Monthly Archives: September 2018

How Do Unmarried Couples Divide Property After They Split Up?


Today, 14% of Americans aged 25 to 34 live with their significant other without getting married, and many of these unhitched couples are buying homes. Which begs the question: If this merry, modern-day union goes south, how do unmarried couples divide their assets after they split up?

When those more traditional duos, aka married couples, divorce and divvy up property, the process is fairly simple (at least in legal terms), since there are laws in place to protect all parties and clear-cut rules on what’s kosher‚ or not. But when you’re cohabiting without tying the knot, it’s a very different animal. Here’s what you need to know about buying (and possibly splitting) a home with a significant other when you two haven’t walked down the aisle.

How does dividing real estate assets differ for married and unmarried couples?

When married couples divorce, there are several options available to them in dividing any real estate they own. One spouse can buy the other out, they can opt for a delayed buyout, or they can sell the home and split the profit.

This decision is all mediated by divorce court, and, notably, the court can force the sale of the house if the (soon-to-be ex) couple can’t agree on what to do with it. This is so that if one party is desperate to sell (to, say, buy a home elsewhere) or buy the other party out (so that one of them can stay put as sole owner), the courts can make that happen.

With unmarried homeowners, however, the courts’ hands are tied: In most states, provided both unmarried partners have equal legal ownership—meaning both of their names are on the title to the property, no matter how much either party contributed to the purchase of the home—both must agree to sell the place before it’s put on the market.

“In a divorce case, the court will [force the sale of] the house—no problem,” explains David Matthews, a partner with Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial in Georgia. “With unmarried couples, you’d have a hard time. You could never force the other side to buy you out. If one party wants to be really obstinate and not sell, the other party has a problem.”

Plus, even if an unmarried partner does agree to a buyout of the other, the cost of doing so is more expensive than it would be for a married couple doing the same thing.

“Transfers of assets between the parties in a judgment of divorce are tax free,” says Lynne Strober, the co-chair of the Matrimonial and Family Law practice at Mandelbaum Salsburg in New Jersey. “This means that if one spouse transfers their interest in the property to the other party, there is no tax consequence. However, if there is a buyout between an unmarried couple, tax issues may arise, as the transfer may be a taxable event.”

This means unmarried couples should talk to an accountant about how much they’ll pay in taxes when transferring assets, so they aren’t blindsided by the costs.

What can unmarried couples do to protect themselves if they’re buying a house together?

Due to the legal complications noted above, numerous experts agree that unmarried couples (whether they are romantically involved or business partners) need to have an agreement in writing before they buy a home together. This is the only real way to protect yourself and make sure the property is divided fairly and without issue in the event of a breakup.

“When unmarried couples buy a home together, they can’t do it on a handshake,” says Matthews. “Because in almost every state, if you have an agreement regarding real estate, it has to be in writing. It doesn’t have to be a 40-page formal document drafted by a professional lawyer, just an agreement about how things are going to be divided.”

These contracts, sometimes known as “cohabitation agreements,” should cover these things at a minimum:

  • What to do with a home in the event of a breakup (sell it and split the proceeds, or allow one party to buy the other out)
  • The percentage of profits each party will receive upon sale
  • How to handle unanticipated disputes that may arise in the process of dividing the asset. “It’s very important to have to have an agreement about if you can’t reach an agreement: Who’s going to decide it?” says Peter M. Walzer, an attorney at Walzer Melcher in Los Angeles. “Just saying ‘We’ll go to court’ is a very expensive option, so you may want to agree to go to a mediator first.”


What happens if couples don’t have a cohabitation agreement?

If an unmarried couple buys a home without a written agreement in place and splits in a less than amicable fashion, they could be in for a lengthy and expensive legal battle if they can’t reach an agreement about the property on their own.

Both Matthews and Walzer agree that the legal fees associated with litigating issues of ownership or equity in the home would be likely to run to at least $25,000—and could tally up in the hundreds of thousands, often well above the value of the home itself.

“I’ll say this: It’s a whole lot cheaper to hire a lawyer to write up an agreement before you buy a house than it is to litigate it later on: A stitch in time saves nine,” says Matthews. “There’s no way to predict legal fees, but I don’t see any way you could even get the ball rolling for less than $25,000 to $50,000.”

Of course, bringing up the idea of a contract that’s specifically meant to protect you in the event of a breakup is a delicate matter. Experts say that many couples fail to get anything in writing because they are reluctant even to broach the subject. But it’s vital.

“When people get together like this, they don’t want to put it in writing, because it’s awkward. It’s hard on the relationship. It’s like getting someone to sign a prenup,” Matthews says. He feels, though, that it’s crucial that they take the time, put it in writing, and sign an agreement. “Preferably have it witnessed. Map out how things are going to be done, and who owns what.”

