When Melbourne buyer’s agent Cate Bakos worked in sales, she had to try to find a buyer for a house owned by a couple going through a particularly nasty divorce.
The "guy-in-the-garage house" was always going to be a tough sell. Photo: Stocksy
“The husband refused to move out, so he camped in the garage,” Bakos says. “It was nothing short of awkward and it gave the house a really negative feel. It passed in at auction. The buyers all referred to it as the guy-in-the-garage house.”
Big property decisions are hard enough during the best of times. Add the emotional dynamite of a break-up to the mix and there’s potential for monumental real-estate missteps.
So what are the biggest property blunders people make when a relationship ends?
Rushing to sell your old house
The urge to move on quickly can spur exes to hit the fast-forward button on a sale.
Bakos says launching into a speedy off-market sale isn’t necessarily the best way to go, “particularly when the market is hot and the four-week auction campaign could yield a much stronger result”.
Jane Schumann, a partner in the Schumann Sands team at Di Jones Real Estate in Sydney, says grief can distort the decision-making process.
“The biggest thing, and sometimes it’s the hardest thing as well, is simply not to rush making these sorts of decisions.”
Keep calm and don’t rush decisions. Photo: Stocksy
Buying a new house too quickly
Family lawyer Ian Kennedy, principal of Kennedy Partners in Melbourne, says break-ups can leave people feeling vulnerable and unsettled.
“They are often desperate to buy a new house but all too often end up with something unsuitable,” he says.
He recommends taking time to reassess short- and long-term housing needs. “For example, there might be teenaged children who might not be living at home in a few years’ time.”
Schumann says renting can be an ideal interim option, especially when contemplating a move to a new neighbourhood.
Trying to sell without your ex’s knowledge
Real estate agent Adam Welling of Village Real Estate in Melbourne has had clients try to sneak him into homes during business hours to keep their ex out of the loop.
In his view, trying to keep the other person in the dark is pretty much guaranteed to backfire.
“We’ve had to put sales on hold when the other party finds out, so advertising money has been spent for an auction we can’t have,” Welling says. “When they are in a position to sell, it might have been on the market for a long time, so people begin to wonder what’s wrong with it.”
Don’t keep your ex in the dark. Photo: Stocksy
Letting buyers know about the break-up
“Home sweet home” isn’t exactly the message conveyed when the fridge, washing machine and half the clothes in the wardrobe have been cleared out.
Bakos advises against making it obvious that one person has moved out. “Buyers are nosey and often piece the puzzle together,” she says.
Being present at opens isn’t a great look either. “And worse still, crying or being angry in front of buyers. Many buyers like to think a house has great vibes and this undoes it all.”
Welling says in a hot market, the reason for the sale probably won’t have much impact. In more sluggish conditions, buyers might haggle harder.
Lodging a caveat over the property can also indicate a forced sale. Kennedy says in most cases this step is overkill. “If you do, make sure the caveat is removed well before the property goes on the market.”
Embarking on an overly ambitious renovation project
Many a relationship has cracked under the pressure of an over-ambitious renovation project. At the other end of the bust-up spectrum, newly single homeowners often bite off more renovations than they can chew.
Rick Vugts is the founder of Hiresquare, an online hire and rental portal. He says he regularly receives requests from divorcees for easy-to-use renovation tools.
“They might end up moving into a home that isn’t finished yet and that causes stress with some people,” Vugts says.
He recommends deciding on a schedule, taking into account which jobs can remain unfinished for a while. When embarking on a DIY renovation project, consider using professional-grade tools for large projects such as removing tiles from a living area. “If you try to use DIY tools for a large area, it can break your back and take ages.”
Refusing to pay the bills
It might be tempting during a divorce dummy-spit to stop paying the mortgage and the bills. Bakos says this strategy is unwise. Not only do rates show arrears; banks can become involved with the sale.
“A mortgagee sale is far more stressful than a divorce-driven sale and can often drive down the sale price,” she says.
Avoid ambitious renovation projects. Photo: Stocksy