Massachusetts mortgage contingency

Standard Mortgage Contingency Language At Issue

I recently came across a very interesting and scary case from the Appeals Court, Survillo v. McDonough No. 11–P–290. Dec. 2, 2011. (It’s technically an “unpublished” opinion but it’s available to the public). The case underscores how carefully attorneys must craft the mortgage contingency to protect the buyer’s deposit in case financing is approved with adverse conditions.

“Prevailing Rates, Terms and Conditions”

The buyers, Mr. and Mrs. Survillo, submitted the standard Offer To Purchase the sellers’ home in Walpole. The offer provided it was “Not subject to the Sale of any other home.” The sellers accepted the offer. The buyers received a conditional pre-approval from a local bank for a first mortgage in the amount of $492,000. The pre-approval also stated that anticipated loan was “[n]ot based on sale of any residence.”

The parties then entered into the standard form purchase and sale agreement (P & S), with the typical mortgage contingency provision for a $429,000 mortgage loan:

“In order to help finance the acquisition of said premises, the [buyers] shall apply for a conventional bank or other institutional mortgage loan of $492,000.00 at prevailing rates, terms and conditions. If despite the [buyers] diligent efforts a commitment for such loan cannot be obtained on or before October 5, 2009, the [buyers] may terminate this agreement by written notice to the [sellers] and/or the Broker(s), as agent(s) for the [sellers], prior to the expiration of such time, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreement shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto “

Change In Circumstances: Lender Requires Piggyback Loan & Buyers List Their Residence

Due to the buyers’ debt to income ratios, the lender required that the loan be structured as a “piggyback” — a first mortgage of $417,000 and second mortgage of $73,400, and with the condition that the buyers listing their primary residence for sale prior to the loan closing. The buyers absolutely did not want to list and seller their residence, so they wanted out of the deal.

On the last day of the extended financing deadline, the buyers timely notified the sellers that they had “not received a loan commitment with acceptable conditions,” and attempted to back out of the agreement under the mortgage contingency provision. Ultimately, with the buyers refusing to sell their home, the bank denied the buyer’s the mortgage application based on the fact that the “borrower would be carrying three mortgage payments and the debt to income is too high.”

Focus On “Prevailing Terms” Language

The sellers refused to return the deposit, and litigation over the deposit ensued.

The Court framed the case as follows: “Before the extended mortgage contingency deadline of October 21, the buyers received a commitment from the bank for two mortgages totaling $492,000. The P & S’s mortgage contingency was accordingly satisfied unless the bank’s requirement that the buyers list their home for sale was not a “prevailing” term or condition.”

The court started with the assumption that “the typical loan condition for most borrowers is to require them to sell an existing home before the new loan closes. The condition here required only that the buyers list, not sell, their home and it was accordingly not a typical condition.” The buyers argued that because the condition was unusual, it was not a “prevailing” condition within the meaning of the contingency clause of the P & S, despite the fact that the condition was more favorable to them than the standard condition. The court flat out rejected that argument, citing prior rulings that terms of a mortgage contingency presuppose that the buyers will accept commercially reasonable loan terms. If less is required, the condition becomes an option. The court also noted that the buyers failed to notified the sellers that they were unwilling to list or sell their existing home, nor did they insert a proviso to that effect into the mortgage contingency clause. Subsequent events suggested that if the buyers had timely disclosed their intentions to the bank, the loan would have been disapproved, which may well have given the buyers the shelter they sought under the mortgage contingency clause.

The court ruled against the buyers who had to forfeit their $31,000 deposit.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Pound of Cure

I’m not sure who is to blame here, the buyer’s attorney or the buyers themselves. Probably both.

From a legal drafting approach and as the court pointed out, the buyer’s attorney could have insisted on language into the mortgage contingency provision that the buyers’ financing could not be conditioned on the listing or sale of the buyers’ present residence. After all, the language was in the Offer, so it could have easily been carried over into the P&S. There was no indication from the decision that this was raised or negotiated.

It also seems apparent that the buyers were not particularly up front with anyone on their insistence that they would not list and sell their current residence. If they had been more forthcoming about that, perhaps they could have avoided this situation.

