Please help, I need advice on a realestate legalities
Hello all, I am currently in the process of buying a house here in St. Croix and one of the conditions of the sale was that the house would come fully furnished, with the exception of some artwork. This agreement was part of the price and we have a signed contract stating that we are buying all the house furnishings. The sellers do not live on island, they have used the house as a rental, and yet, within the last week they have managed to pilfer a ton of furniture and household goods. So obviously my question now is what recourse do I have? Honestly I am simply appalled by the indignity of it all. They must be selling the stuff, but why do they feel it necessary to sell it again beyond the nearly 700,000 that we are giving them to begin with?
You need a lawyer!
When I bought my house there was a very detailed list of what stayed and went. Did you do a walk through with your Realtor? What does your agent have to say about this?
Because it was a rental and the owners live on the mainland, we did not expect this to happen. We agreed to let them have whatever artwork they wanted, but we get the rest of the furnishings. We have been in the house a number of times and luckily have pictures of a lot of the stuff (some of which is now missing) but they did not produce an "inventory" until just recently and its the inventory that is conspicuously light). As for my Realtor, I have not yet heard back as to his take on the situation. Before we signed I did, however, strongly urge my intentions to be made extra clear that we wanted everything. I fear this was not communicated to the sellers, but even so they have no right to sell off obviously major stuff like furniture. I just don't know what my rights are in this situation. I cannot imagine that they are going to have all the stuff returned, so now what?
For what it is worth,
Tell them now the price is 650. Or tell them that they have voided the contract and the deal is off. And you should have done an inventory of what was there that you wanted to keep. And QUICKLY have your attorney involved.
I agree with Linda on this point. But, unless you are seeking a fairly big remedy, such as terminating the contract and getting your deposit back or getting a substantial reduction in the purchase price (I'm going to assume that the goods are gone with the wind, but hey, maybe not and you can compel their return) I would carefully do the math on the cost of a lawyer versus letting the matter go. We were just saying today how buying a VI house with some decent furniture in it can be worth a lot more than if you bought a furnished house stateside, so it is annoying to have such items go missing. However, the cost of a good lawyer down here (anywhere, really) can be ouchy, so, you may have to factor that in.
I have generally taken photos and made my own inventory of movable items to be included with sales of real estate, including brand and model names of items, etc. I attach that to the contract. This has helped to avoid not just missing items but the "old switcheroo"--a cheap fridge in place of the stainless steel side-by-side that you saw on the showing, cheap curtains instead of custom window treatments, etc.
Not that it's any comfort, but it might not be the owners who are removing the stuff . You indicated that it was the owners who were taking it, so you may already know this for a fact. Still, I have seen all kinds of things "walk" from houses when folks know that it is between owners--couches, tools in storage areas, appliances, satellite dishes... Also, have you talked DIRECTLY to the owners about your distress? This is a tough real estate market, and even if they are offering the house at a good price, buyers like you don't grow on trees. One of the potential problems of dealing with realtors (assuming that you are) is that the parties may never get to engage in straight talk with one another. That is another one of my rules: I smooth out problems with the owner directly. Where that isn't possible, the deal often dies.
Good luck--I hope that you will get this worked out.
Without seeing your contrat, it's hard to say, and most of us aren't lawyers, anyway. First conversation should be with your Realtor, who will contact the listing Realtor and start there.
There is probably a clause in the contract that says you get an inventory within 7-10 days, somthing like that. I've always found that to be ridiculous, since you make your deal, THEN get the inventory, at the owners whim. However, you probably have clauses that will let you out of the contract duing and after that time period. Since you have pictures, and your Realtor as a witness, you probably have 3 options.
1. Accept it, and move forward.
2. Void the contract, and look for another house.
3. Demand the furniture back or a reduction in the price. Since you were very specific that you wanted everything, you should be in a good position, just depends on how the contrat was written. Trouble is, it's probably nowhere to be found, then there'll be the haggle over how much it was worth, etc.
They will probably tell you the missing furniture belonged to the tenants. If you do decide to be agressive, be sure to have your attorney's guidance. As your closing attorney, there shouldn't be an extra charge, just for an opinion, I don't think. Do ask. It may not be worth it, as mentioned earlier.
Good luck, and please let us know how it works out!
Do you have a realtor, or are you buying directly from the seller? It's generally always a good idea to have a realtor involved in most real estate transactions.
You really should seek the services of an attorney. This could just be the beginning of your issues with the seller.
Remember--the Realtor is working for the seller, not the buyer.
One of the buyers in our condo complex had a similar problem. they found a neighbor who had seen the Realtor and his friends taking stuff out the the unit.
I agree with Juanita and lola. The time/money/haggling you will spend with the realtor/lawyers/court/owners is really not going to be worth it. Things do work very differently down there, and you cannot expect the courts to be the same as they are stateside.
