Talking to Real Estate agents about commissions can be kind of… uncomfortable.
To discuss commissions with an agent can feel like asking them to hand over their paycheck for inspection and approval. It’s much easier to just swallow the questions and go with whatever the agent says, isn’t it?
But I know you still have those questions. And I care about helping you make informed decisions. I hate seeing people get manipulated or taken advantage of just because they don’t know the facts.
So let’s do it. Let’s talk about some of those burning questions about REALTOR® commissions.
What is the going rate for commissions? You won’t like this answer. It’s negotiable. One of the considerations is what competing sellers are offering as a commission to competing agents who may have a buyer for their property. In areas where properties frequently sell in a week, the commission my be lower than in an area where it frequently takes months. The main reason for this is that the longer a property is listed, the more it will cost the agent to market it. Those costs need to be reflected in the commission. I have personally charged as low as 3% for a family member (we still offer 2.5% to the selling agent) and as high as 7%. For the record, if I did not give birth to you, I will absolutely not list as low as three percent for you regardless of where or what you are selling!
Why do commissions vary so much?
There are a few reasons for the variation. One is local market. Other considerations are:
-What the agent offers. If no marketing is planned, the commission may be less. More marketing will cost the agent and need to be paid for out of their commission.
-Greed. Whether it’s wanting the high dollar (through a higher commission) or to get the most listings (perhaps through a lower commission), it’s a factor sometimes.
-Negotiation. Sometimes a client can negotiate a commission up or down to get the services they want. -There may be more than one person being paid to work for you. Some teams have administrative staff working behind the scenes that also get paid.
How much do Realtors Make?
Not as much as you think. The commission charged is shared between broker of the listing agent and the broker of the selling agent. Often it is shared 50/50. (At 5% that would leave the broker with 2.5%) The broker then pays the sales staff a percentage of that amount. That percentage varies depending on the office policies and agreements between office and agent. Most work on a commission split which can be as high as 50% of their paycheck! Subtract all the advertising and marketing expenses (professional photography, advertising, signage, etc.) incurred to sell the property. (This can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars)
Out of what’s left, the agent must pay mandatory licensing fees, franchise fees and, very often, they are also required to pay rent and fees to their broker. You know – office space, etc. Then there is just the everyday business expenses like vehicle insurance, car payments, phone bill, internet, fuel, office supplies, etc. Do the math. These kinds of numbers are why it’s a dog-eat-dog business. This is the stuff that sends a lot of newbies packing in their first year.
When all is said and done the Real Estate Professional may only net approximately 20%-30% of the gross commission collected at the end of the year. Hopefully that will be enough to cover the income tax payable to the government.
Are Commissions negotiable? Yes, but if you’re going to negotiate, I have three words for you. Do it carefully.
It can be risky to demand of and stomp on someone who you expect to work for you.
Not unlike offending the dentist with all the sharp tools in your mouth, or blasting the restaurant cook and demanding a new meal, making huffy demands is risky. What you don’t know about commissions – and the message they send to other agents – is dangerous to your deal.
Basically, if you’re going to negotiate, basically be respectful. Real estate agents are people too. And some of them really do have your best interests at heart.
Why should I pay that much just to have them sell it in a week? Review the answer to “How much do REALTORS® make?” Those numbers all apply whether the property sells in a week or 10months. The only difference is that the 10 months didn’t come by and eat up all the agent’s profits. Good for them. They got paid.
So did you. Go celebrate!
HINT, HINT, NUDGE, NUDGE…Perhaps it may be important to ask the question, “What services do you offer at that commission?” There is a vast difference in what services different agents offer at the same commission. You can pay the same commission to many agents but you won’t get 5 star service from all of them.
Don’t make the mistake of being so focused on how to get the lowest commission just to find out that you got no VALUE for the commission.
In conclusion, most Real Estate Professionals will charge you the same Commissions as the competitors. You can hire a rookie or an experienced agent for the same commission. It would seem more logical to look for the agent who will do the most work for their commissions.
