Estate agents beware the legal perils of divorce.

Divorce proceedings can cause some of the most difficult problems confronting estate agents, says Lanice Steward, MD of Anne Porter Knight Frank – and, she adds, those who are married in community of property are often the most at risk.

A difficult situation that arises regularly, she said, comes about when one of the divorcing pair decides to buy a new home before the divorce is finalised.

In these circumstances, the new house is in fact jointly owned by the husband and wife and forms part of the joint estate. It is, therefore, absolutely essential not to buy before the legalities of the divorce are completed, she warns.

The pain of a divorce, adds Steward, is often exacerbated by the couple refusing to cooperate on the selling of their existing home, e.g. by holding back on signing documents (the signatures of both parties married in community of property are required until the divorce goes through) or by quarrelling about the price.

Buyers, she said, sometimes exploit the disagreement and play one partner off against the other. This, in turn all too often results in delays, which may well cause genuine buyers to go elsewhere and in a lower price being achieved for the house.

Steward added that divorce related unhappiness in a home tends to leave an “almost tangible” bad vibe – which buyers do pick up. Efforts should be made to cheer up the atmosphere by playing uplifting music or by decorating with fresh flowers.

“Certain homes speak to you: they tell you at once that tolerant, patient, loving people lived here. It may sound fanciful, but this has a marked effect on values.”
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