Breaching an Offer to Purchase Real Estate

Last week, I received a call from an unhappy prospective buyer. He had offered to purchase the house and the seller agreed to sell the house. The parties had agreed on a price and a standard contract to purchase real estate was signed by both parties.  Just two days later, the seller emailed saying that she had changed her mind about selling the property because a family member needed to live there.  The buyer asked me about his options.

In Massachusetts, a signed contract to purchase real estate can be a binding contract, even if the offer provides that a purchase and sale agreement will be signed in the future.  The buyer’s remedy was to file a lawsuit seeking a lis pendens and a claim for breach of contract. A lis pendens is a legal document that, after court approval, one records at the registry of deeds and it puts all on notice that someone, in this case the buyer, is claiming an interest in the property.  Because real property is unique, the buyer can ask for specific performance, which means an order from the court that the seller sell the property to the buyer based on the terms in the signed offer.  In most cases, a buyer should move quickly to court to prohibit the seller from selling the property to someone else.