Dear Real Estate Adviser,

If, as a home seller, I signed a sale agreement with a set closing date and a list of contingencies requested by the buyer, but encountered delays in meeting those contingencies, would I have the right to change that date?

— Teel O.

Dear Teel,

You have the right to at least try to extend the closing date for a short term, but you might need the cooperation of the buyer first. That is, unless your contract has a clause that reads something like “seller may extend the initial closing date at his/her option with no penalty,” or states that closing will occur “on or about” a certain date, which can usually buy you up to an extra month.

The types of delays you are experiencing are quite common. But before you contact the other party to request an extension, realize that this could cost you something if you’re not fully within your rights. Depending on the length of the delay, the buyers may ask for a credit to compensate for the extra rent and storage they may have to pay, given that a delay usually affects when buyers depart their current digs, and can also alter their finance arrangements. So you might have to bite the bullet a bit.

Worse, depending on the contract language, your delay could also give buyers fodder to invalidate the contract if they’ve become ambiguous about the purchase, or have found another house that’s move-in ready — things not entirely unheard of in this buyer’s market. Most of the time, though, buyers will go along with short delays and certainly don’t want to push for an early move-in if a leak, break or other problem hasn’t been resolved. Of course, it’s always best to let an attorney interpret contract language.

It sounds like you might be doing a for-sale-by-owner deal here, which works best if there are no hitches, of course. An experienced agent or real estate attorney can serve as a buffer and seasoned voice of reason if such issues arise.

In some cases, you may have to demonstrate you’re earnestly working to fulfill contingencies and are making enough progress to comfortably meet the new closing date.

For perspective’s sake, closing delays have become so common with so many little things that can go wrong that agents often view closing dates only as a light at the end of a tunnel rather than a firm sign-off date. Even so, it would be wise to resolve and meet all contingencies with due speed, given the market.

And hey, at least you’ve got the hardest parts done. Now it’s likely down to just crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s and J’s and finishing a few last-minute repairs. I wish you luck!

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