Divorce is never easy. Add jointly owned or contested real estate to the situation, and a challenging life event can escalate into a truly difficult, complex, and contentious episode. It’s rarely something either party in the divorce seeks. But it qualifies as one of those “necessary evils” needed to bring closure to one chapter of life so both parties can move on to the next.
Real estate dissolution and settlement related to divorce is one of those complex transactions that the team at The Gary Lanham Group at Coldwell Banker Fort Lauderdale Beach Office prides ourselves on helping our clients navigate. Yet, we know our place, our skills and abilities, and where we can best serve our clients. We also know when to bring in the experts.
Divorce and Real Estate: Never an Easy Deal
Sheena Benjamin-Wise is one of those experts. An attorney skilled in family law, Ms. Benjamin-Wise career has been built on marital and family law practices with a belief that educating her clients regarding duties and obligations of the law and the pursuit of providing exceptional personal service will deliver the best possible outcome and meet her clients’ ultimate satisfaction.
So we brought in Ms. Benjamin-Wise to meet with team members of Gary Lanham Group to discuss the impact, implications, and options related to divorce and real estate.
As Ms. Benjamin-Wise said, divorce cases, one option is where the parties have the option to buy out the other party. Another option is for the parties to sell the property and split the proceeds. That's where Realtor comes in, she said. Through mutual agreement, they can agree on which Realtor to use to handle the transaction. Ideally, this all occurs with the cooperation of both parties.
In those instances when they can't agree or don't cooperate, a judge may have to select one Realtor over another, or choose one if the parties are at an impasse. In fact, it’s the court’s role in divorce to help divide contested assets. When you're filing for divorce, you have to separate assets and liabilities. The judge in a divorce proceeding will have to sign off on any agreement, or may need to help partition the property or properties if the parties cannot come to terms.
When Judges Partition a Property
Partitioning of the property is a significant consideration. When partitioning the property, that gives the judge the authority to sell the property. Realtors need to know who owns the property or who may lay claim to its ownership. Sometimes, a property might have been purchased before the marriage and is titled in one name.
The other spouse may have or lay claim to some interest in the property. Again, of ownership or share of ownership is contested, the court will decide how much is owned by each party. In this case, the court might need detailed information on the property, like who's on the title, who's paying the mortgage, who holds deposits or escrow associated with the account. Also, the court might ask about who’s paying the maintenance and upkeep or other ongoing expenses.
If a Realtor already is involved, the court may ask whether there's a lockbox on the property. If there is, the judge may want to know which Realtor controls the lock box, who knows the code, and who has access to the property.
As Realtors representing either party in a divorce situation, it’s your responsibility to have - or be able to get - the answers to these and other questions. You need to know clearly what details may not be part of a customary real estate contract or transaction. Divorce is one of those complex transactions that separates truly skilled Realtors from those who are truly out of their league.
Divorce, Complex Transactions, and ‘What If…?
Ms. Benjamin-Wise left us with a cliff-hanger of sorts… Imagine this scenario: A single woman falls in love and the unmarried couple moves in together in her apartment. They soon decided to look for a property in need of renovation or rebuilding as an investment. They decide to invest money and sweat together into that home. She buys the property for $150,000. They sign a general contractor, talk to an interior designer, pick out tiles and countertops. They’re putting money into the property.
Over about 18 months, it’s all going smoothly.
Then they break up. The man tells the woman it’s time for her to leave. “Give me your keys and move out. You can’t live here anymore.”
All she wanted was her dream house. What are her options? Does she have recourse? What did she do?
In a separate follow-up discussion, Ms. Benjamin-Wise discussed how the woman was without easy legal remedy. While the woman had invested close to $175,000 in the property, the man’s name was on the home’s title. She had little recourse without bringing in an attorney; even then she faced an uphill battle.
The woman could file an action alleging unjust enrichment against the boyfriend. In that case, she’d have to call in the Realtor, the general contractor, the banker, and others as witnesses as to how much she was involved or had invested in the property.
Ms. Benhamin-Wise suggested people going into deals with others consult a real estate attorney to know their rights; this is especially the case if you purchase or invest in a property and fail to have your name on the title.
The Role of Trusted Partners
At the Gary Lanham Group, we’ve discussed how our success has come by building relationships with the top experts in the real estate field. Attorneys like Ms. Benjamin-Wise, accountants, bankers, and other professional service providers bring their best to help us bring ours.
In a previous blog post, “Five Ways the Right Realtor Will Help Buy or Sell Your Fort Lauderdale Home,” [correct title and link to blog], we wrote about the strength of a Realtor’s “team” – the “Best of the Best” - they’ve created that can turn a transaction into a positively memorable experience.
At Gary Lanham Group at Coldwell Banker Fort Lauderdale Beach Office, our mantra is: “Achieve Maximum Productivity with Only High Quality Providers.”
For example, we’ve written about showing a home to showcase its finest attributes. When preparing to photograph a new listing or show a home, we turn to expert broker and staging professional Robert MacKilligan of Florida StageHands and Designs to perfectly and magnificently stage equally magnificent home.
And whether preparing a home for sale – or making your new home reflect your desires - we turn to landscape designer Luis Llenza Garden Designs; general contractor and architect Ron Trebbi Custom Construction; commercial painter Augusto Alagia; and electrician Bill W. Eisenhart. We use professional photographer Bobbi Smith, and digital photographer and videographer Chtachi Egwu, and Internet marketers to professionally stage, photograph, post, and share dozens of publication-quality images and videos of your residence across hundreds of website and social media pages.
Getting the Deal Done
To get the deal closed, our trusted professional connections include the most respected appraisers, inspectors, attorneys, accountants, bankers, and tradesmen whose skills are needed at every step of the transaction. Our trusted advisors include attorneys George M. Moraitis, Jr., and Robert Nemrow; our preferred insurance broker Dunham Insurance; and our lenders, Donn Rubin and Norman Fisher, who always get our deals financed on time.
Before closing, we call on inspectors from NJCAT Engineering inspections to ensure no surprises exist beyond what they eye can see.
We also have a list of behind-the-scenes players to truly keep the machine running. Partners like our coach, Mark Kaminsky, help drive home our personal personas and professional brands, while videographer Chetachi, our business blogger and SEO writer Jeff Zbar, and our journalist and Big Data Specialist Helen Angel Penland, together drive performance – and all of our listings.
We thank Sheena Benjamin-Wise for joining us to share important information related to selling a home in a contested divorce situation. She’s an invaluable part of our team. Click here to visit her website.
Whether in a complex situation like divorce, or just searching for the right team to help complete your transaction relate to real estate in Fort Lauderdale, from places like Las Olas to Lake Ridge, Oakland Park, Pompano Beach and Wilton Manors, reach out and let’s start a conversation.
Gary Lanham Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate is a boutique real estate organization offering sales, leasing, and brokerage services to the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. A listings agent matches home sellers with buyers and tenants with landlords. While Broward County is our universe, we focus on Coral Ridge Country Club, Oakland Park, Wilton Manors, Pompano Beach, and the surrounding areas. Call us today at (954) 695-6518 or visit www.GaryLanhamGroup.com.