Is it wrong to force my sister to sell property we own together?
by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: My wife wants to start her own business, and to raise money we need to sell our share of the vacation home we own with my sister’s family. We’ve offered it to Rachel and her husband, but they say they can’t afford to buy us out. This means putting the place on the market, which they refuse to do. Would we be wrong to insist?
Our answer: Even if you have the right to force the sale of the house, you’re going to have to find another solution if you want to close escrow with a clear conscience. That’s because the deal you entered into isn’t some arms-length real estate investment. It’s a family arrangement, so each of you is obligated to accommodate the other. For you, this means not insisting on selling the home. For Rachel, it means trying - really trying - to help you cash out.
What are your options? Begin by looking for a bank that will let you borrow against your equity in the house. If that won’t work, try giving your sister an economic incentive: either a chunk of the profit on your share if she’ll agree to sell, or the opportunity to buy your share at a below-market price. If neither appeals to her, try to find a buyer for your interest in the cabin. If she’s turned down your other offers, Rachel can’t be too choosey about whomever you find.
If by now you’re thinking that getting your money out shouldn’t be this hard, you’re right. Next time you buy a house, boat or car with someone, agree in advance what you’ll do if one of you wants to sell and the other doesn’t.
Money Magazine's ethicists are authors of the forthcoming book "'Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?'" (Free Press). E-mail them at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.