Civil Litigation

Get a lawyer involved early when buying a home: Lesage

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

A couple who discovered the deal to buy their dream house was cancelled because they failed to sign a contract amendment is a lesson to get a lawyer involved early in the transaction, says Toronto litigator Michael Lesage.

Lesage, who practises insurance, business law, personal injury, malpractice and other liabilities at Michael’s Law Firm, says a couple who had verbally agreed to some changes to their offer — but did not sign off on them — could have benefited from a lawyer’s advice.

“Real estate law transactions can be pretty perilous for a number of reasons. In some cases it may be because of the lack of sophistication of the realtors involved from a contract standpoint,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“In many cases, I only see real estate transactions in my practice when someone has made a pretty big error. If legal advice had been attained beforehand, the contract either wouldn’t have been signed, or the error would have been flagged and brought to the buyer’s attention. Getting legal advice early in the process is a very wise move.”

According to CTV News Vancouver, a man and his wife had been looking for a home in their preferred neighbourhood for more than a year.

When a new listing for an area three-bedroom house came up, they immediately made an offer for the asking price of close to $1.4 million, while including a tight deadline for the seller to respond, the news outlet reports.

“They had signed, they had agreed to all the major business terms if you will, or the major terms of the contract, the price, our conditions. They were fine with our subjects,” the man told CTV.

The sellers removed two clauses in the deal, and the purchasers told their realtor they would accept the counter-offer.

A short time later, the couple’s realtor informed them that other buyers were making bids on the home, and they would have to increase their offer if they wanted to buy it, CTV reports.

“Our jaws dropped, and kind of our hearts sunk,” the man told the news organization. “We were dumbfounded because you know, what are you talking about? We’re under contract.”

However, the couple failed to sign the amendments to the deal, and when any contract is modified, it’s a new agreement that needs to be signed by all parties involved, Lesage says.

“If you make an offer, under contract law, until the other side accepts it and signs off on it, there’s no binding contract,” Lesage explains. “Likewise, once a counter-offer is signed back with different terms, you have a new offer.”

He notes that the buyers did the right thing by putting in “very limited time frames in terms of accepting the offer.”

However, because the amendments were not signed back, the seller had the right “to enter into better a contract,” Lesage says.

He says a home is a big-ticket purchase, so buyers should be prepared for any contingency, which is why it makes sense to contact a lawyer who has real estate experience.

“If you’re looking to buy or sell, it makes sense to get that lawyer involved in the process earlier on so you have someone to talk to if an issue comes up and who can advise what steps to take to protect yourself,” Lesage says. “Candidly, realtors are not lawyers and, in many cases, just aren’t able to offer their clients the same advice in terms of how to protect themselves.”

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