What counts as a real estate contract?
Rich wrote in recently with a question/plea: Did he have any recourse in a home-sale deal that fell apart?
He says his family made an offer on a Catonsville home, and the seller said by email that she accepted the terms, had signed the contract and had forwarded it to her agent. Somehow, the contract never ended up in Rich's hands. Instead of sending another one, he says, the seller accepted a different buyer's offer.
He's very frustrated.
"I feel that after our offer was accepted via email [it] constitutes a binding contract," he wrote.
I'm not in a position to resolve disputes, but I thought it was an interesting question that other buyers and sellers might run into occasionally. So I put it to two local attorneys for their general thoughts.
(This is not meant to be legal advice, mind: They just got the basic details.)
Barry Glazer, a Baltimore attorney, real estate broker and former settlement company owner, said he doesn't think emails confirming the acceptance of an offer could be taken as a binding agreement.
"You're going to have to have the contract, because contracts are so involved," he said. "They're typically six pages and small type. ... There's so many possibilities. So without the contract, you don't have anything."
Lee Snyder, an attorney with Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services in Hunt Valley, took a look at some of the emails Rich provided. He noted that one from the seller's agent said the seller did want a small change to the contract, to allow her the right to remedy any defects found in the home inspection. That makes it difficult to tell whether there was "a 'meeting of the minds' between buyer and seller," he said.
If Rich's understanding of the situation is correct -- that there's a completely agreed upon contract -- then his "options are limited to hiring an attorney to file suit immediately for specific performance of the contract thus setting up a 'lis pendens' situation which will keep the seller from performing under the second contract," Snyder wrote me.
Glazer's suggestion: "Report the entire situation to the Real Estate Commission. ... If it was me, I'd want to find out exactly what happened. This is not typical."
Thoughts, folks? Has anything like this happened to you?