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Can a sales contract be terminated once it’s signed?

February 8, 2019
By ERIC FEICHTHALER - Real Estate Law , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Dear Mr. Feichthaler:

I listed my home a few months ago with a local Realtor who is also a neighbor. He is new in the business and I didn't think he had a good knowledge of real estate, but I wanted to help out this young man. He presented me with a contract, and I asked whether the contract allowed me to change my mind, since the buyer didn't have to make an escrow deposit for 3 days. He told me I would. I signed the contract and, 2 days later, my doctor told me I had Parkinson's disease. I was devastated. With this news, I did not want to leave my home, certainly not in three weeks (the closing date). I called the Realtor and he told me that there was no way I could end the contract or amend the closing date, and that, if I didn't close in three weeks, his broker would sue me for the commission they lost! I feel helpless, and can't believe this person I tried to help would turn on me like this. What can I do?

-Brian R.

Dear Brian:

Thank you for sharing your situation. Your diagnosis is undoubtedly causing great stress on you and your family, and to have it exacerbated by the contract and Realtor issue is so unfortunate. There are many issues in this matter that require discussion. First, while true that most real estate transactions occur without the involvement of an attorney, I am confident one would have benefitted you here. While it is unclear whether this agent didn't understand the contract or intentionally misled you, an attorney would have been able to explain all of the consequences of your contract. From what you have explained, the contract likely does not allow you to cancel as seller, once signed by all parties. A clause stating specifically that either party could cancel prior to 3 days would need to be added to meet your expectations. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding exactly what you are signing, from listing agreements to sales contracts.

However, just because you likely have a valid, binding contract should not mean you have no options. I have the pleasure of working with many excellent real estate brokers and agents in Cape Coral, and none of them would handle your situation the way your neighbor did. My expectation would be that they would, first, have empathy for your situation. You are their client, and they should have your best interests in mind. It sounds like they only are considering their own interests. I would expect they would see what they could do to still have the sale occur, but meet your needs. You noted that having some additional time in the home may benefit you, so your agent should have contacted the buyer to see if they would agree to an extension. Depending on the buyer's situation, they may have no objection. And, if you are certain you do not want to move, the Realtor should contact the buyer and see if they will agree to end the contract under these extraordinary circumstances. While they may lose the commission, I would expect you would re-list your property with them when you decide to sell later, and probably recommend this realtor to everyone you know.

Given the situation, particularly the threat of a lawsuit by your own Realtor, I would highly recommend you seek the advice of an attorney immediately. The contract and its formation could have issues that leave the potential to cancel. Since your Realtor does not appear to be working in your best interests, the attorney can contact the buyer's agent to advise of the full situation, and perhaps they will agree to an extension or cancellation.

Selling a home is often the largest financial decision one will ever make. Although we have some great real estate professionals in our city, some are not great, and some are not professional. I advise my clients to thoroughly research the agent and brokerage they are hiring, and to talk to trusted friends about their experiences with purchases and sales of property. And, finally, if you feel a prospective real estate agent doesn't have a good knowledge of real estate, you are better off using your generous spirit in thousands of other ways. The sale of your home is just too important to leave to chance.

Eric P. Feichthaler has lived in Cape Coral for over 30 years and graduated from Mariner High School in Cape Coral. After completing law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he returned to Southwest Florida to practice law and raise a family. He served as mayor of Cape Coral from 2005-2008, and continues his service to the community through the Cape Coral Caring Center, Cape Coral Historical Museum, and Cape Coral Kiwanis. He has been married to his wife, Mary, for over 17 years, and they have four children together. He earned his board certification in Real Estate Law from the Florida Bar. He is AV Preeminent rated by Martindale-Hubbell for professional ethics and legal ability, and is a Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator.

This article is general in nature and not intended as legal advice to anyone. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting on any matter of legal rights and obligations.



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