Of course you will want to be sure that their work results in sales.
I will make it easy to ask us. You can request our digital pre-listing package ,otherwise known as a resumé, to learn about our services and qualifications.
Tina Plett, Sutton Group-Kilkenny Real Estate
I’m saddened by an unfortunate experience with my clients.
And it happened because of the four difficulties that come from working with private sellers.
I share the story to encourage or equip agents when dealing with private sellers. Or perhaps to advise them to think again. I also share this story as a warning to sellers so they can experience success instead of loss.
Recently, a lovely young couple asked me to help them find a very specific kind of property. As soon as they described what they wanted, a property came to mind. It was a perfect fit. There was just one problem. It wasn’t listed.
I remembered though, that the owners had wanted to sell it in the past.
Allow me to stop here to tell you that I have helped my clients purchase for-sale-by-owner properties before. Every one of those experiences was painful either for me, my client, or everyone. So I wasn’t altogether excited about repeating the process. Still, the property was absolutely, completely, irresistibly perfect for my buyers. So I approached the owners. Perhaps they were still interested in selling.
What soon followed were four of the biggest, and most common, reasons that I, and many other agents, would rather avoid working with private sellers.
Five Reasons Agents Avoid Working with Private Sellers
Working for Free for Strangers
The thing about private sellers is that they don’t know what they don’t know. Like their house value for starters. How do they know any offer an agent would bring would be fair? The buyer’s agent often ends up educating, advising, and even assisting the seller without any compensation or even appreciation.
In one case, I advised a seller to get an appraisal. But I sure wasn’t about to do it. Conflict of interest much? In the interest of transparency and unbiased fairness, (and helping move things along for my buyers) I arranged and paid for an appraisal out of my own pocket.
Not only was I not compensated for the expense or even thanked for going the extra mile to be very clearly on the up-and-up, but I was treated with contempt for it. Unfortunately, this is a common thing with private sellers. Which brings me to the next point.
Being Treated Like a Slave
There’s the working for free mentioned above, and then there’s slavery.
For some reason, people think a buyer’s agent should work for free. This is especially true for private sellers.
One couple who had once upon a time listed their house, built in a 5-6% commission for the selling agent. When I approached them with a buyer, they fought with me about payment, insisting I should get nothing for brokering the deal.
Basically, they think they can bully agents. There’s no relationship – not a personal one, and most certainly not a professional one.
Being Treated Like a Murder Suspect
Private sellers tend to treat buyers’ agents like they’re selling mismatched knives out of a trunk.
I’ve stood on the front stoop in winter, without being invited in, and explained how my buyer wants to buy their house, only to be looked over with a raised eyebrow. Do they think I’m trying to trick them out of the deed to their house?
One time I presented my buyer’s conditions, one of which was a satisfactory water test. I even did the sellers a favor by furnishing them with the sample kit. Their response? Accusation.
“You’re just doing this for the buyer’s advantage!” they said.
But it’s a standard requirement from the bank. They won’t even fund a mortgage without a water test having been performed. Besides that, I’m not actually a selfish creep who’s out to get you. Everything I do, I do for the benefit of both parties. Thanks for the implication, though.
Look, I can understand why sellers would feel guarded and protective. Between all the door-to-door scams, robberies-by-phone, and fraudulent emails happening these days, a person needs to be careful.
But that’s what seller’s agents are for – to protect sellers from any creepy, horrible, out-to-get you agents who try to bring buyers for your house.
Directing a Soap Opera
The thing about dealing with people is that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe they’re selling because of a divorce, or illness, or even death. Maybe there was a job loss and the financial situation is critical. Maybe the couple just doesn’t agree on anything, including the price, or whether to sell at all.
Wading through those waters is generally the seller’s agent’s role, and we’re happy to come alongside.
