Surviving a Home Sale During a Divorce

The divorce is pending, you’re not on good terms, the house needs to be sold, the proceeds split, and two new households set up. What’s the best way to go about it?

Divorce isn’t fun. In fact, it’s one of life’s top three stress-makers. The other two are death and moving. Many consider divorce as a kind of death, so if you’re moving as well, you’re dealing with all three stress-makers in one fell swoop.

Moving isn’t fun, either. It’s hard enough to sell a home filled with memories—good and bad—under the best of circumstances. If kids are involved, the concern for their tender spirits adds to the strain.

Goal #1: You want to land somewhere good to begin the next leg of your journey, which will include healing.

Goal #2: You want to maximize profits from the home sale, which will help fund your new beginning.

Because you are trying to secure your future, it’s worth the effort to do this well. After all, you get ONE chance to make top dollar for your home.

Best-case scenario: Both spouses live in the home—in separate bedrooms; all of the furnishings remain intact; the kids are sad but their schedules are undisturbed; the dog feels the strain but isn’t acting out.

Not-so-best-case scenario: One spouse has moved out, the house has been ransacked for a second home, the kids are being shuffled back and forth, the depressed dog has ruined the carpet. Communication is strained, if it’s happening at all. Finances are strained. Family has taken sides, or, you find yourself consoling them during the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through in your life.

Reality: Whichever spouse is still in the house is now responsible for preparing the house to sell, which seems grossly unfair since the other spouse will receive half the proceeds yet is doing nothing to help.

Often, the marriage was in decline for a while, so the house may feel neglected. There may be projects half-completed, now abandoned. The house may be in need of a deep, deep cleaning.

Clutter may also be an issue. I mean, it’s an issue in happy marriages, so decluttering and purging will need to happen. Maybe the clutter will eventually leave with a spouse, and there isn’t anywhere for it to go for the moment. Not until this house sells.

There’s also the issue of finding a new home, whether to purchase or rent. Space may be much smaller, and there’s an entire basement and garage filled with stuff that needs to be offloaded. It’s not all going to fit into the next place.

Extended family lives in another state, so there’s no help.

Maybe there’s a restraining order; the stress is everywhere—you feel it even in your hair.

It’s hell, frankly, but if it’s any consolation, the hell is temporary. This, too, shall pass. It can be tempting to “stick it” to the offending spouse, but if cool heads prevail it will net you a higher pay-off. Again, you get ONE chance to maximize profits and better secure your future.

Here are some tips:

Ideally, the one who is more motivated to get the divorce should be the one living in the home while it’s on the market. Foot-dragging, sabotage, debilitating depression, are a few of the reasons that the process can drag on far too long. If there’s depression, it may only get worse, which will be reflected in the home’s appearance.

Determine which items need to remain for staging the home. This is a good time to hire a stager. Gals, don’t ransack the house and take all the good stuff, leaving behind golf posters, the black leather sofa and beer steins. Guys, don’t take the master bedroom set and family room sectional yet. If you must move out, a temporary set-up in a small rental with only a secondary bed, TV, chair and lamp for a few months will net you more profit in the long run.

Determine which pieces of your décor will elevate the vibe of your home. Dressing well for a job interview helps you appear that you’re worth of the salary you’re asking. It’s the same with the contents of your home. Your “good stuff” will support the perceived value of your home and the price being asked for it.

Create a list of what you each need and want for your next home (bed, seating, dishes, towels). Then, sell or donate what neither want, and won’t be needed for staging. The idea is to reduce the tonnage of stuff everywhere, then use the space for storing items you will be keeping but won’t be used for staging. If you were planning to get rid of things, might as well do it now, when it’ll earn you money by being gone.

Try not to rent a storage unit if you can avoid it. If you’ll be renting an apartment for a year or so, you won’t need the ladder, leaf blower or wheelbarrow. Sell it and pocket the cash. The cash that would have gone to a storage unit can replace any of these items later, if necessary.

Have a conversation with your lawyer about the best way to deal with expenses. Repairs, junk-hauling, window cleaners, new carpet, can be reimbursed at closing. Keep all receipts, and maintain a communication trail via emails/texts. Your real estate agent and stager can help you determine the best use of budget dollars. New carpet and padding, for instance, is a big expense, but will upgrade each room it’s in, and support a better price.

A learning opp for the kids. At some point in life, they’re going to learn that while Rome burns, life goes on. Rooms and bathrooms need to be show-ready, and toys put away. Consider pre-packing the bulk of their items ahead of time to make it easier. It’ll seem like Christmas when you’re settled again and begin unpacking.

Keep both sets of clothes in the master closet. People often wonder at the reason for a home sale. Do we need them concluding that the home has bad ju-ju? Borrow clothes from a parent if you have to, and convey a happy vibe.

Wait to dismantle the home until after the home inspection. God-forbid the sale falls through and you must go back on the market, only now the home is in shambles.

Have a proactive mindset. You may be saddled with all of the work, and there’s a tendency to get crabby about it. Tell yourself you’re doing this for you, to ensure your future. And if it helps, tell yourself as you sort, haul and clean that you’re working for $500/hour. Because, you are.

Practice good self-care. One way to get out of the temporary but very present hell is to dream about what you want your next home to look like. To help you get started, download my FREE Dreamsheet: What Your 80-Year-Old-Self Wants You to Know.

Home is where love is. Love yourself by creating a new space for self-care and restoration. Ease into your new normal, quickly and gently, with affordable ideas from someone who knows how you feel. Reach out today, and treat yourself to a giant healing step forward into your new, lighter and freer, life.

Copyright © 2022 by Cynthia Gentry Black, Home Staging by Cynthia, LLC in Kansas City.
All rights reserved. No portion may be shared, reused or republished in any format without express written consent of the author.

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