A commenter on Boston.com also places some blame on the loan officer:  “Not all pre-approvals are created equal. For a few minutes of work and adherance to a common standard of practice by the mortgage professional, a true pre-approval is supported by a credit report, the main criteria for ability to qualify for a mortgage. This is generated in a few seconds, and the pre-approval letter usually states subject to verification of income, assets, and property appraisal. Had this been done, THE DEBT TO INCOME RATIO ISSUE WOULD HAVE SURFACED EARLY.”

Based on the loan amount, this mistake or gamble cost the buyers around $31,000 plus legal fees. Ouch!

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need assistance with a Massachusetts purchase or sale transaction.

 

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This week, a very interesting decision involving the negotiation of a residential purchase and sale agreement came down from the Massachusetts Appeals Court in Coviello v. Richardson. Click here to view the decision. The case highlights the need for realtors and real estate attorneys to be proactive with respect to mortgage contingencies and requests for extensions.

The Facts

In the case, on February 12, 2008, buyer (Coviello) and seller (Richardson) signed the standard form Offer to Purchase, which provided that a Purchase and Sale Agreement would be executed by 5:00pm on February 26th. Under the mortgage contingency clause of the offer, which gives the buyer the right to cancel if she cannot obtain financing, the buyer was required to secure a firm mortgage commitment by February 29th. The realtor, who prepared the offer, made the first mistake here: requiring her client, the buyer, to obtain a firm mortgage commitment not even 2 weeks after the parties signed the offer. This was and remains completely unrealistic.

Predictably, the buyer and her broker had immediate concerns that they would be unable to meet the mortgage commitment deadline. The broker asked the buyer’s attorney, Scott Kriss, if he would ask the seller to agree to extend the commitment deadline for an additional week. According to the decision, the request was not immediately conveyed to the seller.

Two hours before the 5:00pm deadline to sign the purchase and sale agreement, Attorney Kriss sent an email to the seller’s attorney, Alan Sharaf, requesting the extension. The seller, who was dealing with a high-risk pregnancy, refused to extend the deadline. No agreement could be reached, and there was no tender or signing of the purchase and sale agreement. (It does appear that the pregnant seller got “cold feet” and backed out of the deal–the request for a one week extension is eminently reasonable and wouldn’t have exposed her to any significant risk).

The buyer sued, claiming that the seller’s refusal to agree to the extension was a breach of the deal. The Land Court initially ruled in favor of the buyer, but the Appeals Court overruled the decision in favor of the seller, holding that a jury would have to decide whether the seller repudiated the contract or would have proceeded with the original terms. The case will be heading to trial.

Take Away

In our opinion, the lesson for realtors and attorneys from this case is (1) make the mortgage contingency dates workable in the offer, and (b) if you are asking for an extension at the 11th hour, protect your buyer in case the seller refuses to agree.

First, the realtor should have used a more realistic mortgage contingency deadline. In the current underwriting environment, realtors should allow at least 30-45 from the signing of the offer for a mortgage commitment.

Second, in our opinion, the buyer’s attorney’s apparent delay in asking for the extension until the 11th hour certainly didn’t help the situation. He could have protected the buyer a lot more had he coupled the request for the extension of the mortgage commitment deadline with either (a) notice that if the seller would not agree, the buyer would opt out of the deal entirely, or (b) a tender of the purchase and sale agreement with the original deadlines (assuming the buyer would take on the risk of being unable to make the deadlines). This would have “boxed in” the seller to either agree to the extension or go through the deal, essentially calling her bluff. At least it would have enabled the buyer to have been in a much better position for litigation because now the fight is over whether the seller would have gone through the original deal. Granted, it appears that the pregnant seller had already made up her mind that she wasn’t going through the deal, no matter the reason.

To the credit of the realtor and attorneys involved, it’s much easier for me to play Monday morning quarterback.

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Update (6/10/13): Battle of the Forms! Mass. Ass’n of Realtors vs. Greater Boston Bd. of Realtors Standard Form Offers

Update (10/3/15) New TRID Addendum

The Standard Massachusetts Offer To Purchase

The first step in purchasing or selling Massachusetts residential real estate is the presentation and acceptance of an Offer To Purchase. Most often, the buyers’ real estate broker prepares the offer to purchase on a pre-printed Greater Boston Real Estate Board standard form and presents it to the seller for review, modification, and acceptance. Attorneys are often not involved in the offer stage. However, in light of the legal significance of a signed offer and recent litigation over offers, buyers (and their brokers) and sellers may be wise to consult an attorney to review the offer.

