This stinks: Home seller won’t turn on gas


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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
We’re in the process of buying a home and are about to close escrow. All we need is to get the gas turned on. However, the owner won’t let us in! She has canceled on me three times. All papers are signed off. What gives with this? Can we back out?
— Josie

Dear Josie,
Something smells funny here, and it’s obviously not the gas. There could be several reasons for the owner’s lack of cooperation and sudden reluctance, none of which reflects favorably on her as a seller or the success of the deal in progress.

There are several scenarios that might explain this curious game of keep-away:

  • The seller is simply busy or is distracted with a life/family crisis.
  • She’s having second thoughts.
  • She’s hiding something — perhaps a nonworking or faulty system she didn’t disclose to you. (Your inspection, assuming you had one, should have been done only when all utilities were on to force the seller to immediately live up to her inspection contingencies.)
  • She’s stalling to rectify a different issue that had cropped up at the house.

Those are just guesses. Frankly, this situation is pretty unusual and should be easily remediated, it would seem, by a still-willing seller.

Confront the seller

Have your agent, assuming you’re using one, inform the seller’s agent that unless she obliges your utility turn-on immediately, the deal is off. But since you’re the one who’s dealing directly with the seller, you may not even be using an agent. In that case, you’ll personally have to do the dirty work, informing her of your demands by registered letter backed by a phone message. First, you might simply ask the seller if she’s having second thoughts, assuming she’ll respond. If she is, you could then indicate you’re willing to walk away — if indeed you are — only if you are reimbursed your expenses thus far.

The seller’s sudden lack of cooperation shows bad faith, and such a cancellation is likely defensible. But — and you probably know what’s coming next — you may need an attorney to intercede, especially if you’ve plunked down a significant chunk of earnest money.

Good luck!

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