How to Sell a House When One Party Doesn't Want to

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If you, and you alone, own your own property then you get to call all the shots. Being in charge feels good, but many of us need to or want to buy a home with another person who can help shoulder the burden of paying for and maintaining a home. When you have a co-owner you gain help, but lose some control, which can be problematic if one owner wants to sell the property one day but the other does not. 

Keep reading for a helpful breakdown on how to sell a house when one partner refuses. 

When co-owners feel differently about selling

When you have a joint ownership property that one party wants to sell and the other wants to keep, you’re in for a bumpy ride. So, how can two people feel so differently about a home sale?

More often than not, when one party doesn’t want to sell a house, their decision is likely an emotionally charged one. It’s not uncommon for couples going through a divorce to disagree about whether or not to sell a home — especially if the divorce isn’t amicable. Others may find it hard to leave a home where they raised their children, even though their partner is ready to move on and retire in a smaller home. Siblings who co-inherit a house after a parent dies may struggle to decide whether they should keep the family home or sell it and split the profits. 

Usually, when co-owners of a home aren’t on the same page about the sale of a home, emotions are running high in the background. 

Do both parties have to agree to sell? 

Yes, in order to officially sell a home, all owners need to be in agreement about the sale. A real estate agent can list the home for sale with the consent of only one of the owners of the home, as a listing agreement only requires one signature. But when it comes time to finalize the sale of a home, in most states, all parties need to consent to the sale for it to move forward. 

While legally, real estate agents can proceed and list the home for sale without the approval of all owners, they should think twice about doing so. Not only will their job be a lot harder without everyone’s consent, but they risk the chance of pressuring an unwilling seller into a major financial decision they don’t want to make. Even if they receive an offer, the reluctant party may stay firm in their desire not to move forward, which results in the agent wasting a lot of time, effort, and money on a sale that won’t go forward. It’s best to wait for all parties to agree to a sale before you jump through the hoops of listing a home and hosting open houses. 

→ Here's what to ask a realtor when selling your house

Your non-legal options if one party refuses a sale

Before we dive into what your legal options are to resolve a disagreement around the sale of a home, let’s look at how you can potentially resolve this issue without the help of any lawyers. 

The best first step you can take to find a solution: Ask questions, and sincerely listen to the other party’s answers.  

Whether you own the home with a romantic partner, a sibling, or a friend, you need to be ready to hear their concerns about the sale. Sit down and talk to them about why they don’t want to sell and don’t argue with them or be on the defensive. Their reasons for wanting to hold on to the house may surprise you. 

Once you have a better understanding of why they want to keep the home, calmly explain why you want to sell and ask them to consider doing so or present an alternative solution (we’ll walk you through some of those options shortly). 

A compromise (such as an offer to let them buy out your share in the home), is a better bet than trying to force a sale through, which won’t be easy if they refuse to participate in the process.

Related: What to know about selling inherited property

Your legal options when one party won’t sell

If you really can’t come to an agreement together, you do have some legal options that can help you resolve this issue so that you can walk away from the home and protect your financial interests.

Plan a buyout

If one party is set on keeping the house, you can give them the choice to buy your share of equity in the home. In order to do this, your co-owner will need to refinance the mortgage and place the deed solely in their name. It’s best to involve a lawyer in this type of sale to ensure you’re fairly paid and the ownership is properly transferred. 

Exchange your equity for another asset

If the party that wants to keep the home can’t afford to buy you out, you may be able to trade another asset for your share in the home. For example, if a couple is in the midst of a divorce, one partner may want to keep the vacation home by the lake and the vintage boat they spent countless hours refurbishing. The other partner may be eager to stay in the home they raised their children in. 

Agreeing to walk away with the assets that matter to each may be a fair trade. You can offer to swap a retirement account, car, or other valuable assets like art or antiques for your share of the home’s equity. 

Give them financial incentive to sell

Sometimes the prospect of a 50-50 split may not be enough to entice the reluctant owner to sell their home. If you can afford to, you can offer them a higher split or a cash bonus to move ahead with the sale. If you offer extra cash now to sweeten the deal, you can help avoid the expenses that would come with taking this issue to court. 

Involve a judge

If you can’t find a workaround that suits both parties, you do have the option to turn to a judge to compel a sale of the home. Once a judge orders a home to sell, you will need to bring in a real estate agent to sell the home, even if one party isn’t happy about it. This won’t be a quick process, or a cheap one, as you’ll need to undergo a full trial to review all financial aspects of the sale. This is even more complicated if you’re going through a divorce, as when you divide assets during a divorce, the house is generally the last asset examined. 

It’s also worth noting that, even once a court compels a sale, one or both parties can still make the process difficult. A reluctant partner may choose to be uncooperative and refuse to sign the necessary documents for selling or resist having showings of the home. While a judge can intervene and sign on their behalf or force the unwilling partner to move out before the sale of the home closes, there can still be a lot of stress and complications on your plate if one owner is unhappy about the sale. 

It’s often a long road to force the sale of a home through in court, so if it’s at all possible, it’s best to come to an agreement on how to proceed before you escalate the situation.

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