Real estate, at least the buying and selling of it, is an emotional subject at the best of times. In my twenty-one years as a licensed Realtor® I’ve noticed that even those that don’t own (or have never owned) a piece of real estate, have strong opinions. Throw in a marriage or domestic partnership break up and it’s easy to see how the division or disposal of a matrimonial property can become a contentious issue.

If the two sides agree to sell the property, it’s a fairly straight forward process. The biggest problem most people encounter is finding a real estate agent both sides can agree on. My opinion on this subject can be summed up in three words: “It doesn’t matter”. What does matter are the qualities any seller should be looking for in an agent, such as competence, trustworthiness and experience, to name a few. Fortunately, such agents are easy to find, whether it is by way of a referral, through a previous meeting, or by area reputation.

What couples need to avoid is the “my agent/your agent” mentality. There is no “edge” one side has over the other. It’s in everyone’s interest to maximize the final sale price of the home, which in today’s market is generally not a difficult thing to do. It’s my opinion that people fighting and under duress make the least rational decisions, so it’s best to try to get along when disposing of what is most likely your largest asset.

That said, the decision to have one party stay in the home or maintain ownership of the property while buying the other party out, tends to make determining the value of the home slightly trickier.

While selling the property on the open market is the ultimate determinant of value (as it lets a multitude of unbiased buyers decide the price on the open market), appraising the value of a property is more a matter of opinion, albeit an educated one. Many Realtors ® will provide a Letter of Opinion for a small fee. There is also the Appraisal Institute of Canada, a self-governing body of professional appraisers (those with AACI™ and CRA™ designations) who are used by banks, insurance companies and the like for property evaluations. It is common practice in many industries to get two or three evaluations and take the average. In the case of your property, I would suggest couples do the same.

Regardless of what route you take, dealing with as large an asset as a house will likely have the greatest financial impact in your life for several years to come. Though a breakup is a difficult situation, real estate and appraisal professionals can help both sides maximize the proceeds with which each side leaves.  

Sean Routbard, is a Sales Representative with RE/MAX REALTRON REALTY INC., BROKERAGE. He can be reached at (416) 566-2414 or by email at seanr1@sympatico.ca