Sunday, June 22, 2008


I envy no one who has to go through the process of buying a house.

An endless search for a house that suits your needs and matches your budget. Negotiating a price that seems fair to the buyer and acceptable to the seller. Mind-numbing paperwork and details to get the deal closed and then, finally, you can collapse into your dream house ... and get to work on broken screens, rusty storm doors, suspicious traces of pests among your woodwork, peeling paint and the fireplace that blows smoke into your living room.

The process is no less taxing for a seller. After months of trying to unload your property, you finally find the perfect buyer. But he can't sell his former house, can't get financing or reneges on the deal because the building inspector tells him that an outlet plate in the garage is missing and an attic door is short a few screws.

Sellers mistrust buyers. Buyers mistrust sellers. It's a wonder any house ever changes hands.

While it would be nice to think that a handshake and someone's word were enough to seal a deal, they aren't. Even when specific conditions are written and agreed to as part of a sale, it's often a challenge to hold all parties to their commitments.

A reader from Ohio learned the importance of getting everything in writing not long ago, after he and his wife decided to sell their house and move to Florida. One of their longtime neighbors expressed an interest in buying their house, so, instead of putting it on the market, my reader had it appraised, after which he and the neighbor agreed on a selling price. Because they hadn't listed the house with a broker or advertised its sale, there were no counteroffers.

The day before he was to leave, however, the neighbors - one of whom is a real-estate agent - told my reader that her bank had appraised the house for $14,000 less than the agreed-upon price. With the move upon him, my reader negotiated and was able to get his neighbor up slightly, but the final price was still $6,000 less than the original agreement.

My reader's brother believes that the neighbor used the pressure of the imminent move in an unethical way by not revealing the lower appraisal earlier, enabling her to use it to coerce a lower price. He asked what I think.

It's impossible to get inside the head of the buyers to know what motivated them. All the same, it wasn't right for them to wait until the absolute last minute to change the deal. The right thing would have been for them to get the appraisal before they agreed to the price in the first place. There's no virtue in making a last-minute change, especially in doing so at what had to be the most inopportune time for the seller.

But my reader also had a responsibility to protect his and his wife's interests by getting that offer in writing. He may have been well-intentioned and trusting, but he was reckless with his family's fortunes. While he was able to salvage some of the lost price, the right thing would have been for both parties to agree to a deal in writing and stick to it.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Craroll Straus said...

Sorry to chime in here with "legal" advice... but as far as I know in every state in this county (and back in England where we got our "common law" in all states but Louisiana) any agreement regarding real estate must be in writing.

Some things need exerts. As much as we may wish otherwise, we can't alwasys know when that is. Thus... when in doubt CHECK IT OUT!

NEVER do a real estste deal if you don't have legal advice of some sort, at least!

rogger said...

I think first you decide what kind of house you want and How much you can expend for it.Then search home according to your conditions.Well i came here in search of Price is right episode.

while deal you have to take some legal advice.

Can I skim some books from my friend's donation?

A reader we're calling Josh, owns a pickup truck. Josh seems a good enough fellow, indicating that in addition to using his truck as...