How much do I owe a soon-to-be-ex? I want to be a good guy but not a sucker
November 6, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

How much do I owe a soon-to-be-ex? I want to be good; I want to be decent; I want to be nice. I don't want to be taken advantage of, consciously or not.

I recently split up with my fiancee of 2+ years (we lived together for 3+ years). It was mutual -- no bitterness there. We'd been living in my house (not "ours"). I just relocated (for work), and I am currently staying for free in a corporate apartment. She's been living in my house, which is fine since I'm never there. This has been the situation for several months, and some of my closest friends have been telling me that I'm being taken advantage of. However, I know that my ex has no income (she was a student, and is now looking for a job). I also know that she spent at least 1,000 hours (that is not a typo) over the past 3+ years working on the home renovation we just finished. Painting, sanding, plaster repair, managing the contractors, etc.

The house is on the market, and she is getting an apartment in a couple of weeks. Once it sells and I pay off all of my outstanding debts, I'll make a little bit of money. Not a lot -- maybe around $20k. That's pretty good in this economy, and I will say with no reservation that the only reason for that is the work (and design!) that she put into the house.

I am planning on splitting that profit with her. My friends, again, tell me that I owe her nothing, especially since she's been living rent-free for a long time now and I have been spending ~40-45% of my take-home income on the house (mortgage, insurance, property tax, utilities, etc.). The only reason I have any debt at all is this house, and she has contributed very little financially (not "nothing" -- just very little).

I have had 4 of my closest friends tell me a) I should not have let her stay in the house for 3 months after we broke up, and b) I don't owe her ANY money after the house sale. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they are basing this on loyalty to me rather than dislike of her, but I know there's a bit of both going on (unfortunately).

And one more thing, just to make things interesting: she is also my realtor. One friend suggested just giving her the realtor's 3% commission and that's it (which would be about half the money). Another friend suggested finding another realtor. Another suggested trying to hire a "mediator" to figure out the best solution. But ALL OF THOSE would, I believe, have a seriously negative impact on my relationship with her (which is still very friendly), which I would consider to be a big emotional and psychological cost.

I don't want to be a sucker, but I really like this person. Are my friends right that I'm just being too nice? Is that even possible?

Thoughts? (and thank you so much if you've made it this far)
posted by peripatetic007 to Human Relations (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Look, what you can do on paper and what feels morally and ethically right within your relationship are often two different things. It seems to me that whether you call it 3% for a realtor comission or 50% of the profit, it adds up to roughly the same amount and you should go with that.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:06 PM on November 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

While she was there with you, how much "sweat equity" did she put in while she was living there? Additionally, pardon the gender generalisation, but did she do more of the day to day bathroom & kitchen cleaning? I think I lean more towards your model of compensation towards her. I think you should take a mental tally of how she treated the home, and compensate from there. I.e., she did more cleaning, think of how much you would have had to pay a maid. Or landscaping. Or a painter, as the case may be.
posted by kellyblah at 5:06 PM on November 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

She's been living there rent-free, or low-cost (when you were together), but she put work into the place. Ok, fine. I'd say you're more than even. She's probably wondering if you're gonna ask her for rent soon.

Is there a reason that she wouldn't be making realtor's commission? I'm not so clear on that part. Honestly, I'd be more worried about the fact that when your realtor sells your house, they'll be homeless. What motivation do they have to sell at all?
posted by AlisonM at 5:07 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say that given her sweat equity, you should give her $3,000 (or more) out of the sale and her 3% commission. This will help her get set up somewhere and should mitigate some of the emotional fallout.

I will say this, your friends are wrong. You do owe being able to sell the house due to her, and so therefore, you do owe her something for her efforts aside from her being your Realtor. She may not have contributed monetarily, but 1000 hours is not an inconsiderable amount of work.
posted by Issithe at 5:11 PM on November 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Do you feel that she's making as much of an effort to be kind and decent to you as you're making for her?

If so, ignore your friends and do what you're comfortable with.

