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Closing a day late leaves seller few dollars short

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
If closing is late on the sale of my property and I am not at fault and no extension was asked for by anyone, why do I have to pay more?
-- T. Hawk

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Dear T. Hawk,
Good question. This might be a good time to pull out the sale contract and see just what, if anything, you're owed as a result of the delay. You don't specify, but for each day's delay the seller continues to pay principal and interest on the mortgages, taxes, utilities and other expenses including, possibly, added legal fees for having representation appear for a closing that didn't happen.

If there is no specific language that entitles you to damages from a postponement on the buyer's side, then you're probably stuck.

Very often, hitches arise at the last minute, and there's a good chance the buying party didn't realize the closing would be delayed until the last second, thus no extension was requested. If you were informed of the delay and consented to it unconditionally (albeit reluctantly) then you probably missed your chance for compensation. A good agent or real estate attorney -- assuming you're using one or the other -- should be able walk you through the documents you've signed so you can understand the consequences of conditions that aren't met.

A tip for the future: If the buyers have to delay the closing again, register your objection with their agent or attorney and demand that language be added to the contract obliging the buyers to assume responsibility for any continuing costs for the house. That might expedite things. But be careful about taking too much of a hard-line approach, especially if you are getting your price and everything else in the transaction appears to be in order. Sometimes, "attitude" can bust a deal.

Although most closings occur on time, the process can be a fluid one because dozens of little things can cause big delays, and not all of them fall under the control of the buying party. Money can be tied up, loan documents may be missing or incorrect, unexpected title issues may arise, a death in the family may occur, the buyers' home sale may fall through or a simple communication gap between parties can prevail.

Sometimes, lenders are randomly audited by internal forces or outside regulators, and that can delay closings. Such routine reviews don't mean there is anything necessarily wrong with your deal, by the way.

Usually, it's best to remain as flexible as possible in the process while maintaining a running dialogue between agents and the buying and selling parties.

That helps take some of the guesswork and angst out of the equation.

Best wishes for a happy closing.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Dec. 3, 2005
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