real estate

Home seller 'remorse' could lead to lawsuit

Steve McLindenQuestionDear Real Estate Adviser,
We're selling our home in North Dakota on our own and have signed a purchase agreement with buyers. I recently read that a buyer is obligated to the purchase agreement. But is this also true of the home seller? Can we change our mind if we really aren't ready to sell the home at this time?
-- C.E. Munson

AnswerDear C.E.,
Sure, you can change your mind. But whether or not you are doing so lawfully is only relevant if the buyers decide to pursue you should you bust the legally binding contract.

That could be costly and time-consuming and end quite badly for you.

Seller's remorse, though less common than buyer's remorse, is a very real phenomenon. Sometimes the finality of the sale hits home just before closing and reinforces longtime emotional attachments.

Other times, second thoughts about the sale price or fresh doubts about buying a replacement home are reasons to which sellers cling. A new job that isn't panning out also can be a factor.

Often, buyers spurned at the last minute will just decide to move on to the next opportunity with their deposits returned and reimbursements for any expenses they suffered in hand. But if these spurned buyers take you to task, you should know what could happen.

The buyers may hire an attorney, who probably would send you a letter noting the legal consequences of not closing as agreed and perhaps threaten to file a "specific performance" suit against you and a "lis pendens" against your title. This could prevent you from selling to another buyer until the matter's cleared up.

While it's pretty rare for a court to actually force people to sell their houses under such circumstances, this can also happen.

Of course, buyers in these instances can usually be persuaded to accept money to go away. If they have dollars tied up in inspections and the like, you would certainly owe them that as well.

If they have already sold their current home in anticipation of buying yours, or they can't get out of a contract with their buyers, you are probably looking at a lot more money and a similar amount of anger. You could also get socked for storage costs, lost deposits on moving arrangements and even their agent's commission.

Before making any decisions, I would suggest you take a fresh look at your original "pros" list for selling, then re-examine your "cons." Don't forget to add a new consideration -- "might get sued" -- to the proper column. Most times, people in your situation will conclude their initial rationale for selling was actually sound.

If you still want to hold fort and the buyers persist, enlist the services of an attorney. (Many real estate attorneys, by the way, will suggest you proceed with the sale of the house in the absence of any serious extenuating circumstances.)

Bottom line: Sorry, but there's no easy out for sellers with cold feet and a signed sales contract. When you scrawled your name on that dotted line, you made a legal, enforceable promise to sell. So it just might behoove you to do so, should push proceed to shove. Good luck!

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