An Accepted & Signed Offer Is A Binding Contract

Many sellers (and their brokers) are under the misconception that the offer to purchase is merely a formality, and that a binding contract is formed only when the parties sign the more extensive purchase and sale agreement. This is not true. Under established Massachusetts case law, a signed standard form offer to purchase is a binding and enforceable contract to sell real estate even if the offer is subject to the signing of a more comprehensive purchase and sale agreement. So if a seller signs and accepts an offer and later gets a better deal, I wouldn’t advise the seller to attempt to walk away from the original deal. Armed with a signed offer, buyers can sue for specific performance, and record a “lis pendens,” or notice of claim, in the registry of deeds against the property which will effectively prevent its sale until the litigation is resolved. I’ve handled many of these types of cases, and buyers definitely have the upper hand given the current state of the law.

There have also been recent court rulings holding that both email and text may constitute an enforceable contract even where no formal offer has been signed by both parties.

In some cases, the seller may not desire to be contractually bound by the acceptance of an offer to purchase while their property is taken off the market. In that case, safe harbor language can be drafted to specify the limited nature of the obligations created by the accepted offer. This is rather unusual, however, in residential transactions.

Home Inspection & Mortgage Contingencies

With the offer to purchase, I always advise buyers and their brokers to use a standard form addendum to address such contingencies as mortgage financing, home inspection, radon, lead paint, and pests. The home inspection and related tests are typically completed before the purchase and sale agreement is signed and any inspection issues are dealt with in the purchase and sale agreement. If they are not, there is an inspection contingency added to the P&S. See my post on purchase and sales agreements for that discussion.

The mortgage contingency is likewise critical. With mortgage loans harder to underwrite and approve, we are seeing loan commitment deadlines extended out for at least 30-45 days from the signing of the purchase and sale agreement. Always consult your mortgage lender before making an offer to see how much time they will need to process and approval your loan. The loan commitment deadline is one, if not the most, important deadlines in the contract documents.

In order to help finance the acquisition of said premises, the BUYER shall apply for a conven­tional bank or other institutional mortgage loan of $[proposed loan amount] at prevailing rates, terms and conditions.  If despite the BUYER’S diligent efforts, a commitment for such a loan cannot be obtained on or before [30-45 days from signing of purchase-sale agreement], the BUYER may terminate this agreement by written notice to the SELLER in accordance with the term of the rider, prior to the expiration of such time, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreements shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto.  In no event will the BUYER be deemed to have used diligent efforts to obtain such commitment unless the BUYER submits a complete mortgage loan application conforming to the foregoing provisions on or before [2-5 business days from signing of purchase and sale agreement].

Any time the parties agree to an extension of any deadline in the offer (and the purchase and sale agreement for that matter) make sure it’s in writing.

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RDV-profile-picture.jpgRichard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate closing and conveyancing attorney and former outside counsel to a national title insurance company. Please contact him if you need legal assistance with your Massachusetts real estate transaction.

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Signing or not signing?The Massachusetts Purchase and Sale Agreement Is Anything But “Standard”

Home buyers sign a never ending pile of legal documents to purchase a home. But arguably the most important document in the entire transaction is the Massachusetts purchase and sale agreement. The purchase and sale agreement is signed after the Offer to Purchase is executed, and spells out the parties’ responsibilities during the interim period when the property is taken off the market and the closing.

Important Update: Please read our article on the new TRID Rules

In Massachusetts, the form most often used is the so-called standard form agreement supplied by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board or one modeled very closely to this form. (Due to copyright laws, we cannot embed the standard form agreement — contact my office if you need assistance with drafting a purchase and sale agreement). The “standard” form purchase and sale agreement is, however, far from standard, especially for buyers. In fact, the standard form is very much slanted in favor of the seller, and the playing field must be “leveled” to protect the buyer’s interests.

Click here to read our series of posts on the Massachusetts Purchase and Sale Agreement

This is why it’s imperative that home buyers and sellers alike retain a Massachusetts real estate attorney to modify the “standard” form purchase and sale agreement in order to best protect all parties’ rights and remedies, and customize the agreement to the particular aspects of the transaction. This is typically done through a “rider” to the purchase and sales agreement. Often, the buyers’ attorney and the sellers’ attorney will attached two different riders to the agreement.

