Home contract might also protect second-guessing buyer

09/20/2008 12:00 AM

09/18/2008 4:54 PM

Q. My son signed a contract to buy a home and put down $600. Later that night, after he had had time to think about it, he decided he wasn't sure he could make the payments. He tried to withdraw from the offer, but the sellers say they will sue him to make him buy the home. Does he have other options?

Your son may have many options and would be wise to review the contract immediately with a real estate attorney. The contract may give him the right to have the document reviewed by an attorney, and during that review he might be entitled to terminate the contract.

The contract may, and should, give him the right to inspect the property to determine if the property has any major defects. Upon such inspection, if your son finds major defects, the contract might give him the right to terminate the contract.

In some states, if the seller has not given the buyer the proper disclosure documents for the home, the buyer has the right to terminate the contract at any time up until those disclosures have been delivered and the buyer has had time to review the documentation.

Finally, if the buyer doesn't go through with the purchase, the contract may limit the seller's damages to the amount he deposited under the contract. In other words, it's possible that your son's maximum exposure to the sellers could be the $600 he put down.

The big lesson, of course, is to think first – and sign later.

Q. There is a quit claim deed that was signed and notarized. The deed states that the notary witnessed a certain person who stood before him and signed the deed. Here's the problem: I have in my possession a death certificate that shows this person (not the notary) was dead one year before supposedly signing the quit claim deed. Did the notary do something wrong, and what happens now?

It's possible that the notary did not do his duty as a notary. A notary is required to review some form of identification and verify that a person signing a document matches the identification.

If a notary fails in his or her job and does not take the required precautions to make sure the proper person is signing a document, the notary may be liable for this failure.

But a notary may not have a duty to ascertain whether the identification presented is not a forgery. Generally, if a person comes before the notary and presents identification that the notary believes to be accurate, the notary has probably satisfied his or her duties.

Some states are requiring more of notaries. Some states now require notaries to not only review the person's identification but also to fingerprint the person signing the document. While notaries are the first line of defense against fraud, it's not a foolproof system.

If you are in a position that your interests in the property could have been compromised, please consult a real estate attorney.

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