Seller wants out of the deal

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Dear Steve,
I want to get out of the contract I signed to sell my house. At the time of signing, I was on heavy pain medicine after back surgery, and was not fully alert and aware of the contract details. Is there any way for me to get out of the deal? As it turns out, I will need more surgery and leaving my home will be a hardship.
— Philip

Dear Philip,

It’s very unlikely a court will actually force you to sell. If the buyers get really ugly, they may try to file a “lis pendens” against your title, which could keep you from selling or refinancing until the situation is resolved. But with your extenuating circumstances and the seemingly infinite universe of for-sale homes out there, those odds are pretty small.

What the buyer may try to do is sue, or threaten to sue you for damages, especially if they have already sold their home in anticipation of moving into yours. There’s a chance you may have to settle to avoid a costly, stressful court fight.

Further, your broker will have fulfilled his or her job of finding you a firm buyer, thus earning a commission. Some agents will try to hold your feet to the fire in such “cold feet” cases. But most — though not all — reason that it’s not worth the effort or the potential bad public relations, particularly in your case with the health-related issue.

There is a slight chance you have a legitimate “out” if the buyer did not meet specific obligations spelled out in the contract, such as the requirement to have a mortgage loan commitment from a lender. But I sense this isn’t the case. As much as I dislike saying “you’d better see an attorney,” you might have to do just that if the buyer and (or) agent persists in redress efforts. Under the circumstances, I hope they don’t.

And it might behoove you to recall whether you mentioned your back condition and any heavy medication you were taking to the buyers or agents at the time of the signing. Your condition at the time of the signing may indeed elicit sympathy from a judge or in an arbitration hearing, but it may not be adequate rationale to break a contract, unless you can show the buying party took advantage of your compromised state to slip in egregious purchase terms.

Perhaps another remedy can be reached. Ask your agent (assuming you used one) to meet with the buyers’ agent to discuss other options, such as the buyers granting you a longer period to close, or allowing you to remain in the house as a renter for a set period. The buyers’ acceptance of these arrangements will no doubt hinge on the level of inconvenience they’re experiencing. Both parties will want to get it in writing, of course.