When there’s no seller’s agent though, there is no buffer between the seller’s drama and us, the buyer’s agent. Suddenly we have to navigate the personal stuff on both sides of the boat. It’s tricky, it’s demanding, and actually it’s pretty doggone impossible, given the previous three points.
The Biggest Deal Killer of All
This one’s not specific to private sellers, but they sure can sport a streak of it. The biggest deal-killer? Greed. Too many deals have fallen through and houses lost because of plain, old fashioned greed.
In one case, my buyers had offered the private seller Thirty Five Thousand Dollars more than the appraised value of the place just because they wanted it so badly. The seller’s response? They wanted more. They wanted an additional Twenty Five Thousand Dollars.
Allow me to gaze into my crystal ball here for a minute and tell you what’s going to happen to them and anyone else who overestimates the value of their house and refuses to accept less.
Ah, yes. I see it. A cloud looms in the distance. The house stands alone and sad looking, its original owners pining for the money they will never, ever see. Oh, and there – I see the banker raising an eyebrow in confusion. He shakes his head and snickers at the idea of lending more than a property is worth.
As long as sellers insist on getting more than a fair, sensible, and realistic price for their properties, deals will continue to die at the feet.
Sadly, the young couple I represented fell victim to some of these private seller behaviors. My buyers were respectful, flexible with the seller’s schedule, accepting of the seller’s terms, and even generous with their offer but, as often happens, the deal fell through. They were unable to purchase their dream property.
The not surprising final outcome.
My buyers found a much more appealing home that offered them way more value for their dollar. They have moved in and enjoy their new space.
The seller listed their property and eventually sold it for less than the offer that my buyer wrote and they paid a full commission for the sale.
I love getting dirt under my fingernails in the flower garden.
And the way dirt crumbles in my hand.
I especially love the way weeds pull right out sometimes, root and all.
Recently, when I was down on my hands and knees digging in the dirt, my little dog joined me. At first, she supervised nearby for a few minutes, possibly to see what treasure I would unearth. As I continued pressing my hands and tools into the soil, pulling out weeds, and humming, she decided to dive in right next to me.
She claimed a patch of weeds right beside me and set her paws to furiously digging. Dirt and leaves flew everywhere, even onto me. I paused my weeding to watch (while guarding my eyes from flinging flecks of dirt). She worked and worked, finally digging a little pit for herself. Then she stood in the middle of it and plunked herself down, nestling as deeply as she could into the cool earth.
I smiled, petted her, and returned to pulling weeds.
In the quiet, I thought about how she and I were both digging in the garden but for different reasons. I want the flowers to be visible and not crowded out by weeds, and she wants a cool place to sit.
We all have different motivations for doing what we do.
Many people can do the same thing, but for different reasons.
I’m a real estate agent, but my why might surprise you.
It’s not for the money (It’s not as much as you think anyway)
It’s not for the glamour (People tend to see agents more as salespeople than industry professionals)
And it’s definitely not for the primo hours and awesome vacation times (Days off can be hard to come by. Heck, attending a wedding uninterrupted can be hard to come by!)
No, I’m an agent in spite of all these challenges.
Because I’m a helper and encourager at heart, and I love, love, love to help people find their perfect-for-them home. As an agent, I get to protect people from pitfalls, walk them through scary and difficult circumstances, and make them super crazy happy.
Those are the things that satisfy my soul that I count as excellent results, and that drive me forward each day.
What motivates you in your work?
I LOVE my job – It’s got adventure, variety, and the deep satisfaction of helping people find their perfect-for-them home.
Last month put that love to the test though, I’ve gotta say. From every angle, side, and corner, various Boogiemen leapt from the shadows.
Here are a couple of general examples of conversations that may or may not have happened recently.
Client: “Hi, Tina?”
Me: “Hi, how are you?”
Client: “Hurry!!! I NEED to see this house RIGHT NOW!!!!”
