Death, divorce and downturn – dealing with vendors in distress

Property Market, Sales,  Salespeople

Selling a home can inspire a lot of stress in a vendor – it’s their largest asset, and typically carries a lot of sentimental value.

When a vendor is selling a home after a divorce, or selling the home of a deceased loved one, this stress can be dramatically exacerbated.

As an agent, here’s what you should be aware of when selling homes in these difficult, often tumultuous, situations.

Death

Known as deceased estates, the property of passed loved ones will often need to be sold – a process fraught with emotion and distress, which can be compounded by the lack of a will, or squabbling family members (or both).

Above all else, dealing with a vendor who recently lost a family member is going to call for empathy and compassion.

Be aware that the home is likely to carry a lot of fond memories, and its seller may not enjoy it being treated as just another asset.

Exercise patience and understanding, but remain professional – ultimately you’re still an agent, not a counsellor.

If the family member passed a significant time before the house is being taken to market, there’s going to be a lot less stress and emotion involved, but going through the home may still bring back some memories and sadness, so don’t assume you won’t have to be compassionate.

Death of a family member can also lead to disputes around inheritance. Your vendor may be selling the estate as a group, sharing the sale, or they may have bought out their siblings’ or other inheritors’ share of the estate prior to sale.

Regardless of the specifics, you need to ensure that your vendor has legal rights to sell the property, which includes proper execution of the will, and the successful application of a grant of probate (though a property can be sold ‘subject to a grant of probate’).

The situation can be made extra difficult if the deceased family member didn’t have a will, which is the case for about half of all Queenslanders.

In this instance, it will be up to all family members to come to a decision on how they want to administer the estate, but ideally as an agent you won’t be involved before this process is complete.

Divorce

Some divorces are more civil than others, but none of them are fun.

If the divorcees are civil and able to get their finances in order and everything agreed upon, then selling the home won’t be much different to selling any other estate.

Realistically, your vendor should have all their legal concerns sorted before approaching you to help sell their home, but just as in the case of a death in the family, emotions may still be running high.

When children are involved, this is likely the home they’ve been growing up in, and it is a confusing and difficult time for them, so always keep this in mind.

It’s important to understand that agents aren’t solicitors, and all disputes should be handled by legal professionals.

The agent’s job is simply to act in accordance with the instruction of solicitors and lawyers.

In the interest of avoiding misunderstandings, encourage your clients to put everything into writing. This includes any agreements made between partners or former partners, as well as any instructions they’d like you to carry out.

It is against the law for unlicensed individuals to bestow legal advice, so always refer your clients to legal professionals if they ask you for guidance on such matters.

Fortunately once the home is sold, splitting the sale is not the agent’s responsibility, and will instead go to legal professionals or family court.

Financial hardship or loss of job

Finally, there may also come the unlikely scenario where a homeowner finds themselves unexpectedly out of work and are forced to sell their home.

Not only is this a stressful time for the homeowner, but there will likely also be a sense of urgency.

Somebody who can no longer make their mortgage repayments needs to be selling their home as soon as possible, but that doesn’t mean they want to undersell (though they may need to take a slightly lower offer than they’d like to, depending on the severity of the situation).

Empathise with them for their difficult time, but focus on getting the job done. Be prompt, efficient, and professional.

Somebody in this situation has a lot going on, chief among them being finding new employment. While you may not be able to help them with such problems, they will appreciate you being understanding and compassionate.

If they don’t plan on moving in with a friend or loved one, they are most likely looking to purchase a more affordable home, or switch to renting. In both cases, you can, and should, help them out.

With any luck, your vendor will be back on their feet in the not-too-distant future, which may mean they’ll be selling again and looking to upsize. If you were empathetic, prompt, and professional, you’ll get the repeat business, as well as a handful of potential referrals.

A human touch

Real estate is a people-powered industry. Agents make their living with their ability to interact with people, and in circumstances where their vendors are under stress, this becomes ever more important.

In any of the situations listed above, as well as any other where clients are selling homes during or after unfortunate happenstances, a little extra empathy and humanity will go a long way.

Important disclaimer: This article is provided for general information only, and the author is not engaged to render professional advice or services through this article. Readers should satisfy themselves as to the correctness, relevance, and applicability of any of the above content, and should not act on any of it in respect of any specific problem or generally without first obtaining their own independent professional legal advice.

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