If not, they may have a point. Which doesn't mean you should be unkind to her -- just that you might want to scale back the generosity if it seems to be one-sided.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:11 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: DarlingBri -- based on my math, 3% commission would be about half of half the profit. that's basically what I'm trying to decide -- where that $5k (or so) should go, and most importantly how much mental and emotional anguish it is worth even bringing it up.

kellyblah -- in point of fact, since I'm a modern new-age kind of guy, I did most of the cooking and cleaning. =) However, her sweat equity was that 1,000+ hours of renovation work (another gender swap there -- I did little of that type of work). The amount of painting that she did alone runs into the thousands of dollars, BUT she was also living for free in the house for 3 years. So, is that sweat equity just compensation for that? I don't know. That's what I'm struggling with.
posted by peripatetic007 at 5:12 PM on November 6, 2010

Be as nice as you want, but if you insist on crunching numbers, here's what you need to consider:

She "owes" you*:

x months rent at market rate
- y hours of construction labor
- z hours of management work
- broker's fee

That's a pretty useless answer, though. It really comes down to how much you like her and how much you value her contributions to your home. At the very least, you should probably give her a nice gift for all her help, because that's just what people should do. If you want to split the extra money from the house with her, there's nothing wrong with that. Or you could just call her work her "rent." All of these things are reasonable.

Were it me, I'd probably give her a fairly generous sum for helping out, but I'm pretty nice that way.

* Actually, she doesn't owe you a damn thing unless you had a contract verbally or in writing that she owed rent, although you could legally be on the hook for her labor, depending on the employment laws in your state. Judge Judy would probably use the arithmetic I outlined if it were up to her.
posted by wierdo at 5:12 PM on November 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If she did a lot of work on the place I don't think letting her live there rent-free is being taken advantage of. I let an ex move back in once (as a roommate) and live rent-free in exchange for doing housework.

I think paying the standard realtor commission would be fair, since she's performing that service for you after you broke up.

Anything more than that, well, how much are you willing to pay to a) feel good about you ended things and b) invest in a continued good relationship with her?

But whatever you do, make sure you establish a clear end point for the financial support. She needs to know when she has to start making it on her own again. You don't want to end up in a situation in which she keeps coming to you for money when she's broke or tries to prolong how long she can live in your house, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:14 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: AlisonM -- she did just find an apartment, and we both agreed that for her mental health she had to find a new place ASAP. I've stayed in that house for a couple of night recently, and it an empty, echoing metaphor for the failure of our relationship. Believe me -- she wants to sell it.

Isitthe -- That's what I think too! I'm second-guessing myself based on what my friends are saying. I will say that these are people who have known me for a LONG time, and I know that they love me dearly and have only my best interests at heart.

Narrative -- the argument could be made that she checked out of the relationship 3 - 5 months before I realized, and then let it drag on until I forced the issue by calling out her basically ignoring me. That, I think, is why my friends (both genders, by the way) are not at all pleased with her.
posted by peripatetic007 at 5:18 PM on November 6, 2010

I also know that she spent at least 1,000 hours (that is not a typo) over the past 3+ years working on the home renovation we just finished.

Can you tell us why she put so much time into renovating a home she didn't own?
posted by nomadicink at 5:20 PM on November 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've never been in this position before, so I don't know how useful my advice will be...

I would continue your very friendly relationship until your house sells. You don't actually know how much profit there will be until the house sells, so no sense in actually deciding on a concrete number. I would then privately figure out how much your profit really was, and how much her share of the cut was with the realtor's commission and free rent for three months. Take into consideration things like how much tax you'll owe on the profit of the house (if applicable). Does it seem equitable to you? If so, invite her out for drinks and tell her how much you care for her (as a friend) and what a great job she did selling the house. Tell her that you wanted to be fair, and you feel like things ended up divided pretty evenly. Then just listen to what she says next and decide where to go from there. If you don't feel like it is equitable, figure out in advance what sum seems reasonable and offer it to her. Then just listen.

I understand that you don't want to be a sucker, but that you don't want to be unfair either. It's tricky--you loved this person, and wanted to spend your life with them. Financial matters complicate things. Best of luck!
posted by studioaudience at 5:21 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: I don't see this as being a rent issue. If you had gotten married - and that was the plan and the basis on which she paid no rent and invested sweat equity - then there would be no question of her owing you money or indeed of her owing you money for her labour and professional services.

