Going through the sale process, all documents referred to the legal description as “Lot 1 and Lot 2.” The appraisal I got also showed that same legal description. When I got to the settlement, all of the final documents showed “Lot 1 and Lot 2” as part of the sale. The seller and the seller’s real estate agent had already done their signing, so I assumed they changed their mind on the split.
I purchased the house and life went on with me paying the taxes for both lots, taking care of the lawn and snow removal.
Seven months later, the seller contacted me through an attorney letting me know that “an incorrect legal description was carried over.” It asked me to sign a quitclaim deed for the vacant lot back to them. Their argument is the county’s processing of the paperwork was delayed due to the coronavirus, and they only recently found out that both lots were transferred to me.
I have not responded, but they are now threatening a lawsuit. Do they have any legal claim to this lot?
A: Your assumptions are wrong. The seller never told you that they changed their mind about what they planned to sell you. You agreed to buy a home on a piece of land. You were told the dimensions of the land you were about to purchase and were told to see where the dividing line would be for the two lots.
At no point in the information that you gave us did you show that you received confirmation from the seller that they were simply going to give you another parcel of land adjacent to the home you were purchasing for nothing. We suspect that you spotted the mistake, thought you could get something for nothing and simply decided to avoid raising the issue with the seller or settlement agent. You clearly didn’t want to confirm whether the seller intended to convey both parcels of land to you.
When you walked out of the closing attorney’s office or settlement agent’s office, you knew you got more than you contracted for. We don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that a seller would simply give you a piece of land they were planning to sell. At the very least, if they had intended to do that, you’d expect them to let you know so that you could thank them for it.
We hesitate to say what the seller’s legal rights are or what your defense might be. Suffice to say, we don’t think you’re entitled to keep something you didn’t pay for. Having said that, we don’t think you should be out of pocket for any expenses that arise in fixing this situation or for any money you spent in taking care of the land or in the real estate taxes you paid.
The seller should make you whole so that at the end of the day you suffer no harm, nor are out any money as a result of their mistake. You’re entitled to the bargain you made under the contract but no more. We think you should enter into discussions with them about transferring back the property.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask.” She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through the website, ThinkGlink.com.
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