Matrimonial disputes – a Surveyor’s perspective


Here Malcolm Kempton offers his perspective on valuation for matrimonial disputes when property assets need to be divided.  

Matrimonial valuations in a snapshot

  • Ensure a fair division of assets
  • Accurately report a reasonable market price
  • Minimise disputes between parties

Raising children, renovating, decorating, and of course, sharing a space with somebody on a daily basis means that the marital home inevitably ends up swathed in emotional connections, memories, and can ultimately become a symbol of the past, present and future for its owners. It’s no wonder then, that when things go wrong and divorce is the only solution, it can be tough for both parties to look at this asset in a clear and business-like manner required to fairly divide its value without conflict.

In my experience, more often than not, a divorcing couple will not be able to agree on the value of their home. This is understandable seeing as they will usually have opposing interests in the given value.

If for example, one half of the couple wants to stay in the house whilst the other moves out, the party who stays will tend to buy out the other and would naturally prefer to receiver a lower valuation figure. The party who has moved out will want to release their money from the property as soon as possible in order to secure new accommodation. This means it is in their interests to get the highest value possible for the property.

As valuations are conducted by independent experts that can’t be swayed by memories, nostalgia or heartbreak, a valuation report presented from a valuer can only produce a report that is based on market evidence and a professional opinion formed from experience and fact.

As valuers are often called as expert witnesses relating to property value disputes in court, they need to be able to defend every line of their report should it ever be questioned. For this reason, a RICS registered valuer, who is governed by strict compliance and regulatory guidelines is a professional that will ensure a smooth division of assets at a fair and accurate current market price for both parties without the need for court proceeding and further dispute.

Asking estate agents to value the property in the first instance to avoid valuation costs is, in my opinion stoking the fire. If you ask three Estate agents to value a property you will receive three wildly different opinions of value due again, to conflicting objectives.

A valuer instructed as a single joint expert will act impartially. With half the fee coming from each side, there is no bias, no previous contact with either party, no carrot of winning a listing, and as registered valuer, they wil have to adhere to strict valuation code and practices meaning this is the best route for getting an accurate valuation of the property assets to be divided.

In terms of hiring the most suitable valuer to act as a single joint expert, Solicitors should consider the location of the firm in relation to the property, experience in valuing property of a similar size, age and specification, and of course the individual valuers CV experience. Multi-disciplined firms with large valuation teams will likely have a experts that specialise in a wide variety of property types so are always a good port of call.

The solicitor will then be able to reassure the couple that the number the valuer comes up with will be an accurate reflection of the current market place, based on evidence and a presentation of the facts. This means both sides can accept the valuation as the impartial opinion it is. If both parties have decided to get their own reports, they will again be different, and the matter is likely to end up in court to find a solution that both parties agree on.

In this scenario, a Judge would issue a court order for an independent valuer to act as a joint single expert. If a valuer is instructed this way, a civil procedure rules (CPR) compliant report is much more complex and time consuming to put together than a standard valuation report. The end result and figure of the valuation will be the same but the way this has to be presented and defended is much more complex. This in turn means opting for this route will generate much higher costs to the couple than if they had appointed a single joint expert themselves outside of the court in the first place.

Court appearances are stressful for all involved and the burden of proof required to support valuation is high. Experienced valuers will always assume when conducting a valuation that they may end up having to defend their position in court. This will result in a report that is robust enough that the surveyor can defend every single line in court should the need arise. The message for valuers is clear, don’t try and defend what you can’t defend.

In summary, I would always recommend appointing an experienced valuer as a single joint expert to value shared property assets as early in divorce proceedings as possible. This will save unnecessary time, expense and conflict for those involved. With the correct professional providing an accurate reflection of market value, less disputes will occur. With less disputes comes fewer legal costs, which ultimately means there will be more money left in the pot to be divided between the couple upon resolution.

Malcolm Kempton is a Chartered Surveyor and Valuer. He has over 30 years’ experience in conducting property and land valuations for sales, secured lending, development viability and acting as an expert witness for dispute resolution.


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