Home Selling Process

The Fresh Prince’s Guide to Selling a Home After Divorce

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Divorce is already painful enough, and deciding what to do with the former couple’s largest asset can be an excruciatingly tough and costly, yet extremely necessary process. Emotions run high, and the newly separated couple can run into a lot of costly pitfalls trying to extract equity from their home. So how should a divorcing couple handle this situation to get the best possible outcome?

Instead of highlighting any specific case, and to make the topic a little more enjoyable, we decided to look at it through the lens of everyone’s favorite 90’s TV show: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. So what are Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian’s options for their Bel Air mansion after divorce?

Warning: I love the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and I’m going to go super deep into this metaphor, so be prepared for a lot of references in this post.

The Mansion In Question
The Mansion In Question

Option 1: Transfer the Deed and Mortgage to One Party

Uncle Phil desperately wants to keep the mansion, so after some negotiation the divorce decree states that he will take over all outstanding mortgage liabilities from Aunt Vivian. The couple goes to the bank to ask their lender about refinancing their mortgage entirely in Uncle Phil’s name (I know lawyers at Firth, Winn, and Meyer do well, but not well enough to buy that house outright).

This is where the couple runs into their first hitch. While the divorce decree states that Uncle Phil can take over the loan, the bank is under no obligation to see it that way. Uncle Phil’s finances raise a number of flags for the lender; not only is Vivian’s teaching income no longer supporting the loan, but Phil now has a new dependent from West Philadelphia that he didn’t have when they first bought the house. The bank denies the refinancing request.

How should they have handled this issue?

Before negotiating and formally agreeing to the loan transfer, the Banks should have talked with their loan officer to see if that was a viable option.

 

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Option 2: Sell The Home

Since all four kids are moving out, Phil and Vivian decide they should just sell the home and split the equity. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, they run into a number of issues along the way:

Staging The Home

Aunt Vivian decides to move back to Philly to be with her sisters while the house is being sold, so she arranges to have a moving company come, pick up her half of the furniture, and ship it cross country.

The problem? Now the home is only partially furnished, which is going to make showing the home to buyers much more difficult. Buyers want to either see a fully-furnished home, so they can get a sense of each room, or completely unfurnished so they can come up with their own decorating ideas.

Worse? Geoffrey has moved back to England to be with his son Frederick (I told you we were going deep on this metaphor), so no one is around to keep the mansion “showing-ready.” As such, the house sits on the market for months unsold.

How should they have handled this issue?

Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian should have agreed to split the personal belongings in the house after it went under contract, or at least split the furniture upfront but agree to leave it in the house until it was sold. They should also have agreed to split upkeep expenses to make sure the house was in good shape to attract a buyer.

 

Jazz being around isn't helping the showing situation either
Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian are still fighting over who has to take Jazz

 

Handling Negotiations

After almost a year on the market, the Banks finally receive an offer on the mansion, and it’s no bad – about 85% of asking price, all cash. Uncle Phil, who has been living in the pool house for a year because it has the most furniture, is ready to accept the offer; Vivian, who’s been living with Will’s mother in Philly the last year, is waiting for a big payday and wants to hold out for a higher offer. The couple, initially through their broker and eventually through their attorneys, argue back and forth about accepting or countering the offer. After a week with no response, the buyer moves on and puts an offer in on another house.

How should they have handled this issue?

Upfront and with the help of their agent, the couple should have agreed to a minimum price they would accept for the home and how they wanted to handle any offers that came in below that price. That way there wouldn’t be any question when the offer came in, and the couple’s agent could negotiate more effectively on their behalf.

 

Capital Gains Taxes

By some miracle, the Banks manage to find another buyer, George Jefferson, soon after the first offer falls through

Spoiler: Sherman Hemsley’s character is the the one who actually buys the Banks home in the series finale. He also played a character who died earlier in the series. This shouldn’t really be a spoiler at this point.

The sale closes 30 days later, and Uncle Phil moves out. All is hunky-dory, until it comes time for the couple to file their taxes individually. Turns out that the capital gains taxes on a $10 million mansion, even minus the exemptions allowed for a long-term stay in a primary residence, are very high. Uncle Phil can barely afford it out of his salary as lawyer, but Aunt Vivian’s professorial salary isn’t enough to cover that liability. After all the fees associated with selling the home, Vivian can’t afford to pay the capital gains taxes out of her half of the equity.

How should they have handled this issue?

The couple should have planned for the expected capital gains liability upfront, and negotiated splitting the equity accordingly. Their agent and accountant could have helped them assess the financial implications of the sale and plan for their tax liability.

 

Although divorce is a tough time for a couple, effective planning is key to reducing the time and cost of selling a joint home. Once that process is done, the couple can look forward to enjoying the single life like Will and Carlton.