Q: Several months ago, we had an opportunity in another state that seemed an excellent move for our family. We listed our home for sale, and the closing date is three weeks from now. We just learned that the opportunity has evaporated, and we can no longer sell our house. When we told our real estate agent we changed our mind, she told us it was too late — we were under a binding contract. What can we do? — Kassandra
A: You must review at least two agreements to decide your best course.
First, carefully read the purchase contract you signed with your buyer. Some contracts will contain contingencies for various circumstances, such as the sale of the buyer’s previous house falling through. While it is rare to see a contract that will allow you to cancel if the job you were moving for fell through, something in yours may be helpful.
In the more likely event that your contract does not give you an out, your next step will be to speak with your buyer and see if they will agree to cancel.
Be mindful that your buyer spent time and money finding and arranging to purchase your property. Should you break the contract, you can be sued for monetary damages or even for “specific performance,” where your buyer will ask the court to force you to sell according to the signed agreement.
Because of these risks, it is best to take a reasonable approach and work out a compromise.
Realistically, the buyer wants to buy a house, not a lawsuit, and is more likely to be reasonable with you if you are also reasonable about the situation.
You also have to deal with the contract you have with your real estate agent. Under the terms of most “Listing Agreements,” real estate agents earn their commission by finding you a buyer who is ready, willing, and able to close on your home. Because your agent did her job, finding you a qualified buyer, she already earned her commission. Your agent labored to get you a deal, and your change of circumstances should not mean that she should work for free.
Again, most people react reasonably to reasonable people. Explain your circumstances to your agent and try to work out a compromise.
Board-certified real estate lawyer Gary Singer writes about industry legal matters and the housing market. To ask him a question, email him at email@example.com, or go to SunSentinel.com/askpro.