Disclaimer: The following content is not legal or real estate advice and should not be interpreted as such. Consult a qualified attorney or realtor for professional advice in these fields.
When I realized that my midlife divorce was actually going to happen after 33 years of marriage, and three years of unsuccessfully trying to save it, one of my first calls was to our friend who had done our taxes every year. I remember sitting down in his office, trying not to cry. After expressing his personal disappointment and sadness about the divorce, he gave me a tissue and got out our file.
One of the first things he said was, “Suzy, you need to get rid of your house as soon as you can. You can’t afford it. It would be too big of a burden on you and too much of a drain on your money.”
My ex and I had designed the house. It had all the spaces, colors and details we wanted. It was the gathering place for both family and friends. There were lots of trees and even a creek just beyond the bike trail in the back. My ex was living in an apartment during those three years of our on-again, off-again separation, and I stayed in the house.
I knew that after our divorce, with our three oldest children out on their own, in college or already married, the house was too big for my youngest son and me. So I began the process of physically and emotionally letting go of the house.
That sounds easy written on this page, but it was very, very difficult.
Emotional Reasons for Selling
For most women, giving up the family home is emotionally traumatic — just one more huge loss among all of the other losses of divorce. Not only is our family “broken apart,” but our family refuge, our centering place, was going to be gone, too.
That’s one reason midlife divorce is so difficult — loss piled upon loss in a short amount of time.
In some ways, selling a house after divorce makes it easier emotionally to let go of our ties to the past. Continually walking past his closet or his home office make it harder to let go of him.
I’ve read that the “scent” of someone stays around long after they are physically gone from the house. That almost imperceptible scent lingers on furniture and in spaces he used frequently. And smells are the most powerful memory triggers we have.
When I was in spaces that we spent so much time together, the memories would come flooding over me. Celebrations. Birthdays. Family dinners. Neighborhood get togethers. Watching baseball or basketball games. The kitchen – a family hub. Our bedroom. Playing games. Our house was the place for all that wonderful daily stuff that goes on in a family.
When we stay in that same space where all of those wonderful things happened, we sometimes find it harder to let go of that life when it’s gone after divorce.
Also, I remember exactly where I was standing in our house when I found out about the other woman. I remember coming home and falling apart after I discovered them in bed together at the Fairfield Inn. I remember sitting on the floor of my daughter’s closet trying to stop crying. Those memories are hard to erase.
I discovered, as many other divorcing women do, that we are grieving not so much the loss of the physical space of our house after divorce, but the realization that our life, our family, our personal self will never ever be the same.
Financial Reasons for Selling
Most of the reasons for selling a marital home after divorce are financial. Wisely or not, I think most women would choose to stay in their home if it was financially workable. But that is usually not the case. And even for women who can afford it, it’s sometimes better to sell your house after the divorce is finalized. Most of the time we have no choice.
Court Ordered Sale
In my own divorce, the divorce agreement guaranteed that I would stay in the house during separation and then it would be sold as soon as possible after the divorce. Our legal agreement was that I would get the proceeds from selling the house, and if it was not at a certain number, my ex would make up the difference in cash or other assets. I’m not sure if that is considered “Court Ordered,” but it was written into the divorce agreement.
Can’t Afford It
As I mentioned before, most of us simply cannot afford to stay in our home after divorce. Especially if we chose to be stay-at-home moms or to take a less demanding career path to be more available to our family, we are often at a financial disadvantage.
If at all possible, when you are going through a divorce especially at midlife, have a team in place:
- A divorce attorney
- A certified divorce financial advisor
- A therapist or a divorce recovery program to help you do the grieving and healing you need to do to get your life back.
- And a real estate expert if you’re selling your house
Impractical To Keep
Finances are not the only reason not to stay in your family home. For me, keeping up with all of the repairs, even just mowing the big lawn, was more than I wanted to handle. When I bought my small house, one of the first things I bought was a lawn mower I could operate myself.
Still, even a small house takes constant upkeep and the expenses that go along with it. Sometimes moving to an apartment or a condo is a better choice because you don’t have those repairs and other jobs to add to an already full plate after divorce.
The Selling Process
Once you decide to sell your house either during or after your divorce, you must find a realtor you trust to help you navigate that sometimes scary and unfamiliar territory.
Hiring a Realtor
Our realtor was a good friend from my church who helped sell our marital home. I knew I could trust her. Both she and her Keller Williams Real Estate office was always very highly ranked in our city. She was patient with me and answered all the many questions I had about the whole process.
By the way, my realtor, judy johns, also bailed me out after I was well over my divorce and conducting my first RADiCAL Divorce Recovery Boot Camp in Kansas City.
