Ready for a Divorce? Your House Isn't

When a home's final sale price isn't enough to cover its owners' home loans, divorcing couples must decide how to split the remaining liability. Negotiating how to settle the debt can lengthen divorce proceedings, Borden said.

One spouse, he said, may not trust the other to pay his or her fair share and may demand other assets, such as a car or an investment account as collateral.

"You're saying, if I'm going to be stuck paying this, I want some assets that I can use to defray that cost," Borden said.

And then there are the homes that just don't sell.

New York lawyer Raoul Lionel Felder said he knows of couples who "live in holy deadlock," delaying their divorces and living together unhappily in hopes of selling their homes later and using the proceeds to fund their newly separate lives.

"They just keep going until the market changes," he said.

Getting Closure

While market factors can't be helped, divorcing homeowners can take measures to improve the chances of a successful home sale.

One key step, Anchorage, Alaska, real estate broker Niel Thomas said, is making sure that personal problems don't burden the selling process.

"My role has more to do with marketing the property than it does with being your marriage therapist," he said.

Choosing a real estate agent together is also important, Thomas said. If one spouse chooses the agent, he said, the other may become distrustful.

"I want them both to feel that I'm going to treat them both with equal respect," he said.

Kelman, the Redfin.com chief, said that once the home is on the market, it is in the homeowners' best interests to keep the reason for the sale -- their divorce -- under wraps.

Knowing that a seller is divorcing may lead some to make lower offers.

"People just take any sign of urgency as a sign that they can offer a lower price," he said. "So if you know that two people are going at it every night and can't wait to get as far away from each other as possible, you're probably going to factor that into the price you offer them on the house and hope that they just take it."

Borden disagrees.

He said buyers are more likely to recognize a great deal on a home if they understand why it's being sold in the first place.

"If you can say, the husband lost his job, the wife cannot get up and down steps anymore because she's an invalid now or we're going through a divorce and we can't afford to stay in the house anymore, I think it makes it easier for a buyer to grasp that narrative and say, 'Ah, now I understand why, even though the house is valuable, these sellers want to get rid of it,'" he said.

Buyers, he said, will put in low offers no matter what.

"This is a buyer's market. Buyers already know they can lowball you," he said. "You're not going to give them any additional ammunition."

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