The seller just backed out on your real estate deal: Now what?

You spent a lot of time and effort looking for the perfect piece of real estate. When you found it, you made a fair offer -- and the seller readily accepted.

Now, the seller wants to back out.

This is frustrating for many reasons. First, you've likely paid for the property inspection and had the title search completed, and you've incurred a few other expenses along the way as you approached closing. Second, since you expected to close on this property, you stopped looking for another -- and you may have passed up other pieces of real estate that are now in the hands of other buyers.

Is there anything you can do? Possibly. Here's where you should start:

  1. Look at your contract. Does the seller have any contingencies that would allow them to back out of the deal without a penalty? Have you kept up your end of the bargain completely, including meeting any time limits specified on closing?
  2. Talk to the seller. Find out why they no longer want to sell, if they'll tell you. If they simply want to keep the property, you may be able to negotiate a refund that covers not only your earnest money but any expenses you have incurred.
  3. Consult an attorney. It may be possible to force the seller into the sale through the remedy of "specific performance," or you may have other legal options you can pursue, such as liens.

What's most important to remember in this kind of situation? Just that you shouldn't walk away without understanding your rights. If a seller finds out that you are willing to take legal action, they may be more inclined to go through with the sale or, at least, negotiate fairly.