The Seller Reneged. What to do?

Q. My fiance and I were set to close on a one-bedroom co-op in Jackson Heights, Queens. Both parties had signed the contract. We had our mortgage commitment letter and had turned in our board application. We were in the midst of moving out of our rent-stabilized apartment when the sellers suddenly informed us that they wanted to cancel the deal. If we, as buyers, had done this, we would have lost our deposit. But it seems as if there’s less at stake for sellers. What recourse does a buyer have when a seller suddenly decides to cancel a fully executed contract?

A. What is the point of a contract, if not to protect you? Without a binding agreement, you might as well be shopping for real estate in the Wild West. “A Seller cannot merely change his mind and elect not to sell,” said David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. “That is the whole point of having a written contract.”

And contracts are the reason buyers don’t back out more often. “It’s unusual and the reason it is unusual,” Mr. Kaminsky said, “is because sellers have attorneys and sellers’ attorneys says to their clients, ‘You can’t just change your mind. You’ll get sued.'”

As for you and your fiance, at the very least, you should get your deposit back. But you likely have other legal options that could allow you to collect damages or even compel the seller to close the deal.

The Seller Reneged. What to do? orignally published in New York Times on January 15, 2017.

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