We're Breaking Up but Can We Break Even? Divorce Rates Fall with House Prices but Sometimes a Split's Inevitable, Whatever the Cost

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 31, 2009 | Go to article overview

We're Breaking Up but Can We Break Even? Divorce Rates Fall with House Prices but Sometimes a Split's Inevitable, Whatever the Cost


Byline: Mark Anstead

When property prices began to slide two years ago, so did the rate of divorce. Couples who thought they could not stand the sight of each other discovered, on reflection, that they disliked dividing up their fast-depreciating assets even more.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show the number of couples divorcing fell soon after the credit crunch began in 2007. Tracking distressed sales, Savills also expects the downturn to put divorces on hold, having seen that as property prices rise, so do divorce rates.

Some couples, however, have compelling reasons to split, and as for Tony and Karen Norton, the sooner they can divest themselves of their restored farmhouse and converted barn the better - even in a falling market.

As it happens, the couple, both 48, are divorcing amicably, but work at Tony's business clearing drains for the housebuilding industry had dried up and they are now three months behind with the mortgage.

They realise that they stand to make a considerable loss on their property south of Doncaster, where they have invested in a programme of expensive renovations over the past three years.

'Making improvements before selling seemed like a good idea when property values were still rising,' says Tony. 'But now we will be lucky if we get enough from the sale to cover our mortgage. And if we go to auction, we might have to carry over some of our debt.

'Whatever happens, we will just have to take it on the chin because we need to sell. We have both gone our separate ways and we want to get on with our lives.'

Tony and Karen bought their home a year before tying the knot in 1996, so their property represents their married fortunes together. Initially, it seemed as though they had secured a strikingly good deal. The couple spent three months looking for a suitable home and Tony secured a [pounds sterling]120,000 mortgage facility. When they saw a sale sign outside a farmhouse and barn in Misterton they were delighted to discover the auction guide price was only [pounds sterling]115,000.

They offered the sum on the spot but the vendor felt he would do better at auction, which proved a mistake. On the day, 15 other lots were presented but none sold and, when it came to their farmhouse, Elm Farm, Tony says he was bidding against just one other competitor. 'The auctioneer seemed shocked at how badly it was going,' he recalls. 'He kept looking at me and dragging it out, complaining that the property should go for more. Even when the other bidder dropped out at [pounds sterling]90,000 he still spent ages appealing - it was like extracting teeth.'

When the gavel fell at [pounds sterling]90,000 the couple were delighted with their unexpected 20 per cent discount. …

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