I’ll outline a few common issues not addressed adequately in the “standard” purchase and sale agreement. (Most of these are from the buyer’s perspective).

Mortgage Contingency

The “standard” purchase and sale agreement does provide a basic mortgage contingency which gives the buyer the option of terminating the agreement if mortgage financing falls through. However, for a buyer, the more specific you are in terms of interest rate, points, name of lending institution and definition of “diligent efforts,” the better. Buyers’ counsel should specify that the buyer will not be required to apply to more than one institutional lender currently making mortgage loans of the type sought by the buyer and that the buyer may terminate the purchase and sale agreement unless the buyer obtains a firm, written commitment for a mortgage loan. Here is a sample rider provision:

MODIFICATION TO PARAGRAPH 26: Application to one such bank or mortgage lender by such date shall constitute “diligent efforts.”  If the written  loan commitment contains terms and conditions that are beyond BUYER’S reasonable ability to control or achieve, or if the commitment requires BUYER to encumber property other than the subject property, BUYER may terminate this agreement, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreement shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto.

Home Inspection/Repairs

Typically, buyers complete the home inspection process prior to the signing of the purchase and sale agreement, and any inspection contingency provision is deleted from the purchase and sale agreement. What happens if the inspection results are not ready before the P&S signing deadline or if the seller has agreed to perform repairs prior to the closing or give a credit at closing? In this case, a home inspection contingency clause should be added back to the agreement, and any seller repairs or closing credits should be meticulously detailed in the rider.

Septic Systems/Title VMassachusetts Septic Title V requirements for selling property

If the home is serviced by an on-site sewage disposal system otherwise known as a septic system, the Massachusetts Septic System Regulations known as Title V requires the inspection of the system within 2 years of the sale of the home. Failed septic systems can cost many thousands of dollars to repair or replace.  Thus, buyers would look to be released from the agreement if the septic system fails inspection.  Alternatively, buyers could be given the option to close if the seller can repair the septic system during an agreed upon time period, provided that the buyers do not lose their mortgage rate lock.

Radon Gas

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. The ground produces the gas through the normal decay of uranium and radium. As it decays, radon produces new radioactive elements called radon daughters or decay products which scientists have proven to cause lung cancer. Radon testing should be performed by buyers during the home inspection process. Elevated levels of radon (above 4.0 picoCuries per liter (pCi/l) can be treated through radon remediation systems. The purchase and sale agreement should provide for a radon testing contingency and the buyers’ ability to terminate the agreement if elevated radon levels are found, or the option of having the sellers pay for a radon remediation system.

Lead Paintmassachusetts lead paint law

Under the Massachusetts Lead Paint Law, buyers of property are entitled to have the property inspected for the presence of lead paint.  (Sellers are not required to remove lead paint in a sale situation). Because the abatement of lead paint can be costly, buyers typically look for a right to terminate the purchase and sale agreement if lead paint exists and the abatement/removal of it exceeds a certain dollar threshold. Here is an example of a provision added to the standard form:

LEAD PAINT.  Seller acknowledges that the Buyers have a child under six (6) years of age who will live in the premises.  In accordance with Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 111, section 197A, as the premises was constructed prior to 1978, Buyer may have the premises inspected for the presence of lead paint which inspection shall be completed within ten (10) days after the execution of this Agreement, unless extended in writing by the parties.  If the inspection reveals the presence of lead paint, the abatement and/or removal of which will cost $2,000 or more, then Buyer may terminate this agreement, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreement shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto.  Any lead paint removal or abatement shall be Buyers’ responsibility.

Access

When my wife and I signed the Offer to Purchase on our house, she couldn’t wait to get in there with her tape measure, paint chips and fabric swatches. Oftentimes overlooked, but a cause of friction is buyers’ ability to access the house prior to the closing. To avoid such friction, an access clause should be added to the purchase and sale agreement giving the buyer reasonable access at reasonable time with advance notice to the sellers–it’s still their house after all.

These are just a few of the issues not adequately addressed by the “standard” form purchase and sale agreement. There are many more.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a nationally recognized real estate attorney, and has handled thousands of Massachusetts real estate transactions. He can be reached via email at rvetstein@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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