Me: “Umm… you know people still live in it and need some notice, right? They might have babies napping or–”
Client: “–I don’t care! I’m parked outside of their house right now! Get over here!”
Me: *bangs head on desk*
Me: “Hi. My client would like to make an offer on your listing”
Agent: “We already have someone else interested.”
Me: “Uh… it’s for sale, is it not?”
Agent: “Yes, but they don’t want offers.”
Me: (I wonder if the agent is blocking offers from other buyers so they can double end the deal… His clients wouldn’t appreciate that. Too bad they’ll never know. Man, I can’t wait until they make that illegal (like they are about to in Ontario.) In the meantime…
Me: “Okay, I’ll bring an offer. My buyer will pay every dollar the seller is asking and then some.”
Agent: “Go ahead, but they’re not going to take it.”
Me: *bangs head on desk*
But then there was the buyer who said something shocking to me this week.
We’d been working together to find them a house, and it was… difficult. They did not have access to internet and that felt crippling. They’d had a nightmarish, stressful relationship with the builder of their home right from day one. For years, that stress robbed them of the joy of living in their custom built home. Now they just wanted out.
Because of their worn-down, stressful state, they were not only deeply sad and exhausted, but also in a desperate hurry. Not a good combination. They had three weeks to find a new house.
That’s like giving yourself ten minutes for a 1-hour grocery shop. It’s insane. Like, reality TV, run through the aisles like a madman, plowing down women and children kind of crazy.
So here we were. Dashing like madmen.
Whose hair was on fire.
The hardest part for me was seeing how the anxiety had pulled their faces into hard lines over the years. They weren’t the most expressive people, and I’d never seen them smile. Not once. Years of annoyance can make a person cranky and it made me sad that their home-owning experience had done that.
Plus, knowing they would probably settle, desperate for a new house, I was sad they would likely repeat the disappointing experience of owning a home they didn’t want.
We hunted. Looked at loads of houses. In person.
When we finally came across the one that struck them as home, I was excited because I knew something about it they didn’t.
“Ah, I know the guy who built that house. He’s a new, young builder trying hard to please people. He does quality work and treats people well.” I said.
That was all they needed to know – that they’d be treated well for once.
The buying process was difficult – sometimes it seems like agents don’t want to sell their listings, and this was one of those times. After working and working at it though, we did manage to get the house.
* * *
One week after the couple moved into their new home, I was walking up their sidewalk to check in. (They appreciated the personal face-to-face approach.) As I neared the front door, I wondered if this stressed out, anxious, desperate couple with their faces pulled in hard lines would have anything good to say about our working together. Had it been pleasant at all? Would they feel they had been treated well or that the whole thing was worth it?
With all these thoughts swirling in my mind, I rang the bell. The door opened, and there stood before me a woman I almost didn’t recognize. Where before a permanent frown had been carved into her face now shone a relaxed, upturned smile. Her eyes that had looked dead and empty now seemed to shine, almost laugh.
I mentally willed my mouth not to gape open in shock. “How’s the new house?” I asked.
That’s when she said what I never thought I’d hear from her.
Her smile expanded into a full out grin. “It feels like home.” She sighed and her eyes went dreamy, “I’m happy.”
I nearly cried on the spot. “Wow – after a week it’s feeling like home already?”
“From the first day it felt like home.” She raised a palm to her chest as though speaking of a loved one, “Tina, the chains have come off and we are free. … I’m happy. So happy. The grandchildren love it here too!”
I almost burst into tears. She was happy?
That moment was worth every difficult, head-banging, hair-pulling moment before it.
THIS. This is why I do what I do. This is why I love working as a real estate agent.
I floated back to my car and through the rest of my week, grateful for the reminder, blessed by the satisfaction of having helped someone and then being able to see that dramatic transformation.
These are the moments that fuel us through the hard days, aren’t they?
What one memory or thought keeps you going through your hair-pulling days?
We all face obstacles.
