DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant to be used for educational purposes only, not legal advice. If you need assistance navigating the legalities of selling a home without the signature of all the owners, HomeLight encourages you to reach out to your own advisor.
Selling a home is a big decision that can significantly impact everyone involved. Because home ownership is complex, the process of selling a home requires multiple steps and signatures to make sure that the ownership is conveyed from seller to buyer without any hiccups.
If you own the home with your spouse or partner, the process is relatively straightforward when both parties are available to sign all of the documents involved in the sale process.
But what if the other owner isn’t available or cooperative? Is it possible to sell a home without them?
Some reasons you may want to sell a home without both owner’s signatures include:
- Your spouse is traveling or on active military duty out of the country
- You’re going through a divorce and your spouse doesn’t want to sell the home
- You’re selling an investment property you inherited while you were married
- You think the market has peaked and want to cash out but your partner disagrees
The TL;DR is that in some situations, it is possible to sell without your co-owner’s signature, but there are a lot of legal pitfalls. It’s definitely best to consult an expert to examine your particular situation.
In this guide, we’ve done the research and interviewed expert real estate attorney and broker Andrew Oldham. Oldham and his wife Jennifer are top-selling agents in California who work with 70% more single-family homes than the average San Jose area agent.
When it comes to the question of selling a house without both owners’ signatures, he’ll share his 30 years of insights to help you navigate your individual situation. “We have sold thousands of homes on our team…it’s going to be hard to find something we haven’t run into before,” Oldham says.
One partner can come home and say, ‘hey we bought a house today,’ but on the flip side, if a partner says, ‘hey I sold our house today’ that usually won’t work to convey title appropriately.
- Jennifer and Andrew Oldham Real Estate AgentCloseJennifer and Andrew Oldham Real Estate Agent at Compass Currently accepting new clients
- Years of Experience 21
- Transactions 551
- Average Price Point $1m
- Single Family Homes 422
Can I sell my home without my spouse’s signature?
There’s an old axiom in real estate — one to buy, two to sell. In general, selling a marital home requires the agreement and cooperation of both spouses.
Oldham explains, “One partner can come home and say, ‘hey we bought a house today,’ but on the flip side, if a partner says, ‘hey I sold our house today’ that usually won’t work to convey title appropriately.”
But, there are exceptions to every rule.
For example, if a married woman in Utah receives an investment property as part of an inheritance, it is considered separate property instead of marital property. And since only her name is on the deed, she could decide to sell it after a year without needing her spouse’s signature.
Another example is a man in Texas who got an early start with real estate investing and owned a few investment properties before he got married later in life. During his marriage, he kept the properties and their income separate. After a few years, he and his spouse decide to get a divorce, and he wants to sell one of his investment properties to help cover some of the costs of the divorce. In this case, he could decide to sell this property without needing his spouse’s signature.
In these examples, the way that the owners held title, and the marital property laws of the state are important considerations.
Check if your spouse’s name is on the deed
To know if your situation qualifies as an exception to the “two to sell” rule, you’ll first want to check the deed to understand how title is held for your home.
Although colloquially, “title” and “deed” are often used synonymously, it’s important to understand the difference in this situation.
- Title — refers to the concept that a person has a legal claim to ownership of a property
- Deed — a physical document that officially names the owners of a property
The difference is subtle but important. If your spouse’s name is on the deed, that automatically means that your spouse also holds title (has a legal claim to ownership) to the property. This means you will need your spouse’s signature to sell the home.
If your spouse’s name is not on the deed, your spouse still may hold title through other means.
Check the marital property laws in your state (ex. community property)
The most common way that your spouse may hold title, even if their name isn’t on the deed, is through the marital property laws of your state.
For example, some states are considered “community property states” which means that all property acquired during the marriage is automatically owned equally and jointly by both spouses, regardless of who earns the income or makes the purchase. Those states currently include: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
But even though only nine states are officially designated “community property states,” most states have similar laws that define marital property as any property acquired by spouses during their marriage (used or contributed to by both spouses), and separate property as property obtained prior to the marriage and kept separate during the marriage.
So if your spouse has lived in the property, contributed to any mortgage payments, or you purchased the property while you were married with marital funds, your spouse likely holds title no matter whose name is on the deed, and you will need their signature to sell the home.
It should also be noted that if any property acquired by one spouse before marriage has increased in value due to active efforts of the other spouse (or both), the appreciated value can be considered marital property.
You may be able to compel a sale
If you are going through a divorce and your spouse holds title, either by deed or through marital property laws, you may be able to compel your spouse to sign the closing documents to sell the home.
If you and your spouse can’t agree on how you plan to divide your marital assets, a judge will determine the best way to divide them. In most cases, if one spouse can’t afford to buy the other out, or can’t refinance the property because of credit or debt-to-income barriers, a judge will compel the sale of the house as the best way to divide the asset.
Granting power of attorney is an option, as long as you plan ahead of time
If your spouse is cooperative and agreeable to the sale of the home, but obtaining a signature is difficult, it is possible to move forward without their signature if they have previously granted you or someone else Power of Attorney (POA).
The obvious problem with this method is that it requires significant pre-planning. Setting up a power of attorney can be a really smart move in situations such as:
- Your spouse is being deployed on military duty
- Your spouse is planning an extended trip or leave of absence
- Your spouse is undergoing intensive medical treatment
- Your spouse is going to be incarcerated
There are multiple ways to set up power of attorney to prepare for a real estate transaction, and you will want to work with a legal professional to ensure that you are doing it right.
What if we’re not married?
According to the Pew Research Center, cohabitation outside of marriage is on the rise. In a recent study, they found that 59% of adults ages 18 to 44 have lived with an unmarried partner during their lives.
Oldham explains, “If you and your partner have tenants in common ownership, you can decide to sell your interest in the property without needing the other owner’s permission or approval.”
In this case, you would be selling your ownership interest in the property, but not the property itself.
Oldham continues, “But in a dispute, where ownership can’t be conveyed without the cooperation of the other owner, it’s possible to force the sale of the home through a partition action.”
So it’s possible to compel your partner to sell a property that you own together through a partition action, but the process can get expensive.
Additionally, as with married couples, even if your partner isn’t named on the deed, they may still hold title, according to your state’s laws regarding common-law marriage. In many states, the division of assets for cohabitating partners mirrors that of married couples.
Partner with a top agent to know your options for selling
If you need to sell your home and aren’t sure whether your situation allows you to do so without your spouse or partner’s signature, your best bet is to work with a qualified professional.
HomeLight’s Agent Match platform can connect you with a top-performing agent in your area who can help advise you on the right course of action and connect you with a qualified family or real estate law professional.
If you’re worried about the hassle of listing and selling your home on your own without your spouse or partner’s help, you may want to consider convenient alternative options to sell your home. HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform lets you compare near-instant, no-obligation cash offers from our network of pre-approved buyers along with an estimate of what a top real estate agent can sell for on the open market.