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How to Settle Purchase and Sale Disputes: An Interview with Ron Richman of Bullivant Houser Bailey PC

By Ronald Richman

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the areas of law that you practice.

Our firm is a Western/Regional law firm. We have offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, CA. Our firm has an active litigation and business transaction practice. Our practice areas include Insurance Law, Business and Commercial Law, Intellectual Property Law, Admiralty and Maritime Law, Fidelity and Surety Law, Employment Law and Counseling, Professional Liability Law, Personal & Catastrophic Injury, Transportation and Real Estate and Land Use.

What are the most common purchase and sale disputes that you've handled for people in the Bay Area?

The most common purchase and sale disputes I have handled involve property/boundary line disputes, often involving easements, which is the right of one landowner to use a portion of another's land; disputes involves defects in the property that were not disclosed during the sale; and disputes regarding liens/encumbrances on the property that were not removed at the time of the sale.

Can you explain what a breach of contract in a home purchase/sale is?

A breach of contract in a home purchase/sale is a violation of any of the terms of the contract. The contract spells out the terms and conditions of the sale, including the obligations of the purchaser and seller of the property and disclosures regarding any issues/problems with the home. If there are representations made in the home purchase/sale contract that turn out to be untrue, these misrepresentations can form the basis for a breach of the contract, either by the purchaser or seller.

What are the basic legal steps involved in these types of disputes?

I always encourage the parties to talk to each other in an attempt to resolve any problem prior to starting any lawsuit. I also encourage the parties to involve their respective real estate agents (usually the purchaser and seller have their own real estate agents) in an attempt to resolve any dispute. Many real estate contracts have a mandatory arbitration provision, requiring the parties to arbitrate any dispute instead of filing a lawsuit. Whether the parties are required to go to arbitration or have the option to file a lawsuit, I also encourage the parties to go to mediation. Mediation is often a very effective tool to settle disputes, saving the parties significant fees and costs.

Is there anything a buyer or seller can do prior to the purchase and sale agreement to help avoid a dispute?

The buyer and seller should spend sufficient time to review the property and the terms and conditions set forth in the contract. If the home is older, prior to entering into a contract, the purchaser should consider hiring a home inspector or contractor to inspect the home and provide the purchaser with a report identifying any defects/issues and the estimated costs for repair. If there are any defects/issues identified in the report, this is something that the purchaser and seller can discuss and determine if they can agree on how to fix any defects/issues and who will bear the costs. If the parties cannot agree, then the parties walk away from the sale.

What advice would you give to homeowners who discover the seller intentionally misrepresented a major defect in their new house?

The homeowner should discuss this with their real estate agent, identify the major defects, have a report from a licensed inspector/general contractor prepared, submit this to the sellers and make a demand for reimbursement of any costs to fix the defects. If the defects are severe, the purchaser should consult with an attorney to understand his or her rights under the contract, which may include making a demand to rescind the purchase contract.

What's the best way for people to reach you and your firm?

Our firm's website is www.bullivant.com. My email contact is ron.richman@bullivant.com

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About The Author

As a senior trial attorney with more than 28 years of experience, Ron frequently...

Phone: 415.352.2722

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