The post How Do Unmarried Couples Divide Property After They Split Up? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

The Single Best Way to Sell Your Home This Fall, Revealed

Mariana Mikhailova/iStock

You may have heard that spring and summer are the top home-selling seasons, and that fall is as dead as those leaves piling up on your lawn. But don’t be fooled.

“Fall is actually a great time to sell your home,” says real estate agent Carola Encarnacion of DJK Residential in New York City. “There’s less competition, and the market is still very active.”

So if your house is on the market right now, take heart! And heed what many experts say is the one best thing you can do to reel in buyers: Give your home an autumn upgrade with some staging.

To the uninitiated: Staging is the technique sellers use to showcase their home at its best through upgrading furniture and decor. And celebrating all things autumnal is the way to do it successfully now.

To tap into the fall frenzy, here are some staging tips that will help your home exude a cozy ambiance that’ll get those offers rolling in.

Home staging all starts at your door

Photo by Rikki Snyder
Focusing on curb appeal is the perfect way to get off on the right fall foot, says Amber Harris, a real estate agent with Washington, DC–based Keller Williams Capital Properties and owner of At Home DC, an interior decorating firm.

“Place a few potted mums in seasonal colors near the door, and add a simple, natural wreath made of faux leaves or even wheat,” she recommends. A wheelbarrow piled with pumpkins is a nice accent, but, she warns, “make sure they aren’t being eaten by squirrels or starting to rot.”

Complete the vignette with a cute fall-themed doormat and shined-up light fixtures to greet guests, as the sun will soon be starting to make an early exit.

And while fall leaves are great to jump in, they are not so fantastic littering the lawn of the home you are trying to sell. So make sure that you take care of any errant foliage before potential buyers arrive.

Think autumn, not Halloween

Photo by Between Naps on the Porch 
It turns out that while autumn appears to be fairly universally loved, Halloween is not so much.

“Not everyone celebrates Halloween or will enjoy a scary Halloween-themed house,” Encarnacion says.

If you just can’t resist veering toward the holiday, at least choose cuter, friendlier Halloween décor, like decorated or carved pumpkins, candy corn, and friendly ghosts. (Cobwebs, however, are a no-go.)

Swap out summer hues with autumnal tones

Photo by moment design + productions, llc 
Changing leaves mean changing colors, Harris says. If summer is all about bright popsicle tones or beachy blues, autumn is associated with warmer neutrals—think the deep reds, burnt oranges, and golden yellows reminiscent of the shades of fallen leaves.

Sprinkle these warmer tones around your house in your table décor, bathroom and kitchen towels, accent rugs, and even art, but do make sure they complement any existing color palette, she notes.

Embrace cozy

Photo by Ann West Interiors 
Most folks love the shorter, crisp days of autumn, so have your house reflect that vibe, suggests Abra Landau, design expert at home stager Fashion Furniture in San Diego.

Warm up your couches and chairs with comfy throws, blankets, and pillows in autumnal tones and textured fabrics like chenille, herringbone, or corduroy. Swap out airy summer sheers for more substantial drapes or shutters, and trade a summer sisal or jute rug for a wool area carpet. Light a fire if possible, and make sure there are plenty of candles adorning the tables and counters. Finally, don’t forget to turn on extra lamps, as sunlight wanes earlier in the day.

Appeal to buyers’ sense of smell

Photo by Savvy Seasons 
Baking a pie in the oven might be an overused home-selling trick, but if you’re into it, there’s no better time to do so than fall. Scents of cinnamon, apple, and (let’s not forget the smell of the moment) pumpkin spice will all help potential buyers picture themselves baking up something luscious after an afternoon of apple picking.

If baking up a treat isn’t your style, add scents around the home through spiced-scented candles, oil sticks, or potpourri, suggests Landau.

Surprise your visitors with something sweet

Photo by Seaside Interiors
“It’s become standard to see pasta or beans in clear glass jars in the kitchen, but consider placing a simple cylinder filled with candy corns or other colorful fall candies on a buffet,” Harris says. And probably no one—even those who might not be big Halloween fans—will mind if you put out a bowl of fun-size candies, ready for trick-or-treaters as well as fatigued home buyers who need a sugar boost.

Set the table for a feast

Photo by Gerber’s Draperyland 
We know what’s right around the corner—Thanksgiving—and families will be thinking about gathering loved ones around, maybe even in the new home. Appeal to this dream by setting the table as though you were expecting a large group for a sumptuous feast. Go big with china and crystal and fall-hued place mats and chargers, Harris recommends. Dress the table with a runner, accented with a fall-themed centerpiece.

