Updated: Jul 25, 2022
One of the many misunderstood concepts is a "joint expert" when couples are sorting out the finances in Divorce. So who values the house(s) an Estate Agent or a Surveyor and why a Joint Expert?
I will try to unravel some of the misconceptions or misunderstandings here. Let's start at the beginning:
When a couple are dividing up the assets of the marriage often one of the most valuable assets is the matrimonial home. Possibly there are also some investment properties to consider. Let's just look at the matrimonial home for now.
What is needed is a "Value" of the Matrimonial Home. This value can then be used to offset other assets or for mortgage borrowing purposes, or to decide whether the house needs to be sold or not. It is a figure that goes on the schedule of assets along with the figures for any other assets; debts; pensions and can be used to see what is in the "matrimonial pot".
Examples of how to get this "Value"
1 Three Estate Agent Valuations
Your Solicitor or Legal Advisor may initially suggest obtaining 3 estate agent valuations and using the average to get a value. These valuations can be shared with your estranged husband/wife who may agree or not. Often the other party does not agree and they provide their own figures. So there are then 6, often hugely conflicting valuations. Experience has taught me that an argument ensues as to which valuation to use and can gain momentum considerably increasing costs; stress levels and causing a huge delay. Defects in the property are raised and all sorts of tactical matters to try to get a lower/higher valuation depending on what helps the case. Even suggesting or agreeing to split the difference between the wife's and husband's valuation may cause problems as neither can really trust the other.
Along comes the suggestion to get a "joint expert valuation. There is even suspicion with this, however, knowing what it is can relieve some of the misunderstanding:
2. Joint Expert Valuation
A joint expert is one expert who is instructed by both the wife and husband (through legal advisors if they have them) by preparing and sending one letter which sets out that the valuation is to be an independent valuation with no bias.
It is highly recommended that the valuation is undertaken by a Surveyor who is often employed by Estate Agents but not always. The key point here is that the valuation is "independent" and the expert is instructed by a joint letter to carry out a valuation without bias. The letter sets out the basis of what is expected of the expert.
The reason a surveyor is recommended is because this is an expert report and Surveyors have qualifications to provide such valuations. Estate Agents are not always qualified surveyors. To ensure independence, one party suggests 3 potential surveyors and the other party chooses one. This joint letter is written and agreed by both parties.
The Surveyor's report comes in with a value, and as it is independent and there is no bias both husband and wife are bound by the valuation (unless there has been a material factual error).
The benefit is that it saves time and costs, especially when both parties are legally represented, because letters going backwards and forwards disputing the valuations can easily add up to over £1000 plus Vat. It can also help to start creating some cooperation or trust between the husband and wife where there has been none.