Remedies When the Seller Refuses to Complete the Sale Under the Contract

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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You have a legally valid contract to purchase a building, you met your part of the bargain and fulfilled all that was required of you under its terms, and now the seller refuses to complete the sale.  You can sue the defaulting seller for monetary damages, or you can file an action for specific performance.  

Understanding Your Options

A contract for a building purchase is just like any other legally enforceable contract. If one of the parties does not meet its obligations under the provisions, you have remedies for this breach of contract. You, as the non-breaching party, can sue for specific performance. This is an equitable remedy where you ask the court to actually make the seller close, go through with the sale, and sell you the property. Specific performance is appropriate and likely to be granted if money really can’t compensate you for the loss. Land is generally considered unique, so the court is likely to order specific performance and require the seller to sell you the property. Money won’t give you the specific lot you want and you cannot go and purchase the identical lot.

Another option is to sue for monetary damages. Instead of suing for specific performance to make the seller actually sell the particular property to you, you can file a lawsuit for the actual dollar amount of any financial loss you suffered because of the seller’s delayed performance or failure to perform at all. In other words, if the seller eventually goes to closing but two months late, you can sue for the extra two months of rent you had to pay on your current property, plus the difference in the market value of the property between the time of the contract and the day when the seller refused the closing, if the property has increased in value.  

Whenever there is a potential breach of contract, especially when large sums of money are at stake, you should consult an attorney to advise you in the best ways to protect yourself from financial harm.

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