When a sale dies of remorse

Anxieties: If the homebuyer allows them to fester, the deal may never close.

April 09, 2000|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you have ever bought a home, you may know the feeling.

Your contract has been accepted and a feeling of excitement fills your being. But as the day wears on and the realization that you've just undertaken a major financial commitment settles in, the joy can be replaced by anxiety.

Was it the right house?

Did we pay too much?

Should we have looked at more houses?

Can we really afford the payments?

What have we just done?

The feeling is called buyer's remorse. And it's a normal process that many people go through when purchasing a home. But sometimes the feeling doesn't go away, and the buyer decides that getting out of the contract is the only solution.

For Marshall and Peggy Duer, that anxiety came only hours after they submitted a contract for a house last summer. After six months of fruitless searching, the Duers finally found a home in the Timonium/Cockeysville area -- a rancher that needed a lot of work to bring it up to date.

It wasn't perfect, but the Duers decided to go ahead and submit a contract.

"I woke up in the middle of the night and told my husband, `We can't do this,'" said Peggy Duer. "It was within a 24-hour period that we knew we had made a mistake. It wasn't just the work that needed to be done, it was the wrong house."

Luckily for the Duers, the contract had yet to be submitted to the sellers for approval and they were able to dissolve it and retrieve their down payment.

Their agent says buyer's remorse has become more common in today's hot real estate market.

"It has been happening a lot lately. The market here in Towson is so tight and so competitive right now," said Ashley Richardson, an agent in the Towson south office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA. "In this type of market, people have to make a decision so quickly that sometimes they have second thoughts. And when it does happen, it is almost always when there are multiple listings."

The house the Duers put the contract on had been on the market for only a short time. When they went to see it, another interested couple was also looking at it.

"The other couple stayed the same amount of time we did and I got this feeling that if we wanted this house, we would have to go for it now. That was the big pressure. Houses were being bought the first day they went on the market," said Duer.

The Duers found another house in the fall and have since settled on it and moved in.

"We don't have any regrets," Duer said. "I think that if you are looking for a specific style house or area, it just might take a little longer. So while you don't have to wait for the perfect house, don't settle for something you don't want."

Because the Duers knew immediately that they had made a mistake and were able to withdraw their contract before it was accepted by the seller, no harm was done.

Such isn't always the case, however. And buyers should know that a contract is a legally binding document, says Mary Antoun, the executive vice president and chief executive officer for the Maryland Association of Realtors.

Many times a buyer will only lose the initial down payment, or earnest money, but it can go beyond that.

"The Realtors I've talked to said buyer's remorse is extremely common, but it usually is that the buyer needs some kind of reassurance that what they've done is the right thing to do. And it usually doesn't go beyond that," Antoun said.

"But once you have a contract signed and there is earnest money, the contract determines what the terms are. A binding contract is a binding contract. It's a huge commitment for the seller as well as for the buyer. If something can't be worked out, then it becomes a legal issue and the terms of the contract govern."

That is also why in Maryland and many other states, it is advisable for buyers and sellers to get legal counsel if they don't understand the terms of the contract or if they need assistance to get through the real estate process.

"There are contract terms that must be met by each party, and if those terms are not met, then the contract can be undone," said Antoun. "Short of that, it would depend on how willing the seller is to release it."

Larry Caplan, a Towson lawyer who focuses much of his business on the real estate industry, couldn't agree more.

"The best advice is to consult an attorney before signing the contract. I can't tell you how many times I've told people that have called me with this problem that they are making the call too late," said Caplan.

"Buyers should understand that the contract is a binding document and that all of the terms of the deal are in the contract. Far too often, buyers enter into the purchase without realizing the importance of the contract."

It is not uncommon to feel buyer's remorse on some level, say real estate agents, but it's something that is usually just a natural response to a sometimes stressful situation.

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