What happens when a seller refuses to close?
In most cases, sellers are eager to close and move on with their plans. Their house may have been on the market for months or even years, so one may assume that they would be more than ready to leave. However, that isn’t always the case; sometimes, sellers back out or change their minds. This can be extremely frustrating for buyers, especially those who planned to relocate from out of the area.
The real estate experts at Coover Law have experienced many situations that go this way. The buyer does everything right and signs the contract, gets their financing, arranges for settlement, packs up their furniture, moves out of their house, and drives from another state to Maryland. Suddenly, the realtor calls and says the seller changed their mind. Maybe the seller’s job transfer didn’t happen, they had a death in the family, or someone in their family is sick and they don’t want to sell the house.
Whatever the reason, these situations can be hellish for buyers. The good news is that there are legal options for buyers. One of the most effective is to seek damages through breach of contract.
Should You Take Legal Action Against the Seller?
Before you take any legal action, you and your attorney can decide if a compromise is the best option moving forward. Maybe there was a lack of communication between you and the seller; if that’s the case, speaking with them and setting a specific move-out date may be better than spending months in court. Compromise usually works, but if you’re faced with a particularly stubborn seller, you may need to take legal action.
First, you and your attorney should review the purchase contract to ensure that it is valid and legally binding. If it isn’t, there’s legally nothing your attorney can do. Review your contract and make sure it includes the following:
- Identification of the property and basic terms of the contract
- Statutory disclosures
After you review the contract, you and your Maryland real estate attorney may decide that legal action is the best option to make the seller fulfill their legal obligation to sell you the house.
Breach of Contract
Courts often rule that monetary damages aren’t enough to compensate the buyer for the financial and emotional toll that the seller’s fluctuating decisions imparted on them. That’s why taking the seller to court over breach of contract is an effective way to obtain the money that you, the buyer, lose. If the seller refuses to complete the home transaction, the buyer can use the legal theory of “specific performance” to force the seller to sell.
Specific performance is a remedy that obliges the seller to perform the original action of the contract, i.e. sell their home to the buyer. In this case, the buyer’s “compensation” is the house, not money.
Courts may grant specific performance in addition to other legal remedies. They may order the seller to compensate the buyer for the difference between the accepted price of the house and its fair market value.
For example, if the house is worth $300,000 and the buyer agreed to pay $250,000 for it, the seller may be ordered to pay the $50,000 difference. The seller may even have to pay for the buyer’s mortgage application fees and appraisal costs.
Your Legal Options When the Seller Refuses to Close
A seller’s change of mind can create a crisis for the buyer. The good news is that buyers have legal recourse against the seller under the premise of a breach of contract. Unless the contract is highly unusual and gives the seller the right to cancel or terminate the sale at the last minute, purchase contracts are legally binding and provide a specific date for which the seller must be off the property.
If there is any dispute or confusion as to whether the seller has the right to remain in the house, the seller should first consult their contract, then a Columbia, Maryland real estate lawyer.
In a Bind? Contact Coover
Coover Law has handled dozens of cases of sellers’ breach of contract, and we represent our clients with fervor to get them their rightful property. Prompt, assertive action by a real estate lawyer can bring swift change and fulfill the purchase contract that should have been met in the first place.
If your seller refuses to close or move out, contact Coover Law in Howard County at (410) 553-5042 for a free, no-obligation case consultation. We’ll review the purchase contract and help you decide which course of action to take.