End of relationship should not trigger property dispute

Lucy Corry

The end of a relationship is tough on everyone involved.

Some couples find it hard enough to divide up their furniture, let alone any joint property.

If you find yourself in this position and you own a home together, it would be a good idea to get legal advice on your rights and responsibilities.

If you are not keen to engage a lawyer just yet, your Community Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau can be a good place to start.

The Ministry of Justice and Community Law also have some useful information online.

Sell or buy out?

While every situation is different, most separating couples either jointly sell the home or one of them decides to ‘buy out’ the other.

Sometimes they reach an agreement where they continue to co-own the property but just one of them will live in it.

If you both decide to put the property up for sale, any proceeds will be split.

Ideally, this will enable you both to clear your share of the mortgage and help you start again.

Engaging an Agent

If you decide selling is the best option, it is crucial that you find a real estate agent that you are both comfortable with. Think about this from the perspective of the real estate agent for a minute – even the happiest couples can disagree about how to sell a property and hence things can get very tricky for the real estate agent when they are dealing with a couple who do not want to be together.

The real estate agent you choose has to represent both of you fairly. They must get agreement from both of you (as joint owners) before taking any action.

If you can, meet several agents to find one with whom you can both work. Ask them to provide you both with a current market appraisal, to give you an indication of the estimated price range of your property, and present a marketing plan.

No jeopardy, please!

Remember too, that while you might want to make life hard for your ex at times, it is not very smart to do anything that will jeopardise a smooth and successful sale.

The faster you can sell your property, and the greater the price you get for it, the sooner you can move on.

If you decide that your partner will stay in the house and he will buy you out, it would be a good idea to get the property valued. While you can get an idea from online valuations that take into account other sales in your area, a registered valuer will provide you with a more detailed appraisal.

This will come at a cost, but you may decide it is worth for the peace of mind.

It may also be useful when you are talking to a lender, as a registered valuation can sometimes be required if you are refinancing.

Get Legal advice

Whatever you agree to do with the property, you independently both need legal advice – and a written agreement that sets out your separate rights and responsibilities. This protects all parties and stops one partner from lodging a caveat or notice of claim that will prevent the sale of a property. It may also be helpful when it comes to applying for finance, as some lenders may be wary of unresolved relationship property issues.


It is always difficult to set your emotions to one side in a property transaction, especially when it involves such high stakes. Keep focused on the goal and be kind.

For independent advice on buying or selling property, please visit www.reaa.govt.nz

Lucy Corry is Media Communications Manager at the Real Estate Agents Authority based in Wellington.

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