5 Legal Issues Home Sellers Should be Aware Of

A seller reviewing legal issues with his or her attorney.

If you are working hard to get your home ready to sell, this may be a good time to take a break and learn about a few of the legal issues that await you. The process of selling a home presents you, the seller, with one legal issue after another that must be addressed and resolved. If you fail to do so, you could lose a buyer or, even worse, end up being sued for damages.

That last part about a lawsuit probably got your attention, but keep in mind that most homeowners get through the process of selling a home without a lawsuit or disgruntled buyer. It all depends on taking the time to recognize and fulfill your legal obligations as a seller while also ensuring that your rights are protected.

To help you do both, here are five common legal issues sellers face and tips for dealing with each of them. Here is a tip that will get you off on the right foot: hire an experienced real estate attorney before putting your house on the market. It gives your attorney plenty of time to review the deed and other documents to ensure that any issues are promptly addressed to prevent them from delaying or standing in the way of closing.

Rejecting a buyer’s offer for the wrong reasons

You have the right to decide the terms you are willing to accept when selling your home and may reject an offer from a buyer who fails to meet them. There are many reasons to refuse an offer, including:

·         The buyer makes an offer that is less than the asking price.

·         The buyer wants to make the sale conditioned on obtaining mortgage financing, and you have an identical offer from a buyer who does not require a contingency.

·         A prospective buyer for your current home cannot close in time to meet the closing date on a home that you are in contract to buy.

Sellers can even decide to take their house off the market. Whatever their reason may be for not selling, it must not violate the federal Fair Housing Act and similar state laws making it unlawful to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, familial status or national origin.

If you refuse to sell your home for a reason that violates either the federal or state fair housing laws, you risk fines and the payment of damages for your actions. Licensed real estate brokers and agents receive training in fair housing practices, know how to show homes listed for sale, negotiate offers with sellers to comply with the law, and prevent sellers who may not know or understand the laws from inadvertently violating them.

When the highest offer may not be the best offer

Someone looks at your home and offers you the full asking price, but they need time to obtain a mortgage to complete the purchase. Meanwhile, other buyers offer less money than the first, but they recently sold a home and have enough money in the bank to complete the purchase without financing. Of course, you want to get the most money for your home, but by the time your first buyer’s bank accepts or declines the financing, the buyers with the second offer will be gone.

A good offer may not be the highest one. Understand the terms of an offer before agreeing to accept it. For example, ask whether a buyer needs financing and insist on seeing a pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender, so you at least know that the buyer has sufficient income and good credit to qualify for a mortgage. This is one of those situations when a real estate broker selling your home can help by only showing it to buyers with pre-approved financing.

Make sure the sales agreement protects you

Do not sign a sales agreement with a buyer without having it reviewed by your attorney. A sales agreement prepared by real estate agents and brokers are legally enforceable contracts in many parts of the country, so do not sign one until it has been reviewed and explained to you by your lawyer.

Some of the terms of a sales agreement that sellers should be careful about include:

·         If the sale is subject to the buyer obtaining mortgage approval, make certain the time to obtain it is as you agreed. For example, you agreed to give the buyer 30 days to get a mortgage, does the wording of the mortgage contingency require that the buyer promptly apply for the loan and make a good faith effort by cooperating with lender requests for documentation?

·         Make certain the closing date conforms to your needs. This is particularly important if you are in contract to buy a home to replace the one you are selling. The closing dates of the two transactions need to be coordinated to avoid being unable to complete your purchase on time.

·         If your buyer needs to sell a home to complete the purchase with you, your attorney will ensure that you understand any language that makes the sales agreement subject to the sale of the buyer’s home before you agree to it.

Once you sign a sales agreement without having it reviewed by your attorney, you could be stuck with terms that are not in your best interest.

Be honest when filling out disclosure forms

State and federal laws require that sellers disclose the condition of the property being sold. State disclosure forms typically require disclosure of the general condition of the home, including plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and electrical systems; condition of the roof and foundation; and the presence of insect infestation. Federal law requires disclosure of the existence of lead-based paint for houses built prior to 1978.

Be truthful when completing a disclosure form because the buyer is entitled to rely upon it and can sue a seller for damages for misrepresenting the condition of the home. Talk to your attorney about the disclosure before completing it.

You must deliver clear title to the buyer at closing

If you satisfied a judgment or paid off a mortgage without filing documents to that effect with the county clerk, a title search conducted for the buyer prior to closing will show the judgment or mortgage as a lien against the title. Clearing it can take time and could delay closing. 

As soon as you hire an attorney to handle the sale of your home, provide them with copies of the deed and title that you received when you acquired it. This allows your lawyer time to identify and address any title issues before they can delay the closing.

Conclusion

The sale of your home need not cause you to be anxious and stressed. A little bit of planning and hiring real estate and legal professionals to assist you in the sale of your home can make for a hassle-free transaction.

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