Do you want to sell the house, but your partner feels otherwise? Read on to learn how to sell a house when one partner refuses.
For most homeowners, a house is both a family home and a major financial investment. Staying put provides a place to hang your hat and build memories, while selling offers an infusion of cash and the opportunity for a fresh start.
So in the case of marital property or other jointly owned property, what happens when your wishes diverge from your partners’? If your goals for the property don’t align, how can you come to a compromise?
Let’s walk through some of your options for how to sell a house when one partner refuses.
The First Step: Gather Essential Information
Regardless of how you proceed, you’ll need to do some homework and consult a few professionals to identify three key pieces of information:
- Market value – Use an online house valuation calculator for a quick start, then get a comparative market analysis from a real estate agent or hire a licensed appraiser.
- Home equity – Subtract how much you still owe on the house from its current market value.
- Equity division – This one can be tricky if either partner has larger financial or other stakes in the home, and it depends on state property division laws.
Once you get these figures (or estimates), you’ll be better positioned to propose solutions and negotiate with your spouse.
Can You Force a Partner to Sell a House?
If you own property jointly with one or more other individuals, all owners will need to agree to the sale or transfer and sign the purchase offer, title deed, mortgage, and sale documents and contracts. Whether that agreement is earned through gentle negotiation or court order, however, depends on personal factors like your situation, relationship, and ability to compromise.
It is possible for just one owner to list a house for sale, but you cannot legally take any further actions or represent yourself as a sole owner to agents or buyers.
Let’s be clear: by “non-legal options,” we’re going to itemize some ethical approaches you can take that don’t involve the courts. For our purposes, we don’t endorse pretending your house is haunted, booby-trapping the yard, or committing a series of misdemeanors or felonies that leads to a property sale.
#1 Sell Your Share of the Property to the Other Owner
The simplest method to deal with a sell vs. keep argument is for one owner to buy out the other. This allows the seller to sign over the deed and walk away with the cash value of their share of the property, and the buyer to remain in the home and take full property ownership.
For a mortgaged property, the buyout partner is entitled to two options:
- Refinance – The refinance process will include a formal appraisal and closing fees, and is dependent on the buyout partner being able to qualify for a mortgage loan individually and pay for closing costs.
- Mortgage transfer – If your current mortgage is assumable and has terms and rates better than the buyout partner could individually qualify for today, you may be able to transfer it from your own name or joint name to their name.
The lender will still need to check credit and income and approve the new sole borrower, but they can avoid closing costs and potentially take advantage of better-than-current rates with this option.1
If your property is fully owned with no outstanding mortgage or liens, then once you’ve agreed on the current value and an equity split, you’ll sign overall title documents. From there, your partner will file a new title deed as the sole owner after paying out your equity.
Financing is often an issue when it comes to one partner buying out the other. If your partner doesn’t have the cash to buy you out, they could consider:
- A cash-out refinance to convert equity to cash while refinancing under their name
- A home equity loan to tap into equity now and slowly rebuild it themselves
#2 Barter Your Equity Against Other Assets
If the house is part of a larger property division and your partner doesn’t have the cash to buy you out, consider an offset: a type of trade of one asset for another.2
Is there another shared property you’d be willing to exchange for home equity? This could be:
- Retirement or investment funds
- Recreational vehicles or boats
- Vacation property equity
- Business interests
- Artwork, jewelry, or collectibles
Be sure to obtain current appraisals on any property you accept in exchange for home equity.
#3 Agree on a Sale-Leaseback
A sale-leaseback involves selling a home to a property management company which then leases it back to the former owners. Contracts can lock in the ability to remain in the home at fair market rent either for a period or indefinitely.
A sale-leaseback converts the full value of the property into cash that can pay off a remaining mortgage and then be split between the separating partners.
If staying in your home is more important to you than owning it, this can be an effective solution that fully divides the property value without both parties needing to seek a new place to live. Plus, the property management company will take over the cost and work of home maintenance and property taxes. Learn more about how you can sell a house and rent it back.