One of my speakers got sick in the middle of the night before the conference. I called Judy at about 5:00 am that morning asking her if she could possibly fill in and speak about selling your house after divorce.
She was amazing! Not only did she make a killer presentation, she also gave me a $500 gift certificate to the Country Club Plaza as a door prize! Find a realtor like that!
Here are some of the points Judy made that day:
“Embrace the reality …your ‘home’ is now a ‘house on the market,’ and our goal is to maximize the dollars. The realtor’s staging suggestions are nothing personal… merely to speak to a buyer! Divorce is overwhelming physically and emotionally, so be kind to yourself and lean on your realtor to carry the mental load. Focus your efforts on packing and having your house ready for showing.”
For more information go to Judy’s website.
Getting The House Ready
One of the huge things we had to face after the divorce was finalized was getting the house ready to sell. That meant going through 33 years of stuff that a busy family acquires over the years. My ex-husband and I went through the agonizing ordeal of separating our life.
After that, I set a date for the Great Sort Out Weekend for everything that was left. All the kids came home and we designated four piles on the driveway.
- The Trash Pile (Things that were no longer any good to anyone)
- The Donate Pile (Things that could be donated to charity)
- The Keep Pile (Things that someone wanted and would take home)
- The Undecided Pile (Things we couldn’t quite decide on)
Another tip: As soon as you fill these piles, get them out of your face as soon as possible! All day long, I kept being tempted to move things from the Trash and Donate piles to the Keep and Undecided Piles.
In getting ready to sell, we also have to deal with fixing things that we have ignored. Most of us who own homes put off little repair jobs that should be done to keep out home in tip-top condition. Do those things before you put your house on the market. Tidy up your landscaping, too.
Settling on an Asking Price
When I knew the divorce meant that we had to sell the house, I did research on what other houses in our area were selling for, so I had a ballpark figure in my head. I left almost all of the final decisions to our realtor. I knew she knew way more than I did about the market and how to sell our house for the most money in the time frame we wanted. It was reassuring not to have to figure all that out myself.
Reviewing and Accepting An Offer
Again, find a realtor you trust to help you with these various parts of the negotiations. You might also ask your financial advisor, your attorney or someone else you trust to look over the numbers, if that puts you more at ease.
Selling your house is a huge part of your future. Make sure you are comfortable with your realtor and then trust your team to do the best for you.
Don’t let your emotions sabotage your financial well being in making these vital pricing decisions. We might not always get everything we want, but don’t lose out because you have overly optimistic expectations of what your house is worth and what you will settle for.
Most of the decisions about how the profits or debts will be divided are determined in your divorce settlement. There are many moving parts that go into that decision such as equity, debt, mortgage commitment and personal contributions.
Make sure you know what the settlement means and have your attorney fight for the best possible deal for you. Many women get so tired of dealing with the endless meetings, negotiations, mediations and so on, that they finally say, “I just want this to be over with so I can get on with my life!”
Don’t do that! Be patient — even with the seemingly endless process — to get the best deal possible. Your future depends on it.
Selling the House – A Fresh Start After Divorce
For me, selling our house and buying a much smaller house that I could afford turned out to be a huge step forward in my divorce recovery journey.
My ex put a lot of his stuff in storage. I got my belongings ready to go to my new house. My brothers and any of their families who could, came and helped me and my children pack! Having family around made it much easier. In fact, it was a family catharsis. There were tears, but lots of laughter, too.
After two days of exhausting sorting and packing, my family and the kids and I sat on the back deck. It was a beautiful evening. We had a “family dinner” delivered by Pizza Hut, and we ate on folding tables and chairs. It was an emotional, but nourishing, comforting time together.
Early the next morning the movers came, and by the end of that exhausting day, everything was at least in my new house! I was nervous, but excited.
I started rearranging my life to fit in our new place. Thrift shops and going-out-of-business sales provided pieces I needed. I did my best to make it a place that family and friends would feel welcome and loved.
A quote from Colin Powell, who moved many many times in the military, really hit home after my divorce — “Home is where you are.” That’s true! If you are happy and excited about your new place, your children and your friends and family will be too.
After I got settled into our new house, I personally delivered invitations in our new neighborhood to a party at that house. We invited “ … new neighbors and old friends to celebrate this new beginning!” It was very casual. Everyone brought some kind of appetizer or snack to share. It brought the neighbors together and introduced my family and friends to our new neighborhood.
I was full of conflicting emotions about having to move because of a divorce I didn’t want. Stepping out and meeting my new neighbors and reassuring my family and old friends was a big step to accepting my new address and my new life.
In looking back, it was a bigger step than I even imagined at the time. It was my launching pad into my bright new future!