By Stacey McCarthy
Q: I tried to sell my home in Castor Gardens two years ago, but the buyers backed out at the last minute with no good reason. My realtor said my real estate broker has the buyers’ deposit in escrow, but the broker can’t give me the money until the buyers sign a “release.” The buyers’ real estate agent says they are still refusing to sign it. Don’t I deserve that money since they are the ones who violated the contract by backing out? When can I expect to see that money?
A: Ultimately it doesn’t matter who the real estate broker thinks is right, he or she is legally unable to make that determination. It may even stipulate in the contract to whom the deposit money should go to in this situation, and it probably does, but if the buyer is refusing to sign a release, it’s up to a judge to decide. The amount of the deposit might not be worth pursuing in a court of law. Your first step should be to consult with a lawyer.
The buyers may very well have violated the contract, and you may very well deserve to receive the money, however, your real estate broker is legally obligated to hold all deposits in an escrow account unitl or unless signed off on by the parties to the failed transaction or ordered by a court.
An alternative to going to court is to get the buyers to sign the release. If they aren’t going to sign off on surrendering the entire deposit, maybe you can make a deal with the buyers to split the money. It might be in their best interest to get at least half of their money back, and you will still get something for all your trouble without going to court. Have your realtor prepare a release dividing the deposit money and present it to the buyers’ real estate agent. If the parties don’t agree, or until you (or the buyers) pursue legal action, the deposit money will sit in the real estate broker’s escrow account in perpetuity.
Stacey McCarthy is a real estate agent with the McCarty Group of Keller Williams Real Esate. Her Real NEastate column will appear on NEastPhilly.com every Wednesday.