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Beware when canceling real estate contract

Dear Benny: My husband and I signed a contract in November and put $1,000 down.

The real estate agent put financing as n/a (not applicable) because we were preapproved by our bank. He sent us to a bank and the loan was approved, with a great interest rate and no points. Then problems started.

The underwriter said a road-maintenance agreement was needed, which was not disclosed in contract. We told the other side we want out and to give us our money back. The agent said an attorney was working on the road-maintenance issue with 28 families.

We still have not gotten our deposit back, and the agent says if we pay the seller’s fee of $500 for the attorney doing the road-maintenance agreement, they might release us from contract.

I filed a complaint with the Department of Real Estate because of the nondisclosure of road maintenance, and they said there is no violation.

Now the home inspector is calling us wanting his money and we have told him the agent still has it. We did sign a release of contract designating where the $1,000 should go, and when we called the agent he said the owners are still thinking about it.

Do we have any options left other than paying even more money for an attorney? This has been a nightmare. –Tom

Dear Tom: Does your state require sellers to disclose known conditions of the property? If so, and if the road condition was not disclosed, I believe you have a good case against the sellers, not the real estate agent.

If disclosures are not required by your state, I suggest you call the attorney involved with the 28 other families. Find out the situation and ask why you have to pay the $500. That attorney is not representing you, and the seller will have to pay that fee regardless of who buys the house.

You should also discuss this with your own attorney. It may very well be that the road-maintenance issue is a cloud on title, which would have prohibited you from buying in any event.

Generally, there is a provision in real estate sales contracts that the seller is conveying good and clear title. Under these circumstances, because the seller may not have had clear title to convey, you should get your money back. Furthermore, you may even have a claim for reimbursement of the home-inspection fee.

There is, of course, a good lesson to be learned from your experience. Even though you had a preapproval letter from a lender, you still should have included a financing contingency in your sales contract.

I know that real estate agents will object, stating that your contract was more attractive without that contingency, and I would agree with them.

But I want homebuyers to be fully protected, and contingencies are consumer protections.

Dear Benny: I was left a “life estate” in a residency and wish to know how long my family would have to clean out my property before the siblings are allowed to take possession of home.

The siblings will own the house when I die. –Corbin

Dear Corbin: To my knowledge, there is no specific time frame in which your belongings need to be removed.

What do you want to do with those belongings? Do you have a last will? If not, perhaps you should arrange to get a simple will (unless of course you will have a large estate) and have it spell out the disposition of your personal belongings.

Have you discussed this with the siblings? Because this is a concern to you, I suggest that you meet with the potential heirs and try to get a written agreement. This should resolve your issues.

You should show them your will or some document explaining how and where your belongings are to be distributed. Hopefully, they will honor your wishes.

You should also talk to those who will get your belongings, so they will be prepared to act upon your death.

Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to benny@inman.com.

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