Here's an alternative: give her 50% of the profit, agree she's agent the house for no fee, and stop discussing it with your friends. The only people who needs to feel OK about or even know about the details are the two of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on November 6, 2010 [14 favorites]

Can you tell us why she put so much time into renovating a home she didn't own?

Well, she and the OP were planning on getting married.
posted by peacheater at 5:25 PM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: wierdo -- I actually started a spreadsheet with a similar type of calculation (because I'm a total dork). Then I took a step back and started thinking about the "intangibles," which is where I am struggling. I'm "pretty nice that way" too, but then when my friends started the second-guessing I started questioning all of my decisions.

Jacqueline -- you are definitely speaking my language. I do care about my continued relationship with her. I think maybe one of my friends' concerns is that I haven't established that "end point for financial support." That is a crucial point, and it is something I need to be more clear on. Now I just have to figure out how to have _that_ conversation. =)
posted by peripatetic007 at 5:26 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Assuming that you bought the house for yourself before she came on the scene 3 years ago instead of buying it on your own after you started living together (which could slightly complicate things):

She's been staying in the house for several months? That's not taking advantage of you: that's being a responsible (and unpaid) housesitter. You weren't out a single penny by having her stay there as your current housing is free. She helped maintain value in the house and keep it secure. Yes, you could have arranged for someone to rent, offsetting your base housing costs for a few months, but think of the associated risk and hassle when dealing with a stranger versus an ex you're on good terms with.

She's your realtor? Then she deserves the realtor fee. (It's a bit complicated having your ex be the realtor, but I guess you thought that she needed the money, so this is a bit awkward but justified).

She was project manager and designer for the renovation and did many hundreds of hours of grunt labour, too? If the profit is almost entirely due to the renovation, then hell yes, she deserves a cut. 50% of the net profit (after her realtor's cut and associated costs) seems generous, but not unacceptable.

I wouldn't offer her the realtor cut OR the split of the profits, but both. You formally engaged her as realtor and owe her that fee legally. Morally and emotionally, you'll probably live and feel better by sharing some of the profits on the sale as well.

If you think 50% is too much, try to estimate how much you would have paid a designer, project manager and a labourer to do what she did to reap that profit. If you like, estimate what it would have cost you to hire a housesitter for the past few months and what money you may have lost out on by renting (although you may not have succeeded in renting the place out immediately, so this becomes a bit iffier to estimate).

(On preview: you've done these calculations already? Yeah, then the intangibles and the less-than-optimal end of your relationship factor in. But even if you assess her labour at $10/hour for 1000 hours, that's 50% of your projected profit right there. Market rates would have been substantially higher.)
posted by maudlin at 5:30 PM on November 6, 2010

If you try to make it about numbers, you will never be happy. Or she never will be. But probably you, judging by the hand-wringing you're doing so far.

To be blunt: She was not your tenant, contractor, maid or prostitute. You cannot add up and reimburse her for the time she spent doing things that you both thought were on behalf of the you-and-her gestalt. Nor can she do the same for you, because you were not her landlord, client or sugar daddy.

If she is your actual Realtor, then give her the appropriate commission. If she asks for more, then consider it carefully (while she is not around) and make a decision. And then that is it. No reconsideration after you cut her the check. It will be fairer and less emotionally scarring to the both of you.
posted by Etrigan at 5:31 PM on November 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: nomadicink -- what peacheater said. I also think that she did have some un-articulated guilt about not being able to contribute financially, so even when I tried to hire someone to do something she would insist on doing it herself "to save us money."

studioaudience -- That's a good approach, and is more fully formed than what had been rattling around in my brain. Thank you for that.

DarlingBri -- heh. "give her 50% of the profit, agree she's agent the house for no fee, and stop discussing it with your friends. The only people who needs to feel OK about or even know about the details are the two of you." That's no alternative -- that was my initial approach! =) I did discuss it with my (very close) friends, because I trust them. And they love me. But maybe I just need to hold this hand a little closer. Thanks for the vote of confidence in my original plan!
posted by peripatetic007 at 5:35 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Hm. This is a tough call. Technically, your friends are right. You really don't owe her anything as far as I can tell, if we're basing this on math alone.

So let's ignore the practical math-y side of the issue for a moment and consider the emotional implications.