I do think it is worth your time to hassle the realtor and owners over this, but don't expect anything - bottom line will be you will either buy the house as is, or void the contract and look for another house.
For what it is worth, I have been part of a major dispute over property (a home) that went to court. When all was said and done, the IRS got their money first, the court second, the bank third, and the lawyers would have got something if there had been anything left after the IRS/court/bank. The largest problem was a will written two months before death and was certainly invalid, because the writer was not in his right mind, as the death certificate stated. The court allowed the will. Since the lawyers did not get anything, they continually harassed us for well over a year. Don't ask how I got them to stop.
Unless you're sure it's the owner, I would suspect their realtor, (do you have a buyer's agent?) or, just as likely, the company that managed the rental for the owners. I've been told that the usual case is that the transaction includes only those items "nailed down" to the property. Anyone peripherally involved with the property may be unaware of the inclusion of the furniture in the contract and may be having an early Christmas at your expense. That's quite common. The usual case, especially where off-island owners are involved, is that the new owner must pay someone to haul off the former owner's stuff. For example I donated and delivered 3 SUV-loads of plus-sized lady's dresses to our housekeeper's church when we bought a condo a few years ago.
When I bought my home there were long term tenants. The sellers had told us what they wanted and came and took it. Fine. After we closed, which was this time of year, we went off island for a week for the holidays. The former tenants came in while we were off island (they still had keys) and took a ton of stuff. I let it go as it was not worth my time. Were there renters? I would also suspect anyone that had anything to do with the property. Landscapers, exterminators, etc. I would speak with the owners direct and see what they have to say. Hate to point fingers and sometimes it is just best to let it go and move on. Hope it all works out for you!
I suspect the contract was not written in such a way as to compel the return of items. Saying you were "clear" with the owner and realtor does not take the place of having it in writing. Read the contract with a objective eye and then see where you stand. If it wasn't in writing, don't waste your time.
Do you care to share the Realtor's name
Please note that I am being as polite as possible. Simply put...if you can afford a 700,000 house then you can afford a decent lawyer. That is your best option.
Out of curiosity, I just took a look at some of our old contracts for sale of stx properties... One of our contracts where we were sellers says property shall be in "substantially the same condition at closing as when contract is signed"...and also says inventory would be provided within 2 weeks....but those clauses were put in by the buyers agent. We always made it clear in the original listing form when specific artwork or something else was not to be included in the sale.. We did have one instance as buyers where the listing agent had the only keys to the house, and between contract and closing all the many items of any value, particularly antique or historical, were taken out of the house...and the seller's attorney sold the car that was specifically included on our written offer as transferring with the house....but we couldn't prove who stripped the house, the car was gone, and we wanted the house so we took it anyway...though obviously many years later it is still an issue for us.....and we would never do business with the listing broker's company again...
hope you can get this resolved in a way that you can live with...
Please note that I am being as polite as possible. Simply put...if you can afford a 700,000 house then you can afford a decent lawyer. That is your best option.[/quote
@ReloBaby: Please note that I am being as polite as possible as well. Simply put I can throw money at a decent lawyer. I can also throw money at the ocean. In both instances it's not a question of can, but rather a question of should. In other words: would any good come of either action? From what I'm gathering here from all the people who have kindly written in to share their stories and experiences, the conclusion I'm drawing is that hiring a lawyer would only increase my loss, not relieve it. That said, I have not given up entirely.
@Beachy: I revisited my contract the other day, here is how we did it: the furniture was not included in the house contract, but rather a separate addendum contract of its own (all contents for a $1 sort of thing). It does say ALL furnishings with the explicit (and unchallenged) exclusion of artwork (fine).
We pointed this out to their Realtor as well as the discrepancy in the inventory. Now I'm waiting to hear how they are going to respond. Is there any integrity left? We shall see.
I really appreciate this forum, it has been educational to say the least. Now I know what to warn other people about (not to mention what Realtor to avoid). It saddens me beyond measure that people are so petty, corrupt, and immoral.
maybe you should not mention the realtor by name but at least give us a hint. so we dont make the same mistake.
i know there are a few shady ones (so i have been told)
Actually, guys, aham has not indicated the Realtor has done anything wrong, just hasn't gotten back to her yet. Terry was the one with the shady Realtor.
I purchased a villa several years ago that was furnished. I had a separate addendum to the contract that specified the furnishings included and they were listed individually. On the final inspection (prior to signing the closing documents) a full inventory was taken. I had no problems and everything was there. Had something been missing then my recourse would have been to re-negotiate at the closing table. I did have an attorney.
Who knows, maybe it's the realtor that is helping themselves to furnishings etc.. Considering that the owners live on the mainland how many other people have access to the property?
Good point. Maybe the current owner needs to file a police report and an insurance claim.
My Realtor wasn't shady! It was a buyer in the same condo complex that had a crooked Realtor.
Of course. I didn't word that well. Sorry.