Ready to wash your hands of the fighting and let the judge decide? Do so wisely—getting the courts involved will come at a high price point. For instance, forcing a sale of marital property by a judge’s order in a divorce rather than coming to an agreement independently can cost upwards of $40,000 in legal costs.2
Plus, an unwilling co-owner can cause financial damage by delaying or interfering with the property condition and showings, resulting in:
- A smaller potential buyer pool
- Lower offers
- More time on the market
What happens to the house in a divorce? If it comes down to a forced sale during a contested divorce, here’s how the procedure breaks down:3
- The family law judge holds off until all financial assets and obligations are investigated
- Property orders that include the sale or transfer of real estate are issued by the court
- The orders will have time limits to take certain steps such as refinancing or paying equity
- If property orders are not followed, the court may order a sale and sign contracts
Check with your lawyer on exactly how the property settlement process works in your state.
Unless there is the threat of foreclosure or other pressing need to sell quickly, a judge will usually hold off until the end of the divorce process to compel anyone to move or sell an occupied property, particularly if there are dependents involved.
And you’ll still need as much cooperation as possible from your partner—they could choose to fight every step of the way by refusing to sign off on the listing, an offer, and so on, which could mean you’ll pay a visit to the courtroom at every stage.
If you change your mind, and you and your partner both agree to co-owning a house after divorce, be sure you know what you’re getting into.
Can You Sell If the Property Is in Your Name?
What if your name is the only one on the property deed and mortgage? Even if you’re the only named owner under separate property (vs. community property) laws, many states still require a spouse to sign off on a home sale because they may be entitled to some of the matrimonial home equity built during the marriage.2
Suppose your state requires spousal consent regardless of deed ownership. In that case, you’ll still need to negotiate with them directly or through legal channels to determine equity division and close on a sale.
If you’re not going through a contested divorce with a judge overseeing property distribution, a partner who’s not on the deed or mortgage could still file a lis pendens on the house.2 This is a notice of a pending suit against the title to the property that may scare off potential buyers, reduce offers, or hold up a sale.
Tips for Negotiating With Your Partner
Given the complexity and frustrations of the legal process, you may have intuited that it’s wiser to attempt an independent agreement than incur the costs and time you’ll lose in court. Here are three tips for starting the conversation and coming to a compromise:
- Let them choose – Consider presenting multiple plans for them to choose from: buy you out, offset against asset A or asset B, list for sale in X months and split equity, etc.
- Consider a bonus – Offer a bonus over your split of equity if you can afford it. When it comes down to it, you may need to put a price tag on your own sense of justice. Ask yourself: Is it worth having a judge declare you’ll receive the equity you’re due if it means spending months and thousands of dollars to get there?
- Get it in writing – Write down all the details of your plan, run it through your lawyers, and sign it. A plan should include time frames, equity split, who will be responsible for tasks, who will pay for what, and so on.
Sale-Leaseback: A Stress-Free Way to Sell Your House
If you’re looking for a simple solution, sale-leaseback programs offer a new way for homeowners at every financial level to have full use of their home equity without forcing a move. They provide you with an alternative way to convert the investment you’ve built over the years without the red tape, financial drain, and expense of a traditional sale or move.
Family separations and moving are all among the top most stressful experiences for adults, and trying to sell when a partner flatly refuses doubles the burden. Before ramping up the arguments, it’s helpful to learn more about options that can help you both come to a compromise. If one or both of you feel that the legal route, consider talking with an attorney.
- Investopedia. Transfer of Mortgage. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/transfer-of-mortgage.asp
- HomeLight. ‘I’m Not Selling!’ Getting the Home Sold When One Partner Refuses. https://www.homelight.com/blog/how-to-sell-a-house-when-one-partner-refuses/
- Bellenot & Boufford. Can I Be Forced to Sell My Home During Divorce? https://www.bbesq.com/articles/family-law/divorce/can-forced-sell-home/