A controlling parent, a cheating colleague, lying clients, or a bullying boss.
When you’re in it, especially if stress and difficulty come from multiple sides, it can feel like the most miserable isolation. But the truth is that none of us is alone. We all struggle.
So what do you do when the pressure becomes relentless and you start to feel like you’re drowning in negativity?
You don’t drown in water by being in it. You drown in water by staying in it.
-Edwin Louis Cole
Many years ago, I was in just such a place – drenched in deep, extreme negativity. The enormous personal stress resulted in my losing 50lbs in a month. I couldn’t eat – my body wouldn’t allow it. My insides felt shaky – like I’d swallowed a phone stuck on vibrate. And all I could think about was the very difficult circumstance that was turning my heart inside out.
Then something happened that changed my life.
A friend noticed and did something. She saw what a mess I was and how it was damaging my body.
“You need to go to a doctor!” she said.
I insisted that I didn’t – that I could handle it. She insisted more though, and made me go. She drove me to the doctor’s office. She sat with me in the room. She forced me to get help.
And it rescued me.
Most of the stress and difficulty we face in our work and relationships isn’t that extreme. But it’s critical to recognize when we’re maxed out on stress and negativity, and to take action before we make things worse – for others and for ourselves.
How to Recharge in the Face of Obstacles
Be Your Own Friend
I was lucky that time to have a friend not only notice, but then help me initiate change.
We can’t wait for a masked hero to arrive though. Most of the time we have to be our own friend, noticing that we are a mess and that something has to give.
Give Yourself Permission
I don’t know why we find it so hard to give ourselves permission to be wounded; to feel hurt. I’ve got news for you: humans hurt, hearts break, and we’re not robots who can flick a switch to make it all stop.
Healing can only happen when we realize we need it.
Needing help does not mean you’re weak. In fact, it’s what’s going to strengthen you. Admitting your wounds is itself an act of strength and the next step to progress – no guilt required. Give yourself permission to need help.
There is a time to take a break. When you’re slammed from all different sides, it’s tough to pull out a smile. We have to recognize when our bodies, emotions, thoughts need a break.
When we are in a bad mental state, we’re probably not the most effective in our work and relationships anyway. We need to invest in our own well being with the gift of a rest.
Let It Look Different
Know that your rest and recharge time doesn’t have to look like sunbathing on a beach in Cancun.
It doesn’t have to be two weeks long. Do and be what refreshes you.
For some, it’s going to be retreating to a cabin with a stack of romance novels. Or others it looks like camping out in a recliner for a few days, refusing to cook or clean, so their body can heal.
Recently, I took a break to recharge, and spent that time attending classes, learning online, brainstorming my brand positioning, and product development. That – especially the brand positioning and marketing – is what revives my motivation. It refreshes my confidence in my abilities to excel, and fires me up to work with renewed gusto.
What refreshes you will be different than what works for others and that’s okay.
I’m curious – how to you recharge when facing obstacles?
There are a lot of weird things about the real estate profession.
Like working side by side with your direct competitors under the same unified banner.
You’re on a team, but you’re also not.
Sure, there’s camaraderie, all of us being members of the real estate ‘sisterhood’, but here’s the thing.
Sometimes sisters fight.
Insecurities, miscommunication, and outright jealousy and fear can cause a lot of problems among humans. Even real estate agents. Even competitors.
We can’t avoid it, really. So the trick then isn’t to avoid competition or miscommunication, it’s trying to figure out how to disagree like grownups, and compete with sportsmanship.
I’ve seen my share of office feuds, both between agents in the same office and agents in different brokerages. Sometimes it’s frustrating to watch, other times it’s heartbreaking to watch someone flush their reputation and professional relationships down the crapper for a measly paycheque.