Is she a good or a bad person, a user-blah blah- there's no way to know this and I feel very uncomfortable making that call. If I were you I would mentally repeat, "She's both good and bad like any other person," leave it at that, and ignore the fighty instigation of your friends. You're in too biased of a position to make a call here.

So let's focus on you. Are you a pushover? Not with her-ignore the "she checked out of the relationship early" thing because that's too nebulous- but with everyone, as a general pattern in your life, are you?

More importantly, and I feel like this is a really big question to ask yourself, how invested are you in being a "nice guy" and why? Obviously it's not impressing your friends that you took the high road. Are you perhaps hoping to impress her? Remain friends? Be a fallback guy? Because while amicable breakups are certainly better than the alternative, the only kind thing to do is to give each other space. Are you sure your heart isn't tripping you up and giving you false hope for the future?

But anyway, I am tempted to say that 50% is too generous, some amount less than that is appropriate, and nada is too harsh.
posted by Nixy at 5:38 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think maybe one of my friends' concerns is that I haven't established that "end point for financial support." That is a crucial point, and it is something I need to be more clear on. Now I just have to figure out how to have _that_ conversation. =)

I think giving her the realtor's commission (and nothing more, money-wise) would be fair financially and emotionally, as well as providing you with the the perfect opportunity to close out your financial support of her.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:39 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Holy Hive Mind, Batman! I can't keep up with all of your thoughtful responses. Thank you so much.

maudlin -- Your assumption about why I bought the house is 100% correct. Also, you are completely right that it didn't cost me a dime to have her stay there. That's what I've said to my friends as well.

Etrigan -- I agree that making it about the math isn't the point. I guess I started this thread for some kind of reassurance (given the limited knowledge the the Hive Mind has about my specific situation) that I'm not being totally unreasonable in my approach. And, as has been said before, that final resolution does have to be _final_.
posted by peripatetic007 at 5:43 PM on November 6, 2010

Response by poster: Nixy -- those are really, really good questions. Wow. I'm not a pushover in real life -- I'm a successful consultant whose job is to make people feel heard, and to make sure that my company delivers what we promised without getting taken advantage of by our clients. I'm not the hard-ass that some in my profession are, but I do have backbone in this and other areas. That is an important thing to consider, I agree.

Now, the more interesting question: why am I focused on being nice? I can say unequivocally that it is NOT because of any hopes for the future. As I said, the split was mutual, although she arrived at the conclusion first. I honestly don't want to be in a relationship with her, but I don't think she is a bad person. She just isn't my person anymore. I do want to remain friends with her, but then I want to remain friends with _everyone_. I've said to people that while for many the glass is half-empty or half-full, I see a glass that is three-quarters full. Why can't we have our cake and eat it too? I've remained friends with nearly all of my ex-girlfriends, and I see no reason this should be different (although this was the only one that involved a ring). Maybe the root of all of this is me being a bit insecure and wanting everyone to like me, but who doesn't have some of that in them? I don't think that is a bad thing; in short, I'd say my motives are pure, on reflection.

hapax -- I think the realtor's commission makes perfect sense as well.

Maybe the compromise here is to give her the realtor's commission, and then whatever additional money brings it up to 50% of the profit. That way, the "legal" bit of the 3% is out of the way, plus there is some extra cash for her to get started with.
posted by peripatetic007 at 5:53 PM on November 6, 2010

If you both were in the relationship with the understanding of building a future together, I don't think it's fair at the dissolution of the relationship to retroactively apply for economic parity. It's difficult to put a monetary value on what each person in a relationship contributes -- esp. when there hasn't been any previous discussion about it.

Anything you do for her after you two broke up is a generous gesture that seems to honor what you both shared in the past. I'm sure it'll go a long way in how you both remember your selves and each other than $5k ever could.
posted by loquat at 5:58 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: loquat -- agreed -- retroactive math seems petty, at best. I don't regret a minute of our relationship; I learned so much about myself and what I need, and I shared amazing experiences with a very good person. I think that my best move is simply to move forward with the expectations that have already been set (that is, the 50%). Even she has acknowledged that that is generous, so right now we're in a good place.

