The Conundrum

People live indoors. It’s not a fad. So when a client is selling their matrimonial home, they are going to move into a new home. I walked through a listing with one such client and the place had many indicators that it was also a home being sold due to divorce. Evidence of a partial moveout, some deferred maintenance, and a few other conditions made me think that this might be the case.

As we toured the home and discussed how it stacked up to their needs, I had a thought that I might mention my observation to the client. It also hit me that it might not be a welcome thing to hear for them, as this process is difficult enough. So, I had a bit of a small dilemma; as a fiduciary, did I have an obligation to disclose my opinion, or would it be better to not open a wound in the absence of confirmation?

I answered my own question with two conclusions. If they weren’t interested in the property, it would be a non sequitor. If they were interested in the property, then I would do more investigating before going down that road. Opinions are not material facts, and given that this client was the only one who remained in their matrimonial home at the time, they saw what I saw themselves anyway.

As we spoke in the driveway, I was told this house wouldn’t work for them. No opinion of mine or further investigation was warranted.

I’m not one to back down from a difficult discussion, but I also don’t go looking for them if they aren’t necessary. If my client were interested in the home, then I’d pursue more due diligence. If I found evidence to confirm my impression beyond what the naked eye revealed, then they’d know it. But these situations also require sensitivity. As I’ve said, this is an extremely difficult phase of life to experience, and out of respect for the client the best thing to do is not offer an opinion that won’t be of value to the journey. Having gone through a lengthy separation and divorce myself, I’ve found that the tiniest things can be a rough trigger. Passing a restaurant, hearing a song, even a brief scent of food or cut grass can bring back a painful memory.

We are obligated to disclose material facts. Off the cuff opinions 10 minutes into observing a new property are not facts. Clients do want to know our thoughts but sometimes the best thing to do is remain silent on something if you are not relatively certain it will help and could possibly hurt. Real estate professionals have to be many things. We have to work hard. We have to be communicative. We need patience. I could go on. When working with divorcing clients, we also need an extra serving of empathy.

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