I’ve seen people huff and puff about ‘how dare so-and-so talk to THEIR client’ when the truth is that was never ‘their’ client. (Because first, people are not property to be claimed by real estate agents and second, saying hello to someone in the store does not a client or piece of property make) *rant over*
I’ve also been to countless meetings with other agents and was met with snarky attitudes, snide comments, and outright belligerence. Once I got over the shock of a fully grown adult behaving like a toddler in wingtips, I stored it in my memory as evidence of an important truth – one we all need to learn.
Agents, we need to get it through our thick, competitive heads, that we don’t need to steamroll and pull each other’s hair to make it!
We need to realize other agents are our not our enemies – they’re our best customers!
Why Competing Agents are our BEST Customers
1) They Cover You on a Day Off
Without some degree of teamwork (or shirking our clients), we won’t get a day off. We need each other. If you expect another agent to do anything on your behalf, you’d best maintain those relationships.
Someone whose client you poached, whose deal you tanked, or who you simply treated with disdain is not going to jump to help you.
2) They Bring Referrals!
Referrals from other agents is a huge resource for leads. Winnipeg agents occasionally send me leads so they don’t have to drive all the way to Steinbach for a showing. I absolutely want those! But, when I sell a house as a result of that referral, I absolutely give a referral fee to that agent. I treat them well and reward them for their efforts to work with me. And the people they send my way? I treat them with excellence too. Know what happens? Those agents don’t hesitate to send me referrals in the future.
(If I’d choose to be snippy, cheap, or treat their would-be clients poorly though, I could not expect that referral source to keep flowing!)
3) They Understand Loyalty
Some people put a lot of energy into ‘protecting’ their clients from being ‘snagged’ by another agent. I have a list of problems with this. Why would any agent put so much work into keeping someone who is so apparently disloyal (clients aren’t objects to be kept on a shelf anyway), when it’s so much easier, efficient, and rewarding to work with people you like and who like you – clients and agents.
Cultivate those relationships, and reap loyalty. (and so much more.)
We need every office to be willing to work with us – to be willing to bring offers and show our houses.
If another agent thinks you’re a pain in the a#$ to work with though, they might just resist showing your houses. They might just try to steer their clients to other options to avoid the unpleasant, sarcastic, snarky-attitude-ridden experience that is meeting with you.
4) Repeat Business. Like… A LOT.
Another huge reason other agents are our best customers is because they can repeatedly write offers on our listings. A buyer or seller will only do business with us once every few years at the most generally, but a realtor can do business with us many times!
Bottom line: We need each other. Let’s act like it.
It was the end of a long, frazzled day.
Showings here, demanding clients there, and a list of time-sensitive tasks that needed to be done ‘asap or else’ had chased me to the end of my time.
But there was one more to go.
That evening I met with an older couple, in their eighties, to show them a house.
I had no idea the surprise that awaited.
We walked into the vacant 1960’s home with its original wood doors and trim stained that awful kaka yellow. The countertops were original too, with their brightly colored laminate. It was one of those moments where, for just the teensiest split second, I was sorry I could see. Amazingly, the home had not been updated at all. It felt like we had stepped back in time.
While this modern-day REALTOR® was shaking her head, wondering how such a severely outdated place like that would sell, my elderly clients had other thoughts. They caressed the laminate counter tops and wood door frames.
“Look at this – they have wood doors!” She said to her husband.
“Oooh, yes,” he said, coming up beside her and running a hand along the door also.
They did that in almost every room. It was sweet and also a bit weird. But it was the era they came from, and, outside of museums, they probably hadn’t seen such a well preserved 1960s relic in decades. I imagined I might likewise caress metal window casings or rustic log furniture one day. And if I did, I hoped it would be sweet too.
“How much is it? And does it have a basement?” The husband asked. We’d talked about it a few times, but he was forgetful.
“It’s $215,000. And yes, it has a basement.” She answered politely, as though it was the first time he’d asked. “The door to the basement is by the kitchen.”
“Ah, $215,000. Okay.” He walked over to the door by the kitchen and opened it. “Is this it?”
