Month: September 2022

Real Estate: What Is a Breach of Contract and What Are the Remedies?

Real Estate: What Is a Breach of Contract and What Are the Remedies?

For most people, selling and buying real estate will be their most complicated experience with contracts. There are many moving parts: home loans, escrow, title transfers, easements, and more. 

Thankfully, the process is so common that for most people, it will go relatively smoothly (even if it is frustrating at the moment), and the buyer and seller can part ways amicably and with no need for future interaction. 

That is not always the case, however. Sometimes the deal breaks down or if it does go through, one party believes the other was dishonest about key aspects. In these cases, there may have been a breach of contract, and if so, the injured party likely has legal remedies.

Breach of Contract in Real Estate

A breach of contract occurs when one or more parties fail to fulfill their obligations under the agreement. 

Here are some of the most common types of breach of contract in real estate transactions.

The Buyer Backs Out

It’s not uncommon for a buyer to back out of the deal. 

Often it’s because they could not obtain financing for the purchase, or the deal was contingent on the sale of their old home, and they were unable to sell it in time. 

Other times the buyer simply changes their mind and walks away. Depending on the terms of the agreement and timeline of events, any of these may constitute a breach.

The Seller Backs Out

Less common is when the seller backs out of the deal. Typically, this happens when the seller has decided against selling the home or received a better offer from another buyer.

Failure to Disclose Facts or Defects

The seller has a contractual and legal duty to disclose any material facts that affect the property’s value. This can be anything from mold to electrical problems. The information must be something the seller knows or should have known about but that would not have been evident to the buyer.

Remedies for Breach of Contract in Real Estate Deals

Where a contract has been breached, the injured party may have a legal remedy. Here are the three most common remedies for breach of contract in a real estate deal.

Retaining Earnest Money

Earnest money is a deposit (typically 5-10% of the purchase price) put down by the buyer to show they are serious and to get the seller to take the property off the market. 

If the buyer simply changes their mind about the purchase, the seller will generally be able to keep this earnest money. However, if the buyer backs out because they cannot secure a loan, it will depend on the contract terms and whether they provided notice in time.

Monetary Damages

The most common remedy for any breach of contract is monetary damages. The purpose of monetary damages is not to punish the party who breached the contract but to put the injured party in the same position they would be in had the contract gone through properly. 

For example, if a buyer agrees to purchase a home for $200,000 but backs out of the deal and the seller is only able to sell later for $170,000, the seller may be entitled to the $30,000 difference in price plus other expenses incurred.

Specific Performance

Specific performance is a less common remedy where one party is ordered by the court to perform the terms of the contract. This might occur when a seller backs out of the deal and tries to sell to someone else at a higher price. 

The court may order the seller to complete the sale to the first buyer because the property is unique and monetary damages are insufficient to compensate the buyer.

Discuss Your Options With a Lawyer

If you’re involved in a real estate transaction and believe the other party has breached the contract, your first step should be to speak to an attorney. 

Our team has years of experience in these matters; we can evaluate your situation and develop a comprehensive plan for resolving the matter efficiently in your favor. 

Contact our office to schedule your consultation.

How COVID Can Affect Your Estate Planning Needs

How COVID could change the needs of your estate plan

Life is always changing. With it, our estate planning needs to change as well. As far as major life upheavals go, nothing quite compares to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. As it appears to be winding down, at least we hope, now is a good time to take a hard look at your existing estate plan (or to create one for the first time) and evaluate whether your needs have changed over the last couple of years.

Major Economic Changes

Fortunes were made and lost during the pandemic. There’s hardly a single business that wasn’t affected in some way, and the stock market has been, at times, unpredictable. This means it’s time to re-assess the value of your assets. 

The overall valuation may have changed significantly, you may have sold off some properties or acquired new ones, or perhaps you put off retirement for a few more years. Any of these means your existing estate plan needs to be updated and adapted to your new economic circumstances. New investments and legal instruments should be considered to match your goals and minimize tax exposure.

Inflation is also a major factor to consider in updating or creating your estate plan. It’s no secret that high inflation rates currently afflict the global economy, and the U.S. economy is no exception. There are hopeful indicators that inflation has already peaked, but it has likely already affected your estate in a number of ways. The most common is an increase in real estate value and property taxes. There are ways to reduce the overall tax liability of your estate in situations like this, such as putting the property into an irrevocable trust. A general diversification of your investments is also a good way to ride out economic uncertainty.

For some people, inflation brings a few benefits. In 2022, the IRS increased the estate and gift tax exemption from $11.7 million to $12.06 million (double that for married couples). This means that a married couple who already maxed out their lifetime exemption can give away another $720,000 tax-free.

Similarly, the annual gift tax exclusion per individual was raised for the first time in several years, from $15,000 to $16,000. Married couples may give away $32,000 tax-free per individual per year without affecting their lifetime exemption total. It’s important to note that the lifetime exemption amount will be cut in half starting in 2026, so anyone wishing to take advantage should do so without delay.

Change in Outlook

While less tangible, the COVID pandemic has profoundly affected many people’s overall perspective on life. Perhaps they lost loved ones or became seriously ill themselves and started to rethink the legacy they would leave behind. 

Owners whose businesses had been stable for years went through great uncertainty, forcing them to reconsider succession plans and their long-term prospects. 

If you’ve arrived on this side of the pandemic and your outlook has changed, you should be sure your estate plan changes as well.

Meet With an Estate Planning Attorney

Any estate plan should be revisited from time to time as your goals and economic circumstances change. The COVID pandemic has almost certainly affected your estate planning needs, so now is a good time to sit down with an attorney and take stock of the situation. 

Our team has the experience and knowledge to create the plan that is right for your unique situation. Contact our office today.