Q: Let’s say someone is selling a house, and the buyer puts in an offer and the seller agrees to it. The closing date set, inspections done, and a mortgage applied for.

What happens if the owners decide they do not want to sell it?

A: When a seller agrees to the terms of an offer, and then suddenly decides not to sell, generally one of two things has happened: Either the seller has received another, more lucrative offer for the property and wants to back out of the original deal in order to get more money or the seller has had a change of heart (or a change of finances, like a job loss or death) and has decided to stay in the home for the time being.

The legal remedy for a buyer in a situation like this is to sue the seller for “specific performance.” That means you sue to make the seller go through with the sale. Of course, this is an expensive legal maneuver, so the buyer had better be prepared for the expense and heartache.

If the seller has received a better offer, the buyer might want to force the sale because the property is clearly a good deal. On the other hand, if the seller has had a change of heart, you might simply wish to negotiate a way out.

Let’s assume the buyer went through the time and expense of having an inspection done, and perhaps hired an attorney and incurred other expenses along the way toward purchasing the property. If that’s the case, the seller might simply agree to return the buyer’s good faith deposit and pitch in enough to cover these other expenses.

If the seller can make the buyer whole, the buyer might consider taking the cash and restarting his or her search for a home.

Since I don’t know whether you’re the buyer or the seller in this transaction, the best thing you can do is to consult with a real estate attorney.

Nov. 14, 2003.