A 10-month tug-of-war between members of two families who thought they had bought the same Mount Airy house has ended with a Carroll County Circuit Court judge ruling in favor of the first couple that signed a contract to buy the 5-year-old, four-bedroom home.

"We're glad it's over and behind us," said William Radcliffe, 27, a carpenter who, with his wife Rebecca, signed a contract on the house in August, made a $1,500 down payment, and now will be able to move into the dwelling. Said Radcliffe, "We just want to get out" of the Arlington apartment in which the couple has been living since last summer with their 3-year-old daughter.

As part of his recent pretrial settlement of the complex case, Judge H. Kemp McDaniel awarded the Radcliffes nearly $10,000 for legal fees. John and Mary DeVary, who also signed a contract to buy the house, were awarded about $10,000 to cover their legal expenses, according to attorneys involved in the case.

The judge ordered two real estate firms, Long & Foster and Century 21/H.T. Brown Real Estate, to share the cost of paying the legal fees, the attorneys said. Several suits and countersuits filed during the past 10 months were dismissed.

As a result of McDaniel's decision, the DeVarys -- who planned to move from Lexington, Ky., to be closer to their children -- are left without a house in Maryland.

The Mount Airy house was being sold by Lionel and Roxanne Lavoie and her parents, George and Teresa Chenoweth. Both couples are expected to move into newly built houses in Carroll County by September.

"It's fair to say no one is too happy with the settlement," said Tom Hickman, an attorney representing the Lavoies. "But at least this puts everything back on track."

The Radcliffes are expected to settle on the house purchase by Sept. 1. But they said they now have more than $23,000 in attorneys' bills and, instead of getting a $91,550, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 9 1/2 percent with 2 3/4 points, they now are faced with a 10 percent loan and 5 1/2 points in loan fees ($5,035).

"We had the option to settle now or go to trial, which would have been sometime next year," William Radcliffe said. "We just didn't want to wait that long."

The Radcliffes had been looking for a house for three years. In one instance, they had signed a contract to buy a house in Glen Burnie, but it burned before they went to settlement.

In August, the Radcliffes found the Lavoies' home with their real estate agent, Century 21/H.T. Brown Real Estate in Columbia.

On Aug. 13, the Radcliffes met with real estate agents from the firm and with Paul Meyer of Long & Foster, an agent working with the Lavoies.

At the meeting, the Radcliffes made their down payment, signed a contract to buy the house and agreed to get a mortgage commitment by Oct. 17, the scheduled day of the settlement.

But after the Radcliffes encountered some difficulties obtaining a Federal Housing Administration loan from Bancsmith Mortgage Corp. and had to switch to a conventional 30-year fixed-rate loan, Long & Foster voided the Radcliffes' contract and relisted the house for sale.

According to Bancsmith, the Radcliffes did not qualify for the FHA loan because the amount they were seeking was above the Carroll County FHA loan ceiling of $81,400.

During a visit with his daughter and her family in August, John DeVary discovered the Mount Airy home in a newspaper classified ad. On Aug. 25, he and his wife toured the home and the next day they gave a real estate agent $100, signed a purchase contract and agreed to send an additional $400 when they returned to their Kentucky home.

They also agreed on a Dec. 29 settlement date. The DeVarys, a retired couple, planned to move into the Mount Airy house with their daughter, Deborah, son-in-law Warren, and their two children.

When the Radcliffes found out that Long & Foster was returning their deposit, they said they were angry and perplexed that the real estate firm would void their contract when they had made an application for a mortgage and were waiting for its approval.

What ensued was a series of lawsuits and countersuits filed in the Carroll County court in Westminister. The Radcliffes sued the Lavoies and the Chenoweths, who are part owners of the property, accusing them of breach of contract.

The Lavoies sued the Radcliffes, charging interference with a contract, and the DeVarys sued the Lavoies and the Chenoweths alleging breach of contract. The two real estate firms also sued each other.

By the end of May, nothing had been resolved. But on June 1, McDaniel put an end to the impasse by calling a meeting of all the attorneys -- about eight of them -- who represented the various parties in the case.

After an eight-hour meeting, McDaniel ruled that the Radcliffes had the right to buy the house from the Lavoies and the Chenoweths, who had bought the house in 1981 and built an addition that has served as an apartment for the Chenoweths.

"I've had settlement conferences before that have consumed a considerable amount of time," said Gerald Richman, the Radcliffes' attorney. "But this was an unusual case."