“No,” she said, “that’s a closet.”
“Oh! A closet! How lovely!” he said, and closed the door. “Where’s the basement then?”
Without a sigh, grimace, or any single sign of impatience, she walked over to him and showed him where the door was.
“Oh! A basement! How lovely.” He said, “And how much is it?”
Her patience with him seemed limitless. She calmly answered his questions several times over, each time as though it was the first they’d spoken of it. There was no, ‘Remember??’ or “I already told you”. There was no exasperated head shakes or eye rolls. In no way did she ever shame or embarrass him or even seem impatient or inconvenienced at all.
Her response stunned and humbled me.
I imagined, in her position, I would definitely let a sigh escape if I had to do that all day every day. I found myself wanting to be more like her.
They didn’t end up taking the house, which I think is great because it means I get to spend more time with them looking at others. They’ll look at houses, and I’ll look at them.
Which made me realize something else.
No matter what we’re doing – no matter how mundane or unimportant or invisible the task at hand, there is always someone watching – someone noticing how we live and respond. And hopefully, what they see is something that inspires them. Or encourages them. Or just makes their day a bit brighter.
We need to talk about control.
This series about selling due to separation would not be complete without talking about the games people play and how they try to manipulate each other.
Incredibly, the blazing hot emotions involved with divorce can turn a previously loving relationship into a battle zone. Sometimes, the sale of a house becomes the last pawn in that battle to the death.
As a real estate agent, I get a front row seat to such gladiator games.
It’s not a fun sport to watch.
I also don’t plan to out anyone’s real, personal story, so will instead paint a picture with broad strokes that have applied to many situations.
One common situation is when a couple has separated, but continues live in the same house until it sells. She never wanted the divorce, and is resentful about it. He just wants to get out of there as soon as possible.
Guess how that pans out during negotiations.
Any buyer who comes along to make offers will be roped into the manipulation and mind games these two end up playing together. Offers – even ones perfectly matching the seller’s requirements – will be rejected. Or stalled. Or have a last-minute change added. Anything to hang on – to keep the unwanted future from unfolding. Anything to keep him around, even if it’s just to fight.
In another common situation, one spouse has moved out, and the other remains in the house, which is for sale. The animosity between them is thick enough to slice.
He decides the house is the battlefield where he will win back control over her. He’ll sign no papers. Or he’ll leverage the house to renegotiate divorce terms. Or he’ll simply stall, perhaps suddenly “needing to talk to a lawyer”, so the buyers who have finally come with an offer walk away, tired of waiting for these two to get their heads on straight.
Sometimes the attempts to manipulate are successful enough to wreak emotional havoc.
Most often though, the result of all this arm-bending is financial loss, even to the point of bankruptcy.
When people sell due to separation, the dynamics are tricky.
Tips For Buyers:
If you’re trying to offer on a house where separation is an issue, bring an extra helping of patience and compassion. These are hurting people in an emotional volatile state, neither responsible for the other’s actions.
Try to remember none of their antics, behaviors, or inconvenient requests is about you. Most of the time, it’s about their last desperate attempt to control or at least hurt their spouse. Try to cut them some slack.
Tips For Sellers:
The best advice I can give to couples selling due to separation is to decide as much as possible before you sell.
Any decision you can make before separating and before selling, is better.
If one of you is leaving the house, try to decide division of assets before actually leaving. Get it in writing and sign if you can. Once a spouse actually leaves, it seems sad emotions ignite into flames of rage and bitterness, and the control games begin.
Don’t think it won’t happen to you. Or that you and your spouse are too sensible to become like “those people” who break down and lash out. You’re not. This happens. And not just to ‘other people’.
The best thing you can do is not underestimate the power of emotions involved.
Head trouble off at the pass – discuss and agree on as much as you can before walking out that door.
The phone rang. It was a past client.
“My marriage is over…” She explained they’d decided to end it, and wanted me to list their house.
