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One of the major assets of most couples is the marital residence. Whether married five years or 30, most couples have invested their time, money and emotion into the family home. Breaking up means that one party, or perhaps both, will have to say good-bye to those memories and years of financial and sweat equity.
So whether you or your spouse are going to keep the home, the value is key. These days, popular internet sites such as Zillow, Realtor.com and Trulia propose to estimate the value of your home. But are those values reliable in a legal separation or divorce? Should you rely on them to ensure that you are getting your fair equity out of this asset? Unless you have recently purchased the home, chances are you cannot rely on internet site values.
While the sites mentioned above, among others, pull from a wide source of recent sales to try and estimate a value, the reality is that each home is unique. Your neighbor may have the same raised ranch that you do, but does he have the built-in pool, marble countertops and vaulted ceilings with recessed lighting that you do? Each of those can and will affect the home’s value.
Another key factor in determining the value of your home is the volume of sales in your area. Is there high demand? What is the school system like? Are the taxes in your area high, making it less attractive? What is the level of recent foreclosures in the neighborhood – a factor that, no matter how nice the houses are, will drive values down.
The age and condition of your home is a third key to determining its value. Without an onsite inspection by a licensed real estate appraiser, you risk overpaying or being under compensated for this asset when you separate or divorce.
Getting the advice of an attorney and the services of a licensed real estate appraiser who knows your neighborhood are keys to ensuring that the value placed on your home is fair. Whether you are keeping it and buying out your spouse, or whether you are the spouse being bought out, equity is accomplished.
Be sure to discuss these key issues with your divorce attorney and consider a strategy for negotiations that will protect one of your largest marital investments.
Barbara J. King is the chair of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Family and Matrimonial Practice Group. A partner-level attorney, Barbara represents clients in divorce, separation, equitable distribution, annulment, child support, child custody, spousal maintenance and adoption proceedings.