How To Deal With Seller's Remorse in Real Estate

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Most of us aren’t strangers to the concept of buyer’s remorse. In fact, it happens all too often. But unless you’re an eBay aficionado, chances are you don’t have too much experience in the seller’s remorse department. If you’re in the middle of the home sale process, and suddenly you change your mind, what do you do? Is it even possible to stop the process? 

If you’re leaning heavily towards, I sold my house but I want it back, it’s important to know what your options are. Let’s break down what seller’s remorse is, how you can try to get your house back, and what to do if you can’t. 

What is seller's remorse? 

If night after night you lie awake with the thought, “I don’t want to sell my house anymore,” you may have a bad case of seller’s remorse.

Seller’s remorse occurs when a homeowner regrets the sale of their home. These feelings of regret can stem from a number of causes. Maybe they didn’t really want to sell their home but felt like they needed to. Maybe they didn’t need to sell it at all, and that’s the problem.

If a seller comes to the conclusion that the sale of their home is a mistake and they no longer want to sell it, chances are they have a bad case of seller’s remorse, whether or not they have a “good reason” for why they feel that way. Those feelings will hopefully pass. If not, what happens next can vary greatly. 

The reason why a seller feels remorse is often rooted in emotion not logic, but these emotions can cause major problems for the buyers and agents involved in the sale. 

When is it too late to back out? 

No matter how a seller feels about the sale of their home, they have only a limited amount of time to act on those feelings. After the five-day mark of the creation of a fully executed purchase agreement, it’s really hard to back out of a real estate transaction. There are laws that govern real estate transactions, and the seller may have to honor their obligations as outlined in the contract, no matter how they feel about it. If they really want to push the issue, they may end up in court with the buyer. 

If a buyer does choose to sue a seller after they try to back out of the sale late in the game, both sides will spend a lot of time and money on this fight. This is especially frustrating for the buyer, who has their cash deposit stuck in escrow. 

The buyer can sue for damages if the seller breaches the contract and their lawyer may attempt to recoup any money on expenses like temporary housing or storage for their belongings if they thought they were about to move and sold their home or vacated their rental. The seller may also be on the hook for costs associated with the lawsuit, the inspection, the survey, and HOA application fees. The seller should think long and hard if the potential expenses and stress are worth it to keep their home. 

What options do sellers have? 

Of course, not every seller that has seller’s remorse ends up in a courtroom. If you decide you want to keep your home at the last minute, the first thing you should do is review your contract to see if you have a contractual out. For example, your contract may state that you have to find an adequate replacement home before you close on the sale of your home. Or maybe you must have the approval of a certain family member to sell. Chat with your real estate agent about your options. You may be able to argue that you meet the requirements for a contractual out. After all, the buyer can’t prove that you aren’t able to find an adequate replacement home.

These are a few common reasons that the sellers can back out of a home sale without ramifications:

  • You have yet to sign the contract. If you haven’t signed a contract yet, you’re in the clear and can cancel the deal at any time. 
  • The contract is still in the five-day attorney review period. If you utilize a standard real estate contract, you’ll have a five-day attorney review provision and during that time period either party’s attorney can choose to cancel the contract for any reason. You will be free to back out of the sale with no consequences. 
  • You have an escape hatch in the contract. If you place an addendum in the contract that states you can back out without penalty, like the previously mentioned example about the purchase of a new home, you can also keep your home. 
  • The buyer breaks the contract terms. For example, if the buyer fails to secure a mortgage in a certain time frame, you can cancel the contract. 
  • The seller won’t agree to buyer repair requests. One way to get out of a home sale is to play hardball with the buyer. If after an inspection the buyer wants certain repairs made, the seller can refuse to make them, which can lead the buyer to “constructively cancel” the real estate contract. 

What if you’re already at closing?

If you make it all the way to the closing day, you can still try to back out. In the past, judges have rarely forced a homeowner to sell their home. Again, the buyer and your real estate agent can choose to pursue damages at that stage, but if your heart is set on walking away, you very likely can. 

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What might happen if you decide to back out?

In some cases, if the seller gets cold feet and decides to back out of the sale, the buyer may just choose to walk away. The fuss of retribution may not be worth it to them. On the other hand, it may be worth it to the buyer to seek out damages if your decision to back out of the sale results in major inconveniences and financial disadvantages. 

The seller will of course have to return the earnest money if they choose to break the sales contract, but they may also have to reimburse the seller for expenses such as:

  • Temporary rental housing
  • Lost deposits
  • Storage expenses
  • Inspection and survey fees
  • Legal expenses

You also risk your real estate agent not being too pleased with you. Remember, they spent a lot of time, energy, and resources to find you a buyer for your home. They may choose to sue you for their lost commission and any marketing expenses incurred to advertise your home to potential buyers. Chances are, they will just move on, as they’re used to these types of disappointments, but there’s no guarantee they won’t pursue reimbursement. 

How do you help yourself move on? 

Just because you feel seller’s remorse, doesn’t mean you will choose to do anything about it. So, what can you do to make it easier to move on?

  • Face the inevitability. You need to accept that it’s time to say goodbye to not just your home, but the memories in it. Try to face the fact that you plan to leave the home head on. Take photos, share stories with your family, and try to get excited about your new home and the memories you will make there.
  • Allow yourself to grieve. Even if your move will come with a lot of positive elements (bigger yard, closer to family, etc.), you will miss elements of your old home — and that’s okay. You need to grieve the loss of the home that housed happy times and the comfort that comes along with familiarity. Shed a tear or two, it will help.
  • Celebrate the newness. A new community, job, or neighborhood, will bring a lot to the table. Try to remember why you decided to move in the first place and focus on what you have to look forward to, not what you will leave behind.
  • Be honest with yourself. Maybe you did make a mistake. Perhaps it wasn’t the best time to sell your new home. That’s okay. It happened and you can learn from the mistake and focus on how to move forward.

Remember, change is scary but it is usually a good thing and helps us grow. It may be hard to visualize your new life, but there’s no reason to assume it won’t be just as happy as the one you’re moving on from.

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