The Divorce Transaction List

When you're working with clients who are going through a divorce there are plenty of added challenges compared to a typical transaction. This 10-point checklist will help make the process go a little smoother.

1. Meet with each party

It's important that you meet in person with each of the owners of the home to assess the environment in which you'll be working. There can be great collaboration or high levels of conflict in which you play the go-between. A real estate agent can contribute to minimizing the stress involved with the sale by setting each of the parties at ease. It could also be revealed that this is a transaction in which you prefer not to be involved.

2. Review the Final Divorce Decree

You don't need to—nor would you want to—read the entire document, just the part pertaining to disposition of the home. Frequently, with everything that has gone on and the high levels of emotions and anxiety, parties are confused and can give you the wrong information. 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 of 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. Make introductions to any other team 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 client, so it's helpful to have open communication. You will probably have to take the lead on this one, and it shows your professionalism. A phone call is usually appreciated by everyone.

4. Provide a list of professional referrals

Real estate agents 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 their options as they move forward. It furthers your level of service to have a group of trusted advisers to offer, and establishes a referral network for your business.

5. Clarify the lines of communication

Technology offers an assortment of options and many people are particular about their preference for communication. 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 that sometimes a phone call is needed. A person's voice can convey what a text or email cannot.

6. 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 all communication. Occasionally, one party wants everything copied to their attorney. Be sure the attorneys are supposed to be in the loop and this has been clarified. The attorneys I've worked with charge for each email they read, so be sure this has been cleared with the client.

7. Create a realistic time line for communication and put this in your Listing Agreement

When working with a hesitant seller, one that resides out of town or travels a lot, your level of frustration can quickly escalate. Gain consensus that 24 hours (or whatever is agreed) to respond is reasonable and necessary to keep the process moving. When the market catches fire again, which is starting, buyers won't wait long for an answer. This is a great way to set the tone for expectations, and you can refer back to it.

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.

9. You're a real estate agent, not a therapist

When emotions are running high and people want to vent, don't be the target. When just starting out, I used to spend hours listening and now I am adept at steering the conversation back to real estate. Remind them this is not your area of expertise and refer them to a mental health professional if needed. As always, be sure to offer multiple contacts.

10. Document, Document, Document

It's always important to document for your files, but for these transactions it is especially important. Sometimes emotions run high and people aren't listening as closely as we wish they would. It's vital you keep a paper trail of all communications, and it will really come in handy should you be called as an expert witness or as part of a mediation.

For more tips on working with divorcing clients, check out our video interview with Joan.

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