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When I’m Not A Realtor, I’m A Client – And I Need A Lawyer

A few years ago I was selling one of my investment properties and on the day of closing, my lawyer called me around 4pm to say that the property had not closed, and bad news – it probably wouldn’t close that day.  The lender had not transferred funds and the buyer was asking for an extension.  Now I was super annoyed because the negotiations with this buyer’s realtor weren’t fun and now I needed that money to close on my own purchase.  I was also nervous that this deal was not going to close at all (which would put my home purchase in jeopardy).  So I asked my lawyer for options.

Nutshell, he said I could a) sue them for not fulfilling the contract, take their deposit and then put my condo back on the market (an option that had some appeal as I had just bought a house) or b) give them an extension and hope that they can close. 

Now some back story here.  I have known my lawyer even before I knew he was a lawyer at all.  He lived at the same building I lived at in the early 2000’s and we knew each other to politely (and awkwardly) nod at each other when waiting for the elevator.  When it came time to sign off on our new home purchase in 2004, our then realtor referred us to a lawyer and we showed up.  Who greeted us in his office?  None other than the guy I nod to at the elevators everyday in my condo.  Since that day, not only have we trusted him (and his wife, who happens to be his business partner) with our own real estate holdings, but also with our clients referrals.

Anyway, back to the story… and the reason why we have placed so much trust in this man and his firm.

Before he asks me what I want to do, he says the following (or at least the gist) of the following.  He goes on to say “look, if you want me to get that $20,000 and you keep it, I’ll do it.  It may take a bit of wrangling, but eventually we will get it.  BUT, and can I take my lawyer hat off for a second?”  

Obviously I’m interested in what he has to say.  

“The only mistake the buyer made was use a dick of an agent and incompetent lender.  They didn’t INTEND not to close and I’m sure they wanted to.  If you take their $20k (which again, you probably could do) it would hurt them in the pocket.”  He went on.

“So here’s where my lawyer hat comes off: if you forego the temptation to take their deposit and give them a couple of days extension, I’m sure everything will work out.  And somehow, somewhere money will fall into your lap.  However, if you take their deposit because you think it is $20,000 in your pocket, somehow, somewhere you’re going to lose that kind of money.”

And that was it; it wasn’t a lecture, it wasn’t some kind of Oprah-like speech about putting good in the universe.  It was just a trusted partner pulling the reigns in on his client who couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Here’s why that experience galvanized my respect for him:

  1. He was confident in the contract law and gave me my options 
  2. He acknowledged my anger and the duress of the situation
  3. He reminded me of the big picture

Now I’ve seen lawyers that would have harnessed their client’s anger, created conflict with the lawyer for the buyer and drew out a fight to increase their billable hours.  I have seen lawyers who would advised suing for the deposit.  And I have seen lawyers who simply would have no idea what to do.

I’ve chosen my lawyer because in all of our years of working together, he has always been on the right side of the law, the right side of integrity while the whole time being on MY side when he represented me.  

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