent the comparable sales, the more confident you can be that the appraised sale price is reflective of the market. If there’s one comparable sale that is particularly higher or lower, it’s usually an outlier.
Government evaluation of the property is also taken into consideration during an appraisal. Your property may be higher or lower than this value.
2. Different agents can appraise unique features differently
For most residential properties, it is quite easy to substantiate or defend an appraisal’s value. In a divorce, both parties may choose to have different real estate agents appraise the property’s value.
Sometimes, when a property is unique (for example, the property has a boat ramp, a four-car garage, or a stable) a substantial difference between each party’s appraisal of the property can occur. When this happens, a judge may ask for a third party appraisal.
3. Improvements that don’t add value
Homeowners are often shocked to find that the expensive home improvements they are so proud of can be of less value to potential buyers. In one of my earlier divorce sales, the husband was disappointed that the swimming pool the couple spent three years paying off was not going to translate into a huge spike in the sale price of the property – in an earlier article I explain renovations that don’t add value. The property went to auction and sold close to the appraised value.
Part of the real estate appraiser’s expertise is knowing how different amenities contribute (or not) to market value. That’s why the appraisal must be carried out impartially and rationally. I empathise with my client’s divorce but I stay professional when I appraise their properties.
4. The local expert will have better success
As a Keysborough agent, I know my area well. I know its value. And I know the buyers who will buy in this suburb. I will have a better shot at selling a property here than I would have in another suburb.
My advice is to engage a local expert to sell your divorce home. The motivation for a good settlement is the maximum share for both parties. A divorce sale is not a time to explore the unknown or untested.
5. Retrospective or historical value
I once handled a case where the wife wanted an appraisal of the retrospective value of the home.
When she got married to her husband and moved into his home there was no appraisal of its value. But the wife was keen to show that the property’s value has increased since she moved in. She needed an appraisal of its fair market value then and now.
A retrospective appraisal is also useful if the divorce property sells at a loss and the lawyers have to work out how much of that loss was incurred during the marriage.
6. The price is usually the biggest fight
Agreeing on the price to sell or auction is one of the biggest contentions in a divorce. A recent case of mine was extremely delicate because the wife had taken a restraining order against the husband. Three weeks after listing, an offer was made. Getting both parties to agree to the price was not easy. I made many trips to-and-fro and drank a record number of coffees between both homes.
It’s easy for a real estate agent – caught in the middle – to feel the stress. I listen but I don’t take sides. At the end of the day, it is about agreeing to sell it for the amount that the highest bidder wants. If the offer is dropped, an argument can ensue over what to sell it for. In these circumstances, I try to help both parties stay on track. The bottom line is that the house has to be sold. Whether it’s for that price. Or another price.
I like to call my three years in real estate as the ‘infancy years’ of a lifelong career. I see myself in real estate for the rest of my life. It is a future I’ve spent most of my adult life dreaming and planning for. I would be devastated if the course of a life I’ve imagined for myself, takes a different and unexpected turn.
That’s what divorce is for most people. You chose a life with someone only to discover later it’s not a life you want. Deciding to sell the family home because one or both parties want to move on is one of the toughest decisions to make. Beyond the physical and financial challenges, there are human costs like children and family.
About ‘The Life of Phi’
Hi, my name is Phi Dang. My clients call me ‘Phi’. I have been selling homes in Melbourne for over three years. I love my job as much as I love eating. I’m a local boy. I went to school in Keysborough and a university in Clayton. I didn’t just stumble into real estate. I actively sought it out as a career after graduating. There’s something about homes and how they can impact people’s lives that appeals to me. The ‘Life of Phi’ is a collection of stories about my life as a real estate agent. Selling a house is very much like telling a story, too. Every home has a unique story to tell. I help owners tell their stories.
Disclaimer: This story is inspired by facts. The story, names, location, and incidents portrayed in this article are fictitious. Any resemblance to the real persons deceased or alive is purely incidental.