Real Estate transactions are stressful. In all my years of experience in this business, the one thing I can guarantee is that everyone in the process of selling a home will have several sleepless nights. For most people, this is the single most important event happening in their lives and it takes a toll. However, when it comes to selling real estate as a part of a divorce, the real estate is just a drop in the bucket compared to the financial and emotional events occurring simultaneously. Because of that, choosing a real estate professional often becomes a secondary choice. But when 70% of divorces involve property, selecting a real estate professional that understands what you are going through is vital.
An agent that is specifically trained in divorce tend to be more consultants that salespeople. Since most agents practice selling their value, you may not be aware that the agent you are consulting with doesn’t have the experience necessary to properly handle your situation. Furthermore, inexperience typically doesn’t show up until the middle of things, and by then it’s too late. Even if the agent you are talking to is certified to work with divorcing clients, these 5 questions can help you determine if they’re going to be a good fit for you.
#1: How will you handle conflict?
The stress that comes from high value sales such as the disbursement of real estate means it’s prime for conflict. In a normal sale, that conflict is coming from across the aisle. In a divorce situation, conflict is coming from every direction. Experienced divorce agents have dedicated a tremendous amount of time studying conflict management. They are trained to know when a disagreement needs to be escalated to involve attorneys and the court, or when they can step in to negotiate a sticky situation. Pay attention to the answers the agent you are interviewing provides explains specific tactics they’ll use to ensure conflict can move towards resolution.
Divorce, by its very nature, is based in conflict – that’s why the divorce is happening to begin with! Remaining neutral and able to communicate clearly and positively despite the conflict takes practice and experience.
#2 How do you plan to stay neutral throughout the listing and sales process?
Neutrality is the bedrock of all agency relationships when it comes to divorce. While each divorcing spouse will likely have their own separate attorneys to handle the details of the divorce itself, their real estate agent, by nature, represents them both. Experienced agents have specific, proactive steps to remain neutral. Red flag answers from the agent you are interviewing includes vague language such as “I will keep both of your interests at heart” and “I will share all updates to both of you simultaneously”. Look for answers that include specific times when simultaneous updates are appropriate and when it’s not. Surprises, unfortunately, do arise during the sale of a home. And so do secrets. Managing if, when, and how that information is relayed to each party is a delicate matter that takes training and experience.
#3 What experience and/or training do you have in divorce real estate?
If an agent doesn’t have real world experience in this type of transaction, you may find that you have just as much experience as they do! Asking what training they have in this field is one of the first question that should be asked. The Ilumni Institute provides the most comprehensive training, which is why I sought out their training. State bar associations, and some mediation and arbitration associations offer some support and useful training as well.
#4 How often will you talk to my attorney.
If there is one thing I know for sure in this life, it’s that attorneys are expensive. And they should be, there really is no “passive” income when it comes to their profession. The product they are billing for is their education in the form of time, and that time is valuable. An experience agent knows their clients will be relying on them to know when updates to their attorneys are appropriate and necessary. Promising to keep attorneys “apprised” of the real estate transaction every step of the way sure sounds good, but communicating too much costs the clients unnecessary money. An experienced agent knows exactly what information needs to be relayed and when, their value comes at saving the client money. Unlike attorneys, real estate agents don’t bill by the hour. Clients know that they can come to their agent with concerns and questions that otherwise might cost them hundreds of dollars per hour discussing with their attorney. An experienced agent not only knows when an answer can be given, but also knows when it’s appropriate to bring a topic to the attention of the client’s attorney.
When it comes to this process, sometimes less is definitely more.
#5 Why are you doing divorce cases?
Divorce cases are hard. They are easily the most complex real estate transactions we will work on in our career. If an agent only sees this as an opportunity to generate income, they will not have the commitment to follow through when the going gets tough. Knowing that there is a purpose driven desire to genuinely connect and help clients through their toughest moments – their “why” for getting into this type of representation, is vital when choosing an agent.
Hopefully these questions have helped you to identify important areas your agent should be an expert in when working with a divorcing client. Remember to take your time when doing your due diligence as you move forward and beyond the present uncertainty. Reach out if there is any question you'd like to ask.