REALTORMAG. REALTOR.ORG REALTOR® JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2014 33
how to . . .
WORK WITH DIVORCING CLIENTS
Providing Help During a Break-Up
Selling the home at the end of a marriage calls for emotional sensitivity
and an understanding of financial and legal complexities.
When a marriage dissolves, full-boil emotions can overtake
reason as couples untangle their finances, routines, and
other details of their life together. Practitioners who understand the complexities of selling a home during a divorce
bring a compassion that’s just as vital to the process as their
While the divorce rate has been trending downward for a
decade, close to a million married couples still split each year.
Those life transitions call for expertise that some consumers
may not even realize they need from real estate practitioners.
It can be useful for divorcing sellers to consult with a real
estate agent well before they’re ready to put the house on the
market, even before the divorce itself is settled or goes to trial,
says Kelly Lise Murray, a law professor at Vanderbilt Law School.
“If the house is handled incorrectly during divorce, one or
both spouses may be ineligible to qualify for a mortgage, and
thus unable to refinance the marital joint mortgage or buy a
house with new loan origination for years,” says Murray.
One mistake divorcing couples can make is not examining
and making needed adjustments to the homeowner’s insurance
policy. Just because two people are married—and on the deed—
doesn’t mean they’re both named as insured parties on the
home. If one spouse is listed only as an insurance beneficiary
and remains in the home, he or she will not be covered after
the divorce is final, Murray says.
A real estate professional experienced in the divorce niche
can provide clients with step-by-step guidance to protect
themselves legally and financially. Murray, founding director of
the Vanderbilt Collaboration Project, developed a designation
course (unaffiliated with NAR) called the Real Estate Collaborative Specialist—Divorce. The curriculum offers divorce-specific
real estate scenarios, noting some key differences in state law.
Pam Theroux, a sales associate with Marin Modern Real Estate
in San Rafael, Calif., has been working with divorcing spouses for
eight years. She had a client who tried to refinance after a divorce,
only to learn there was a 10-year-old lien against the property. “No
one thinks to run a background title report on a house,” she says.
Having gone through her own traumatic divorce and custody
battle in the late 1980s, Theroux
says having patience with your cli-
ents’ predicament is important. “I know
how traumatic it was to sell my house that I loved and
move into a little apartment,” she says.
Also, if you’re dealing with both sellers, be sure to communicate with both equally. Avoid holding meetings that exclude
either party. That can worsen trust issues, Theroux says.
Theroux has a background as a paralegal working on family
law cases, but she’s careful—and warns other real estate practitioners to be careful—not to give legal advice. Agents should
refer their clients to lawyers or financial planners to address
legal questions and financial and tax considerations.
Although most of Theroux’s clients come through referrals,
marketing is also important. Her website, www.pamtheroux.com,
highlights her expertise and generates online inquiries regularly.
Murray recommends that real estate pros not outwardly solicit
those going through a divorce but instead organize local events for
them. The events could be held at a public library or community
center and should include a range of experts—real estate and
divorce lawyers, mortgage professionals, insurance agents—who
can talk about real estate issues that arise during a divorce. “Team
up with really great referral partners,” Murray says. “Then the
business will come.”
By Erica Christoffer