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Commercial real estate transactions are contractual – buyer and seller both agree to do something in return for consideration – something of value. So, what happens if the seller decides arbitrarily that he doesn’t want to complete the deal? As I am not an attorney, I will not delve into the legality of such a position but rather explore the situation as a layman.
A normally motivated buyer and seller will negotiate a purchase price, enter an agreement which outlines the contingency period and closing date, deliver the signed agreement and an earnest money deposit to escrow and proceed.
Occasionally, the deal hits a snag. Generally, we see said “snags” on the buyer’s side as the buyer discovers something untoward in his investigation of the property – air conditioners that don’t condition, a roof that leaks, a percolating fuel tank, higher expenses than expected, an appraisal less than the agreed upon price, or some other nuisance. The good news is the buyer is protected if the “snag” is discovered during his contingency (due diligence) period. Typically, the buyer requests a price reduction from the seller or simply cancels the deal if the buyer perceives the problem is too big too fix with money. Certainly, the buyer has the option to look past the snag and proceed – but few do so. Once the buyer has satisfied himself, he waives contingencies, allows his earnest money to be non-refundable and marches toward the close of escrow. The buyer can still cancel, but simply loses his deposit.
Once a seller has agreed to sell, however, and the buyer completes his side of the deal, the seller doesn’t have an escape hatch – lest he encounters a specific performance action by the buyer.
I’ve witnessed a couple of sellers, in my years in the trenches, who refuse to close. Most frequently, its a ploy to extract some blood from the brokers. A high stakes game of poker ensues – he who blinks first loses. One seller in particular did refuse to close and convinced the buyer to allow him to cancel the deal for a small monetary settlement – rare but it does happen. Fortunately, in that case, the buyer was an investor – a buyer relying upon the rent not a buyer planning to occupy the building for his company. Consequently, aside from some wasted time and money, the buyer wasn’t harmed.