However, just to throw one more variable in there, I am very tempted to lower the price on the house so that it sells faster, and she has been very reluctant to do that. She is the realtor and knows the market, but I am the owner. And every dollar we drop the price eats into that 50%, which affects her more than it does me because I still have a very solid income and she is struggling to find work. So I'm not sure how hard I should push on that. Maybe I just need to give it more time.
posted by peripatetic007 at 6:06 PM on November 6, 2010

Go ahead and split the profit. I don't know what state your home is in but overall the real estate market is a long way from being stable and if she is a realtor, it would be a real blessing to have that bit of nest egg to start with. You will sleep better, you obviously want to, and bottom line it's your money and not your friends' business what you do with it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:11 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should consider the sweat equity and her living rent-free during your relationship to be non-economic aspects of the romantic partnership you had. Don't try to retroactively figure out who owes what to whom because the choices the two of you made were in the context of a romantic relationship, not a business partnership. Then give her the realtor commission and be clear you can't give her any further support.
posted by Mavri at 6:13 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't a tricky question: give her however much you feel comfortable with. Not what your friends feel comfortable with, not what you think is the "right" amount, or the "best" amount or whatever. Just do what you feel comfortable with, because it's your life, your money, and your happiness.

And if you're unsure. Why not ask her when it sells? It seems like you have both been reasonable, compassionate people post-break-up, so why would that change now? Assume the best, and have a reasonable discussion about it if necessary.
posted by smoke at 6:18 PM on November 6, 2010

Is this really about what you owe her? What's the harm in being generous?

I once helped a recent ex pay for the braces she'd wanted her whole life. She made a lot less money than me; I could afford it and she couldn't. It made a huge difference in her life. (Her teeth were really really bad.)

At one level this was totally weird. It was a lot of money, and it was someone I'd just broken up with. But on the other hand, what's the harm? It was a good deed.
posted by alms at 6:34 PM on November 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All -- there were more insightful, thoughtful comments than I could count. I chose a few as the "best" because they were the ones that made me think the most, or that connected with me. That is NOT to say, however, that I do not appreciate all of your feedback.

Thanks so much.
posted by peripatetic007 at 6:54 PM on November 6, 2010

Your friends are certainly right that you don't "owe" her anything. However, if you do decide to split the profit with her, you are absolutely not being taken advantage of. (At least absent something I haven't seen in this thread, like her pressuring you into that decision.)

If splitting the profit seems fair to you, just do it. It sounds like your friends are worried that you aren't letting go of your relationship, and you have to assure yourself of that, but if you aren't paying her rent at her new place or anything like that, you're not a patsy.

Keep in mind: you were engaged and planning a life together. This doesn't make her a tenant who wasn't paying rent; it makes her a partner in a joint venture that didn't work out (more or less). That plus the fact that her work on your home made it sellable and added value, and it's absolutely fair -- again, assuming it feels right to you, and I'd trust your gut reaction here -- to cut her in on the profit.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:10 PM on November 6, 2010

Resist the urge to get too "lawyer-y" about this. Affairs of the heart are best settled with a generous helping of "do what feels right".

You already have a lot of great responses, but I wanted to chime in and say: Be generous. I have never regretted the loss of money or material goods that went to people I cared about. I have been on the giving end of this kind of transaction as well as the receiving end, and it's always a very special thing, because it's something you just don't get from the rest of the world.

An ex-boyfriend gave me a violin, because he knew he would never use it, but I would. Just gave it to me outright. Didn't ask for anything in return, and didn't blink about giving it to me. I treasure this violin more than I can say... it's worth more to me because it was a gift, freely given.

Developing a giving and generous nature in this world that is shouting all the time "What's in it for ME?" is a hard thing to do, but it's so, so worth it. You may not have a relationship with the person anymore, but you will always know, in your heart, that you were kind and generous. And the other person will know that you cared about them.

She gave freely of her time and talent, and you will benefit monetarily. It's perfectly reasonable to consider giving a generous portion of that monetary gain to her. She put in all that time with your best interests (and the interests of your shared relationship) at heart... Unfortunately, you are the only one who will know how much is the right amount to give (if any). Nobody else was in your relationship... no one else can feel the connection you have with this other person (and will always have, forever). Good luck.

(Disclaimer: I realize there are people out there who take advantage of others in horrible ways. None of this applies to that type of relationship, but it sounds like you weren't in that situation.)
posted by eleyna at 10:21 PM on November 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

You know, I'm going to take a flying guess that your friends have never renovated a house DIY themselves. It's really easy for a non-renovator to massively underestimate the amount of labor and PITA involved in such a project.

