How agents can help vendors navigate a difficult property sale

18 February 2021


Not every `Sold’ sticker placed on a real estate signboard is accompanied by a smiling vendor jumping for joy.

Divorce, debt and death are among the most challenging reasons for selling property and often super charged with emotion.

The aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns has seen an increase in couples seeking counselling and with banks no longer letting borrowers pause their mortgage repayments, there are concerns there could be an increase of stressed sales.

Elisabeth Shaw, Chief Executive Officer of Relationships Australia said worldwide research shows after a crisis that there is a spike in domestic violence, family conflict and divorce.

“It is something that we saw after 9/11 as well as with hurricanes and floods - while a pandemic is not exactly the same as an immediate crisis, we expect it to follow the same pattern - it is certainly what we are seeing coming through our doors.”

What to do when there is no resolution?

REINSW is asked by the courts – at least once a week - to engage an agent to sell property where the owners or benefactors are in dispute.

Chief Executive Officer Tim McKibbin said there has been no increase in the number of such engagements known as ‘Presidential Appointments’, however it may be too early following the pandemic to tell.

Such sales are not straight forward with agents often reporting they earned ‘every cent of their commission’.

One of the biggest challenges is gaining co-operation from all parties, he said.

Instructions are not forthcoming and setting a reserve price is often problematic, even with the court order. Disgruntled parties have been known to disrupt auctions and on the rare occasion agents have been threatened with violence.

“You have people who just can’t agree on anything. As soon as one party says they are happy at one price, the other believes there is a conspiracy to act in less than their best interests,” Mr McKibbin said.

In the case of selling because of debt, parties are often united because they want to achieve a certain price. The stress for agents is when the desired outcome is not in line with the market.

“People in those environments don’t want to be told something that they don’t want to hear,” Mr McKibbin said.

Why is selling property so emotional?

Even in the best circumstances selling the family home is always evocative, says Ms Shaw.

One exception is when a couple is upgrading because of the arrival of their first child – in this instance the move has a ‘positive trajectory’. Other reasons to sell are often tinged with different levels of emotional loss - even for those downsizing.

“Separation is one of the most contentious because it is not common that the couple are in equal agreement about it or emotionally at the same stage with it,” Ms Shaw said.

“Even if both parties have accepted that it has to happen, one could be holding out hope or be incredibly angry about the circumstances. Then it becomes a bit of a battle about what people feel owed as they walk out the door.”

Which tactics work?

Sharing experiences of helping others in similar circumstances is one way agents can ‘normalise’ the situation and put anxious parties at ease.

Be cautious of being ‘too personable’ as people may start to disclose information that may be confronting.

“Explain that it is one of the worst times they will probably go through and how you have seen people benefit from rallying their friends around them, maybe suggest some counselling or legal advice,” Ms Shaw said.

“Remind them gently to get some support so that as the real estate agent you don’t become the only support - which could accidently happen.”

Agents need to be confident enough to ‘very nicely call it out’ when dealing with families disputing an estate, and suggest services and resources, such as mediation, that can assist.

Negotiating with each party separately can also ease conflict – but can lead to mixed messages. One person may ‘want out at any cost’, while the other may want to ‘hold out’ for the best deal possible. Be mindful of being manipulated by either vendor.

Ms Shaw recommends sending a written summary to both parties noting their different approaches to the sale with what you, as an agent, can offer.

Gaining trust

Showing genuine leadership is another way agents can take control of a difficult sale.

Keeping all parties updated and ‘shining the light forward’ makes for better co-operation, says Mr McKibbin.

Agents need to be able to authenticate and communicate a logical message in a caring manner that makes sense to those selling under stress.

“Although the journey forward with such vendors won’t be simple, it will make it easier because you will have developed trust,” Mr McKibbin said.

“Unfortunately, there is no formula, you just have to be empathetic and reactive to what is going on around you.”

Relationship Australia runs training for those who find themselves as ‘accidental counsellors’. It gives participants - in fields such as real estate or teaching - skills in communications and the ability to de-escalate situations confidently.

For more information on Relationships Australia ‘Accidental Counsellor’ training go to:

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