The post The Single Best Way to Sell Your Home This Fall, Revealed appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Preparing your Home for Sale

Preparing your home for sale can seem like a big task, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Our handy checklist can ensure that your home stands apart from the crowd. A home that has been properly prepared for sale can sell quicker and for more money, and that’s something that every seller can get behind.

Before your home goes on the market is a great time to declutter, deep clean, and depersonalize a bit. This can be an opportunity to get a jumpstart on packing and make your move a little easier. Present your home as clean, well cared for, and a space where potential buyers can imagine themselves living and with the right agent you’ll have an offer before you know it.

Now let’s get your home ready for sale:

Store or pack personal mementos
Clean closets and storage spaces
Store off season decorations off site if possible

Deep clean carpets
Store laundry in a covered hamper out of site
Put away children’s toys

Mow lawn
Store all trash in cans
Repair and paint fences

Before you leave:
Turn on lights
Open drapes
Wipe counters
Remove dishes from the sink
Leave the house

What’s the Right Listing Price for My House?

Choosing the right listing price for your home is a little art and a little science. Bill from Venture Home Real Estate discusses how our agents in Columbiana County find just the right listing price for your property.

Curious about what your home might be worth? Our Home Valuation Tool can give you a good starting point, but our agents can give provide you with a more in depth analysis. Feel free to give us a call to discuss your home’s value, it could be worth more than you think!

Here’s the One Room Where Home Staging Will Pay Off the Most


As most of us know, home staging can help sell a house—particularly in the living room, which has gotten a bad rap lately as a waste of space.

The fact is, first impressions matter, and the living room is usually near the entry point for most homes. Reality check: This room may not be the end-all, be-all area it used to be, but this is no place for your kid’s train set, your husband’s guitar stands, or any unnecessary clutter. So, it pays to do all you can to showcase this space right. To help, here are some living room staging tips buyers will love.

Remove and redistribute furniture

Photo by Elizabeth Herrmann architecture + design 

Amy Bell, owner of Red Chair Home Interiors in Cary, NC, urges homeowners to evaluate whether any furniture can be “voted off the island”—i.e., out of the room.

“I recently staged a home in which the living room contained enough furniture for two rooms,” she notes. But, as part of the staging process, she shuffled the items and placed the contents in two different places. As a result, the home sold in one day.

Once you’ve removed some of the furniture, consider making an arrangement that allows people to sit and chat.

“This often means pulling furniture away from walls, which also allows for circulation,” says Gale Sitomer of G Sitomer Design in New York City. And if you have a larger living room, don’t be afraid to create several separate seating areas, which can be defined by different area rugs.

Create a focal point

Cleaned up mantle
Limit your mantel to just a couple of pretty objects.

Sean Gallagher

Usually the mantel, if you have one, is the first place the eye comes to rest, so make sure your home staging packs a punch here, suggest real estate agents Jonathan Rosen and Christy Berry, co-founders of The Rosen Berry Group in Dallas.

Declutter this spot by taking down wedding photos, your porcelain bird collection, and other items so it looks like a clean line. Add back a single pretty vase, a fun piece of art, or an interesting sculpture. However, if the focal point is a gorgeous garden or backyard pool, create clear views of it through the living room.

Be neutral

Choose a cool, calm color like this pearly grey
Choose a cool, calm color like this pearly gray.

Alex Kroke Photography

We’re talking about colors, says Sitomer. “Stick with a neutral tone to appeal to a larger variety of potential buyers,” she notes. And if you have bold or patterned furniture, consider white slipcovers.

“Lighter, more neutral rugs are better than oriental or brightly colored ones, which don’t photograph well and make rooms look dated,” says Lisa Gulliver, a Showhomes franchise co-owner.

The same goes for your couch, she adds. “A dark sofa against big, bright windows can be blinding, but shades of gray or khaki can help eyes adjust more quickly so the buyer can take in the room and exterior views.”

Accessorize with flair

The finishing touches count for a lot when it comes to staging the living room. Put a soft cashmere throw over a corner chair to evoke a quiet place for reading, says Katie McCann, an organizing expert with Maeve’s Method.

A small vase of fresh flowers adds beauty and perhaps a soft scent (watch out for overly strong candles).

Jack Menashe, owner of the New York–based Menashe Group, likes accessories that bring the space to life, including large coffee-table books, sculptural art, and accent pillows.

The post Here’s the One Room Where Home Staging Will Pay Off the Most appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Don’t Fall Behind! Here Are 5 Essential Home-Selling Moves You Might Not Be Doing


To get your home sold, you have to tackle a rather long to-do list. Some of these tasks are well-known, and some are just good ol’ common sense—like finding a real estate agent and spreading the word that your house is up for grabs. But some other steps in the home-selling process aren’t quite so obvious.