I was able to head over to her place right away. Before hanging up though, I encouraged her to rethink the separation. “Relationships are more important to me than transactions.”
“No, it won’t work. We need to sell and end it.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
On the drive, I prayed. For wisdom. For their relationship. That healing could happen.
At the house, they both waited for me, and together we three signed the papers and listed their house. They didn’t really want to sell it. They had custom built their dream house only a few years prior. But it was unthinkable to stay after ending the marriage. It had to go.
It was a peaceful meeting. They were not angry and yelling as some do, instead they seemed quietly resigned to the story unfolding this way.
As we passed papers around and signed on lines, I said, “Just so you know, you’re not locked in here. You can change your mind. All you have to do is say the word and we’ll withdraw it from the market. No questions asked. You don’t owe me an explanation.”
They thanked me, and I proceeded to market the property.
Two weeks later they emailed, asking to withdraw the listing.
I drove over to their house to sign a different set of papers. This meeting was peaceful too, but hope hung in the air.
Afterward, he walked me to the door. “We want to make our marriage work.”
I smiled. “I’m so glad.”
I didn’t regret for a moment the money I spent to market their house (and by then I’d spend quite a bit already).
Now I see them having fun together, posting smiley photos of them together at Jets games and eating out with friends, and I am so thankful. I’d much rather see their happiness and success than a sold sign.
Divorce happens. Sometimes it needs to.
But sometimes it doesn’t need to.
Their courage to try again is something I greatly admire.
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Separation is emotionally volatile.
What’s surprising is that it surprises people.
I’m not sure why. It’s perfectly logical.
When a previously deep and intimate connection disintegrates, it does not go quietly into the night.
The connection doesn’t simply become dead. It becomes… undead.
It continues living, but in a new, twisted form.
Divorce seems to poison its victims, transforming one or both into claw-bearing, fanged creatures who rip and tear relentlessly to satisfy their new thirst for blood. What was once passionate love becomes an insatiable desire to inflict pain, ironically in an effort to relieve pain.
Logic becomes calculation.
Reason becomes justification.
Love becomes hate.
Suddenly the dining set bought together years ago, while holding hands in the furniture store, becomes the mountain on which each is willing to die.
Discussions about the house, the furniture, and the car, each become an opportunity to slash and bite and howl.
Unfortunately, the children also fall victim to the poisonous effects of divorce. They, however do not grow fangs. They become the table or the car – a thing to fight over. There, smack-dab in the middle, they can’t help but get in the way. As they watch their parents slash at each other, and as they are tugged and coaxed and pressured back and forth, they are soon scarred by slash marks too.
It’s an ugly unfolding.
As a real estate agent, I’ve had a front row seat to many such stories. My clients have suffered the grief and shock and pain of divorce. Luckily for both of us, the deep pain of divorce is something I’m personally acquainted with, so I can empathize.
I understand. I’ve been there.
My experience – both personally and as an agent helping my clients through this gut-wrenching process – also means I can hopefully start a conversation that helps others understand how to help their clients.
Whether you’re a real estate agent, banker, or lawyer, it’s tough to watch clients suffer, and difficult to navigate the volatile transaction.
The biggest way we can help our clients is by empathizing. Let’s not be surprised or critical of their emotional state or outbursts. This is the nature of the beast. Instead, let’s look past the claws and fangs and realize all the howling is not about dining sets or houses. These are the final twitches of death – the pangs of regret and hurt that themselves cause hurt.
Hurt people hurt people, as they say.
Let’s not add salt to the wound.
As the professionals helping them through it, we can offer an ear, a kind word, and maybe even suggest alternative, more effective ways to salve their wounds. But our advice can’t come out of a desire to fix them. It has to come from a place of compassion and empathy.
It’s all any of us wants – to be loved the way we are. To be understood. To be known.
Luckily, every human interaction – even acting as a real estate agent – offers the opportunity to provide exactly those things for another.