4. Property condition
Case in point: Palm Beach, Fla., where the sale of even a glorious
high-end property can hang on a walk-through, according to Paulette
Koch, broker with The
Corcoran Group Palm Beach.
We all want to know that the house we put a contract on is
the same one we're purchasing at closing. That's why that
final walk-through can be positively nerve-wracking.
"I had a listing where the seller had redone
a house magnificently, but underneath this gorgeous area rug
under the dining room table, he hadn't put hardwood floor
in. I was in shock, everyone was in shock, and if he had just
told everyone it wouldn't have been the end of the world,"
"I always tell my sellers, please
tell me everything. When people have the knowledge upfront,
they're usually fine with it. People just don't like surprises."
Another common problem: Renters who somehow
missed the memo.
"I have a deal now that was supposed to
close a week ago but the tenants still aren't out," says
5. Human factors
Sometimes relationships become strained to the breaking point
between contract and closing. James has had couples that had
to close in separate rooms because they were no longer speaking
to one another.
Occasionally the friction between buyer and
seller can set off fireworks, as in a bizarre culture clash
he once witnessed.
"This Chinese couple was buying new construction
from a Scottish builder with a heavy brogue," says James.
"The wife wanted the house and the husband didn't really
want it, so he kept trying to find ways to kill it.
"On the final walk-through that morning,
he kept looking for anything he could nitpick over and finally
he and the builder literally got into a physical fight. They
really went to it and the police were called. They declined
to press charges on each other. We closed the seller at 10
in the morning and the buyer at 2 in the afternoon so they
wouldn't even pass in the hallway."
Brook Ashley's quick thinking one morning saved a $4.5 million
"The buyer walked in and said that the
seller had taken a potted ficus tree and they were going to
cancel this morning's closing. I found a ficus, it couldn't
have been more than a $70 ficus, but I found it at 8 o'clock
in the morning. It could have just been a bluff, but it didn't
feel like it to me."
6. Lien discharges
Although liens on a property are usually
discovered during the title search, on occasion they can slip
through the cracks, oftentimes due to clerical errors.
"The biggest problem is with lien discharges
that haven't been recorded, payoffs on properties that get
down to the wire and it's missed by an attorney," says
"That sometimes happens the day before
closing and you have to get an extension. The house still
has liens against it because it was misrecorded by the attorney
that handled the payoff in the very beginning. That happens
a lot. The closing attorney for the lender usually finds it."
7. Homeowner associations
associations, especially the powerful ones that rule urban
co-ops and condominium buildings, can squirrel a sale at the
last minute when the prospective buyer discovers unacceptable
restrictions, such as no pets.
"Our real estate contract now requires
the seller to deliver the last six months' minutes of the
homeowner association [meetings]," says Kraft. "Deals
can fall through when the buyers find out there is something
that the HOA has voted on that nobody told them about."
8. The X factor
Award for strangest deal breaker goes to Brook Ashley.
"I had a condo sale where we were in escrow
with a little old lady whose only companion was a large, vicious,
horrible Himalayan cat named Miss Kitty. She called to cancel
escrow because she said she had talked to Miss Kitty and Miss
Kitty said it wasn't the right thing to do.
"We canceled it on Miss Kitty's hiss.
That was fun, telling the selling agent."
Jay MacDonald is a contributing
editor based in Mississippi.