So to keep these less apparent home-selling tactics from falling through the cracks, here we’ve highlighted five things you may not even realize you have to do. Just in time to start prepping for the busy fall selling season!

1. Reach millennial home buyers

In 2017, for the fifth year in a row, Americans aged 20 to 37 were the largest group of home buyers—at 36%, according to the annual Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report from the National Association of Realtors®. So get smart: Find ways to appeal to this (huge) generation when marketing your home.

These tips will help you attract younger home buyers:

  • Promote your listing on social media. As digital natives, many of these would-be buyers are glued to Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media networks. Make sure your real estate agent is marketing your listing on these platforms.
  • Showcase your smart home technology. Millennials love smart home devices—and they’re looking for these products when searching for homes. In a recent Coldwell Banker survey, more than half of homeowners (54%) said they would purchase or install smart home devices if they were selling their homes. Of that group, 72% said they would be willing to pay $1,500 more for a home that was “smart.”
  • Make your house more energy-efficient. Making even small changes to your house (e.g., installing a programmable thermostat, adding attic insulation, or plugging air leaks around doors and windows) can make your home more appealing to Gen Y buyers. In fact, 84% of millennials say they’re willing to pay up to 2% to 3% more for an energy-efficient home, according to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders.
  • Show off eco-friendly features. It’s no secret that this generation is environmentally aware, but you don’t have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on solar paneling to make your home green. Strategically planting trees around your home can reduce your air-conditioning costs by 15% to 50%, according to They look nice, too.


2. Make your home move-in ready

Unless you’re selling a teardown, you need to do whatever it takes to make your home move-in ready for buyers.

This means tackling not only large home repairs but also small ones like replacing ripped screens, fixing leaky faucets, unclogging gutters, and mending damaged shingles.

Pro tip: If your house is in lousy shape, consider ordering a pre-inspection, where an inspector scrutinizes your property for problems before you put it on the market. This would give you the ability to fix problems ahead of time—while also presenting buyers with a clean bill of health on the property. Buyers love it, and a home inspection costs only about $200 to $500.

3. Order professional listing photos

If you have a good eye and a good camera, you might be tempted to take your own listing photos. But we’re not talking about selfies here. If you’re looking to sell your home quickly, using an experienced professional photographer is a must.

There’s proof. In one case study, real estate photography company IMOTO compared 350 listings using its professional photography with 350 similar listings without professionally done photos in the same ZIP code. According to the company’s data, listings using the professional photography sold 50% faster and 39% closer to the original listing price than those that didn’t.

4. Prepare for open houses

Your agent is hosting the open house, so it’s her job to make sure your house is ready for the big event, right? Wrong! It’s your responsibility to prep your home before strangers show up at the door.

Here’s a handy checklist to get your home ready for an open house:

  • Remove all prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet. This includes even the ones you think are harmless. After all, “you don’t want people knowing your identity. Also, you don’t want people stealing your meds,” says home stager Alice T. Chan.
  • Tidy up. Clear clutter, take out the trash, and do a thorough clean. Don’t have time to get these things done? Hire a professional cleaning service, which costs $90 to $150 on average, according to It’s money well spent.
  • Organize closets. Overstuffed closets can make your home appear to have insufficient storage space.
  • Protect yourself from theft. Secure jewelry, art, heirlooms, and other valuables. (You knew this one already, right?)
  • Open curtains and blinds. Letting natural light in will not only brighten up the space, but it can also make rooms appear larger.
  • Hide family photos. Buyers need to see a neutral field where they can put down their roots. Having your family photos on display can make that a challenge.
  • Prepare refreshments. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but buyers love being greeted with a warm cookie or a cold bottle of water. It’s a home-selling cliché because it actually works.


5. Pet-proof your home

If you have pets, be warned—their presence can be a huge turnoff to some home buyers, says Diane Saatchi, an East Hampton, NY, real estate broker with Saunders & Associates. So, take these steps to make sure your furry family members don’t hinder your sale:

  • Clean the yard. Be prepared for buyers to walk around your yard—a stroll that will be ruined if they step in poop.
  • Remove odors. To banish traces of cat or dog urine from carpets or rugs, try a bacteria-eating pet odor remover. If the odor lingers, you might have to hire a professional cleaning service.
  • Vacuum up hair. Pet hair can trigger allergies and send potential buyers sneezing and wheezing out the door. So, vacuum and dust to remove any settled hair or dander around the house.
  • Remove pet paraphernalia. Before showings, tuck away any leashes, collars, toys, water bowls, and food.


The post Don’t Fall Behind! Here Are 5 Essential Home-Selling Moves You Might Not Be Doing appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.