Q: My son and his common-law partner bought a condo together in Vancouver last year—which has since gone up in value. The relationship did not last and she would like to buy him out as both their names are on title. Are you aware of the steps involved to legally proceed with a real estate buy out and is it a wise move from an investment point of view?
— Norma R.
A: Hi Norma. I’m sorry to hear that your son is in this position. Break-ups are hard and can be exacerbated when a division of assets is necessary.
I’m assuming your fear is that if your son accepts a buyout from his ex, he may then be priced out of Vancouver’s hot property market.
To minimize the impact of future property price appreciation, he should take the money and buy his own condo or home.
Your fear—that by giving up ownership of the condo he misses out on future appreciation—neglects how difficult decisions can be with someone you choose to no longer build a future with. Just imagine it’s five years from now. Your son has met someone new and he is happy. Very happy. He wants to buy a place with his new love and asks his ex if she could buy him out of this condo. His ex, on the other hand, has just gotten out of another relationship; she is unhappy, bitter and feeling defensive. How well do you think your son’s request will be taken? Probably not all that well. Of course, things could work out totally different, but that’s just it, we don’t know. For that reason, I’m of the belief that it’s always a good idea for each part of a dissolved partnership to sever emotional, physical and financial ties. As soon as possible. Remember, it’s already hard to make unemotional decisions about what to do with an asset when hurt or regret or anger or disappoint lingers, never mind when years have passed and life has unfolded in unpredictable ways.
The dilemma, then, is how to make sure that both your son and his ex are treated fairly when splitting this asset. This should be relatively easy, as long as they agree to pay for some expertise. The first is to pay for an appraiser who specializes in divorce settlements. This appraiser will be able to provide a “fair market value” report—a snapshot of what the property is currently worth if it were sold in as-is condition on this specific day. This FMV report would give a price or price range that your son’s ex could take to the bank in order to obtain mortgage financing. She would then be responsible for paying your son half of the condo’s FMV. He can accept this money free and clear, as he doesn’t have to pay taxes since the condo was his principal residence.
As to your fear of losing out from an investment perspective, remember that he will be selling his portion of the condo to his ex and, if he chooses, buying a new condo in relatively similar markets. That puts him in a net-net position—what he gained in price appreciation on the sold condo will help with current, higher condo prices.
Finally, when it comes to the legal process please advise your son to pay a mediator or lawyer. A few hundred or even a few thousand spent on professional, unbiased advice is well worth the money spent. If he wants to focus on a quick resolution, look for a lawyer or mediator that specializes in uncontested divorces. These professionals realize that not everyone wants to battle over every cent in court and will work to find a fair, quick resolution. Also, by employing a legal professional you are assured that all the paperwork and documentation required to remove your son’s name from the property title and the mortgage documents will be complete and filed, leaving him free and clear to enjoy the rest of his life.
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