We Only Want What’s Fair

“We only want what’s fair!”  Quite frequently, I hear one party of a real estate transaction say these words….usually when the buyer and seller are disagreeing on what is fair.

Here’s the thing, what is fair is relative depending on who you are and what’s going on in your life.  In a real estate transaction buyers and sellers, while they both want the transaction to settle, represent opposing interests from the beginning. One wants to get rid of the property, the other to have it.  The one who DOESN’T want the place anymore thinks it’s worth a bzillion dollars, the one that DOES want the house doesn’t think it’s worth much at all. And that is NOT the extent of the opposition, either. Once you agree on price then come the other questions – things you think aren’t that important until you start to disagree – things like when and how.  But fear not, you have me, and my job is to help you and the other party meet in the middle somewhere and hash out what the right balance is.  We work together in the beginning stages, determining what is FAIR, and we put it in a written agreement right in the beginning.

This agreement is called the contract, and the contract is what everyone decided was fair.

Then the fun begins.  Things change.  You are assuming and guessing a lot while you’re negotiating the contract, but when reality hits you may find you want or need to change those terms.  How long do you really need to secure your financing, make repairs or coordinate the move?  When reality sets in you may want to change some things in the contract.  This happens a lot.  But what if you want something the other party doesn’t want?  What happens when you disagree?  I will give you a few examples.

Just in the past year I have seen:

  • Buyers and sellers need extensions on deadlines.
  • Buyers want home inspection repairs but don’t follow the contract to properly exercise their right to request this.  Sellers who don’t quite get to the repairs even if they promised to make them.
  • Buyers who asked a seller to pay for an inspection but then want to be present for the inspection or choose the vendor, and sellers that forget to schedule them.
  • Buyers who think they can come back anytime they wish to have a painter provide an estimate, to measure for blinds, to plan where their furniture will go, to show their dad, etc., and sellers that want to scream “THIS IS STILL MY HOUSE!”
  • Buyers who think they should be able to move their items into the house – at least the garage – even before closing; OR sellers who think they should be able to leave things on the property that they no longer want.
  • Buyers expect the home to be so spic and span clean that it will pass a white glove test, and sellers who think leaving the trash is just fine~after all, the trash company will come pick it up in a few days if you just haul it to the street.

So, what is fair in these circumstances?  My answer: What does the contract say?  That’s what everyone agreed to when they were excited about this… now that life has set in and things are more challenging than you thought, SURE you can ASK for the exception…. but can you force the other party to agree? Maybe.  Maybe Not.  The answer is in the contract.

Curious how the above get resolved?  Again, the first thing to do is ask.  Maybe the other party isn’t going to get upset.  Maybe pushing back the closing date will help them. But if there’s a disagreement, here is what a STANDARD contract in Northern Virginia says about these things:

Deadlines:  Some die automatically (i.e. inspection deadlines), so if you need an extension you are probably not going to get it.  Some automatically continue (like appraisal or financing contingencies) so if a seller wants to hold the buyer to the deadline, they may have to play a game of chicken and threaten to cancel the contract if the contingency isn’t removed.  Know your deadlines and what happens if things don’t get done on time.

Home Inspection Repairs:  Again, know your contract.  Most of our contracts require that repairs requested by buyers be requested as a result of a professional inspection and the contract requires the buyer to provide a FULL COPY of the inspection with the request for repairs.  If you just send the addendum requesting the repairs the seller may not be obligated to complete them.

Inspections:  Buyers typically pay for, hire and coordinate their home inspection.  But there are other inspections, too… Sometimes sellers pay for termite inspections or water testing or septic inspections.  If the seller pays, he chooses the vendor (within legal and contractual guidelines) and coordinates this.  There is no obligation of the seller to allow the buyer to be present, and quite honestly I am of the opinion that it is not in their best interest for the buyer to be present.  If the buyer wishes to be present, specify it in the contract.  Maybe you didn’t think about it then.  You can still ask the seller if that is OK, but I wouldn’t expect the seller to agree to it.

Access:  The contract provides buyer access to the property.  It is not “at will” access, it is for specific purposes…. The home inspection, the appraisal, the final walk through.  There is no seller obligation to let the buyers visit the property with contractors or to measure or show family the home.  I encourage buyers to try to take care of any of these things at the home inspection, but after that, I would not expect sellers to provide access to the property… even if it is vacant.

It’s true that buying, selling and moving are really stressful, and so emotions run high.  The best way to keep your cool is to resign yourself to knowing some unplanned things are going to happen; some things are not likely to be exactly the way you want them.  That’s life.  If you have hired a good agent, let the agent handle the transaction and lead you through the process.  I’ll make sure things get done, on time, the right way.  It’s my job.

You can deal with the movers and transferring the utilities and registering the kids for school and finding those ridiculous papers the lender is asking for, again…. that’s enough to keep you rather busy.  I’ll take it from there.



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