You’ve accepted a new job in Massachusetts and have found a house to buy that you love. You’ve signed all the documents, paid your deposit and you’re ready to start packing. 

Is your house purchase a done deal? Is there a way the deal could fall through on the seller’s end?

Yes – in a number of ways and without penalty to the seller. For example:

  1. Purchase agreements often contain contingencies, such as a deadline for the buyer to gain financing or for a home inspection to be done. If you, as a buyer, don’t meet those deadlines, the seller can cancel the purchase agreement without a penalty. If you request an extension, the seller can decline and therefore nullify the deal.
  2. If the home inspection is completed and it shows a number of repairs to be made, you might ask the seller to make the fixes. The seller is not required to by law, and you will have to decide whether the fixes are something you can make on your own or if this isn’t the house for you. The seller, indirectly, could break the contract if you push for the repairs.
  3. In a title search, it might be discovered that the seller doesn’t have a clear title to the house, which means no one can buy it until the problem is cleared up. There could be tax liens or another judgment attached to the home.

And, sometimes, the seller might just have a change of heart. What happens in that case?

A real estate contract is just that: a contract. If a seller breaks the contract for a reason not covered by a contingency, it could result in a lawsuit. At that point, the buyer likely will ask for the return of their deposit – known as earnest money – and could seek the return of any fees paid, such as for the home inspection, and the cost of securing short-term housing.

If you are the buyer and your seller backs out of the deal, a consultation with an attorney experienced in real estate is a wise move to learn your options.