How does marriage change how I own or sell my investment properties?
QUESTION: I am a woman of a certain age, and I have been quite successful in my professional career. I have made some smart investments over the years and I own several rental properties. Last year, my friends convinced me to try online dating, and lo and behold, I met someone very special. His name is Romeo and we are in love. In fact, we just got engaged! I could not be happier. I plan on selling one of my investment properties and using the proceeds to pay cash for a new home for us as a married couple. Think of it as a wedding gift to my beloved. He does! If we decide to sell the new property at some point down the line, would my husband need to sign the deed? Would my husband have to sign the deed for my other properties that I owned before the marriage if I decide to sell them later? If we do not work out as a couple (I have my eyes open on this issue!), would I get all of the proceeds from the sale of the marital home? It was my money after all! Finally, would he have to sign any listing agreements or could I hire an agent by myself?
ANSWER: Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and your business success! Generally speaking, in North Carolina, spouses who own assets prior to getting married take their assets with them when they go, UNLESS they make the asset a gift to the marriage, in which case it likely becomes marital property. For example, if you use your investment property proceeds to buy a house for you and your new husband and put Romeo on the deed with you, you are likely gifting the proceeds and the residence to your new marriage. Thereafter, if you part ways, Romeo would likely be entitled to half of the value of the property. You could avoid this by keeping the proceeds of the sale in a separate account and then putting the deed to the new home in your name only. This type of planning may ensure that the new home remains separate property.
When you sell property, everyone on the deed must sign the deed to transfer title. In the case of properties that you owned before you married, North Carolina law still requires your current spouse to sign the deed to relinquish any martial interest they may have acquired by becoming your spouse. This is because spouses have the right to claim an elective share if they survive their spouse, which is a legal benefit of marriage. Although Romeo will not have title to these properties, in order to extinguish these marital interests during the sale, the deed conveying the real property must include the signatures of both spouses. It is commonly said that it takes one to buy, but two to sell in North Carolina.
Finally, while one owner can enter into a brokerage agreement with a listing agent to sell jointly-owned property, any listing agent worth their salt would require that all the owners sign the listing agreement because all parties with any interest will have to sign the deed. Furthermore, the standard forms include references to the fact that all parties with an interest have signed, as explained in more detail here. Ultimately, having all parties sign the agency agreement or contract avoids the complications possible if anyone with an interest in the property changes their mind about selling.
This article is intended solely for the benefit of NC REALTORS® members, who may reproduce and distribute it to other NC REALTORS® members and their clients, provided it is reproduced in its entirety without any change to its format or content, including disclaimer and copyright notice, and provided that any such reproduction is not intended for monetary gain. Any unauthorized reproduction, use or distribution is prohibited.