Recently, I was asked to assist a client in selling their house in Illinois because they had moved to Florida. Their property was well-maintained, and in a good location. I assumed this transaction would proceed smoothly. It was anything but! Here are the crazy highlights...
How do you define timely?
One day after my clients were presented with a contract, the buyer's paralegal called me, irritated. "Why hasn't the contract been signed?" (After one day? Really?)
It's best to remain calm
When the buyer's attorney submitted a list of requested repairs on the property, it stated they wanted a "qualified licensed professional" to make them. This language is standard in the industry, but the repairs requested were so trivial - e.g., replacing a window handle - that anybody could make them. We will take care of them, I explained, but it makes more sense to use a handyman. The buyer's attorney was indignant and instructed the paralegal to talk to the buyer's realtor about my "insolent behavior." Nonetheless, I crossed out the word "licensed" in the document and they signed off on it.
After the repairs were made we notified the buyer's attorney. The paralegal asked who made them. I said, "The Repair Man" (that was the name of the service provider's business). She was furious, hung up the phone, and, shortly thereafter I heard from the seller's realtor, who was pressured by the buyer's realtor to arrange for all the repairs to be redone using a licensed professional! I explained to her that it was not up to the buyer who made the repairs. I also reminded her that the buyers had signed off on using a non-licensed professional. (By the way, I was the attorney of record and had power of attorney for my clients. I may not have made any friends that day, but I wasn't speaking or behaving out of turn.)
If it sounds too good to be true, it may be
When the buyer asked to close the deal in 28 days, I was skeptical. The buyer's attorney brushed off my concerns. They were preapproved, she said, it's just a formality to write the mortgage. I agreed to the closing date.
Two weeks later, I heard through the grapevine that there were issues with the mortgage. After some back and forth with the realtor, I contacted the buyer's mortgage lender. He said he still needed some documents from the buyers (they were on vacation and unreachable) but assured me the closing date was still on target. It was a Friday afternoon so I was glad to set aside my concerns for the weekend.
On Monday at 5:00pm I received a fax from the seller's attorney asking for an extension. When I called to ask why, the paralegal would not explain. I needed to talk to my clients before agreeing to the extension. The utility companies were scheduled to turn off services the day of the closing. A major winter storm was expected that week, with a subzero temperature drop. We couldn't risk burst pipes or other property damage due to a delay in closing. We offered to do a "dry close" on the original closing date. This means that if the buyers couldn't get a mortgage by then, the money would be funded at a later date, with the buyer taking possession on the original closing date. This would ensure the property would be protected. But for some reason a dry closing did not sit well with them.
The plot thickens
Soon I learned why the buyers needed an extension: the person handling their mortgage came down with appendicitis over the weekend, so the work came to a screeching halt! When I called the mortgage company to ask if they could assign someone else to work on the file, I was told it's not their policy. I was dumbfounded. What if the employee quits - does the file die? What if the loan officer is out sick for a lengthy amount of time? The file had been with the mortgage lender for almost two months. Using my best persuasive efforts, I finally enticed them to dedicate new resources to the file so we could close as scheduled.
When I emailed the buyer's attorney with this good news, she replied, "The transaction has been canceled because the buyer could not get a loan." I called the mortgage lender and told him to stop working on the mortgage. He implored me not to listen to the attorney, and said he would talk to her and try to save the deal. I agreed to give it 24 hours.
The next morning I received an email from the buyer's attorney stating the deal was back on the table, with the original closing date. She was furious with me, instructing me never to talk to her clients again. I pointed out I never directly spoke to them, that I merely hit "reply all" to her email. She either did not understand about the "reply all" feature in email programs, or did not realize that she initiated the email conversation with me and her clients. She threatened to report me to the regulatory association for lawyers and various other agencies for my alleged transgressions. (Go ahead, I said, but let's get this transaction done first.)
Finally, a happy ending
We closed on the 28th day as planned. Amazingly, the day went smoothly. This was one of the most bizarre non-litigation cases I have ever handled. I cannot do justice to it in this narrative. But I hope this story demonstrates that even with a seemingly straightforward transaction, it's important to be prepared for challenges.
As always, I'm available to help you, your associates, family, and friends with legal matters. If you have questions about a legal matter, feel free to call or email me. To learn more about our services, please visit our website.