You've mentioned that your ex is unwilling to lower the price of the house in her role as your realtor, and you point out that she's motivated to keep the price of the house high. The thing is, that's the underlying motive of any realtor -- her commission may be bigger than most, but the reason they work on commission is to keep the price of the house high!

One perspective on that is that she doesn't get any money until the house sells, either, and being (literally) invested in the price of the house is normal for a realtor.

The other perspective is that the conflation of the ex-girlfriend and realtor roles is making it hard for you to separate the two -- to simultaneously feel like you're behaving well, and that you're getting good service from a person you are hiring for a major task.

If I were you, I'd tell her that you're finding that having her as your realtor is introducing tension you don't want into your relationship with her, and that you'd like to find another realtor, while still offering her some of the proceeds of the sale.

Finally: maybe your friends know you and her better. Maybe they know you're a pushover. Maybe this is $10,000 you need to spend to finally learn not to be a pushover. It's not the cheapest life lesson, but there are worse forms it can come in.
posted by endless_forms at 5:43 AM on November 7, 2010

I think maudlin has this nailed down. Anyone looking to close a profitable house sale in this market ought to feel very generous. The years living-in were a gift from you, not rent-free, the months afterward were house-sitting, not squatting, and 1000+ hours is insane. Looks like you agree with this mostly. Fee + 50% for sure.
posted by tintexas at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're not being taken advantage of by letting her live there rent-free. Good grief. But she really, really shouldn't be your realtor. It's a conflict of interest, and anyway, the mixing of business with personal relationships is tricky in the best of circumstances.

I think monetizing the work she did on the renovation is antithetical to your goal of maintaining a friendly relationship. Turn the situation around and consider how mean and petty it would seem if you had, upon breaking up, expected her to settle up for half the costs incurred during your relationship?

That said, if you want to freely give her some percentage of the profit in recognition of her contributions, go ahead. Not being you owe it to her, but because you'd like her to have it.
posted by desuetude at 10:29 AM on November 7, 2010

Not because you owe it to her...
posted by desuetude at 10:29 AM on November 7, 2010

Response by poster: J. Wilson -- I agree 100% with your "spirit of fairness" approach. I like to think that is what I am doing. Thanks for your support of that!

eleyna -- that's one of the things I want to ask my friends, but haven't yet -- "why NOT be generous?" There is no down-side, as far as I can tell.

endless_forms -- I agree that most people don't know the true PITA that a live-in home renovation entails. There is a conflict in the ex-fiancee/realtor roles, but . . . see respond to desuetude below.

tintexas -- Again, I agree (this now seems like a pattern!). the 1000+ hours doesn't seem quite so insane when spread across 3+ years, but it is still a LOT of time.

desuetude -- I agree, in theory, that it is not ideal that she is my realtor. However, replacing her as realtor at this point will a) surely sour our current friendly relationship, and b) take money out of both of our pockets. I don't know if I agree that it is a "conflict of interest" in the legal sense regardless, but I certainly understand what I believe to be your intent: it muddies the water. That is definitely true. I guess my current solution gives her that "percentage of the profit" without having to draw a sharp line between us that replacing her as realtor would.

A lot of folks in this thread have focused on the word "owe" -- to be sure, I use it in the headline and the questions itself. I guess my real question was not "what do I owe" from a legal perspective but rather "what do you think is the right thing to do" from a moral perspective. We all, surely, have different moral and ethical standards, but that is the beauty of AskMeFi -- I get to poll others' opinions. Overall, the general feeling is a mix of "do what YOU think is right," "be generous," and "it's not about what you OWE, it's about what is fair." Well, given all of that, I feel much more confident about my choice to be generous and follow my instincts (even if that turns out to be more than "fair" in a technical or legal definition).

