ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Seller's Remorse / Advice for Agents of Fickle Sellers

This article from Florida's Bradenton Herald describes the situation where a homeowner changes her mind about selling her home. The article calls the common phenomenon "seller's remorse disease." Setting aside the arguably inapt medical analogy (there doesn't seem to be anything unsual about people changing their minds), the article provides some insight into the two scenarios when seller's remorse is likely to hit:

Longtime homeowners are likely to incur this disease shortly after listing their house or condo on the market for sale. To illustrate, just a few days ago, I met an elderly lady who was going through her scrapbook as she was cleaning out her house in preparation to move to an assisted living residence. As she threw away the yellowed newspaper clippings, she told me only about 10 percent of the clippings were worth saving.

Unlike that woman who seemed highly motivated to move on, many home sellers often incur second thoughts as they prepare for the sale, such as by cleaning out closets and throwing away years of memories.

The best thing the seller can do at this point, if the seller isn't highly motivated, is to cancel the listing. Smart realty agents willingly cancel a listing if the seller asks because it is a waste of time to work with an uncooperative seller.

The second and most common situation where home seller's remorse strikes occurs shortly after the home seller accepts a buyer's purchase offer. This is the moment when the home seller understands it's time to move out and he or she realizes the "old home" is pretty nice after all.

The 30- to 60-day "escrow period" after the seller accepts the buyer's purchase offer is the critical time when the home seller is most likely to consider not selling. The reason is sellers start thinking about all the wonderful memories enjoyed in their home or how they will never be able to find another residence as nice.

What is the listing agent to do when the seller says "I've changed my mind" after signing a contract of sale? (The "worst words a listing agent can hear.") Remind the seller of the reasons she said she wanted to sell in the first place. If that doesn't work:

politely inform the home seller of the possible legal consequences of their breach of the sales contract. In a nutshell, if the buyer really wants the home, the buyer can bring a "specific performance lawsuit" to force the seller to complete the sale on the terms agreed in the signed sales contract.

To make matters worse for the seller, a savvy buyer's lawyer will usually record a "lis pendens" against the title to prevent the seller from selling to another buyer or even refinancing the property. The legal reason is every property is unique so monetary damages are not an adequate remedy for the buyer if the seller breaches the sales contract.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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