Thank you all!
posted by peripatetic007 at 7:41 PM on November 7, 2010

The problem as I see it is that things don't automatically become monetized at the end of a relationship. For example, in a situation where the couple both agree that one will be pursuing his/her studies and not be able to contribute an equal amount, it isn't fair for the person paying the most to retroactively demand the $ difference when the two break up. Likewise, if one of the couple contributes a great deal of labor toward a shared effort while the other doesn't due to lack of time or skill, it wouldn't be fair for the one who did more work to tally that up and demand recompense after breaking up. Just as decent people don't demand that exes pay them X-amount for all the gifts they've ever given them, you don't turn what happens during the relationship in a line-item invoice after the fact.

Based on this, neither of you owe the other one any money, and you can just call that even. Now let's look at what's happening post-break-up. A) Your ex has lived in the house rent-free for several months. Would you have rented it to someone else in that time? I'm guessing "no," since you want to sell it. In that case, you've had someone to take care of the house that would otherwise be empty, so again, I'd call that even. B) You are selling the house and you are legally entitled to all the profit, yet you know that the profit would be less if it weren't for the work your ex did, and C) if another realtor handles the sale — and I'm supposing that would be the case since you don't live in the same city now — they will receive a percentage of the sale, which by your estimation would be about half the profit.

I don't see any downside to splitting that profit with her, in any terms that feel best to you, because the way I'm understanding it (assuming you start with a clean slate regarding who owes whom what regarding the period you were a couple) you would be out that money anyway by using another realtor. For you it's money out no matter what (again, assuming a clean slate), unless she handles the sale without commission or you handle the sale yourself... and for her it would be a big help. So I agree with why not be generous?, especially given that there are no hard feelings, and it seems that she really tried to pull her weight as much as she was able to under the circumstances while you were together. By my math, your natural inclination lines up perfectly well with logical and practical considerations, and will make both of you feel better about everything. Sounds pretty good to me.
posted by taz at 2:09 AM on November 8, 2010

My ex and I bought into a building which is family owned (we bought out the former partner) and were in the process of paying that off and living in and managing the building when we broke up. Because of the finances, we tried to live together until something could be worked out but because it was complicated (and because I became an asshole), that living situation became unworkable, so I moved out, taking the electronics and nothing else with me.

Along the way, I had made nearly all the payments to own the percentage of the building that wasn't his family's and had been more of the breadwinner throughout our relationship, but I also left him with expensive rent payments to make and the management work of the building to be done solo. My new friends at the time often commented in ways that led me to believe they thought I was being ripped off, and I know that our friends prior to the breakup (which he also got in the immediate aftermath of the breakup) probably felt that he was left in the lurch by me. But with the exception of one time, he and I never fought about money. In fact, just the opposite. There were times that I needed help when he loaned me cash, no questions, and visa versa. People thought we were crazy, but it was none of their business.

By the time his family decided to sell the building, because it made no sense for them to continue to own it when nobody in the family wanted to live there, I didn't even think to ask for some of that money, because so much had been paid on what I felt would have been covered by me if things worked out. Again, people might think that's crazy, but it wouldn't have felt right.

That's what this comes down to. Do what feels right, not what others say or what looks right on paper. Break-ups are like the relationships that they come from; every one is different and you should do what feels right to you.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:33 AM on November 8, 2010

desuetude -- I agree, in theory, that it is not ideal that she is my realtor. However, replacing her as realtor at this point will a) surely sour our current friendly relationship, and b) take money out of both of our pockets. I don't know if I agree that it is a "conflict of interest" in the legal sense regardless, but I certainly understand what I believe to be your intent: it muddies the water. That is definitely true. I guess my current solution gives her that "percentage of the profit" without having to draw a sharp line between us that replacing her as realtor would.

Yep, I meant the conflict between your personal and professional relationships is making both of those things more difficult and complicated -- I wasn't going for any sort of legal definition of "conflict of interest" that would imply misconduct.

I think if you want to maintain a friendly relationship, you need to choose that over a business relationship. This isn't really just about the money.

Her being your realtor is that it monetizes an aspect of your relationship -- her knowledge of the property that will (ideally) help her get the best sale is personal knowledge, all wrapped up in your relationship.

So if you then wanted to gift her a portion of the of proceeds of the sale, I feel like it loses the nice "it feels right" gesture that you intended, and seems more like "token payment for services rendered as subcontractor."
posted by desuetude at 10:00 AM on November 8, 2010

« Older My tiny Nissan Sentra is killing my big dreams!   |   I'll probably regret this when they take apart the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.