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Cancelling an offer or purchase agreement for a home

Region: Ontario Answer # 391

Any offer or counter-offer can be withdrawn if there is a time limit on the offer or counter-offer and it passes without being accepted. It can also be withdrawn before the other party formally accepts it (that is, with his or her properly witnessed signature). Although offers and counter-offers are normally irrevocable during a time-period specified by the offeror, if there has been no acceptance of the offer, and consideration (or payment) has not been made, then there is no legal contract. It is unlikely, therefore, that the offeror would be legally required to keep the offer open.

An Agreement of Purchase or Sale may also be terminated if it becomes impossible to perform through no fault of either party (lawyers say such a contract is “frustrated”). An example is property destroyed in a flood or a fire before the buyer has taken possession. Purchasers of newly-built condominiums in Ontario have a 10-day cooling-off period to back out of purchase agreements.

Once the offer or counter-offer has been formally accepted, however, the buyer and seller are bound legally by its terms. If you walk away from a deal you will not only lose your deposit, but may also be liable for any damages suffered by the other party, such as the lost opportunity to sell to someone else, expenses arising from a delayed move, or the seller’s loss of deposit on another home intended for purchase. The legal remedy, called “specific performance” (making you complete the purchase), is an unlikely event, but a court could still hold you responsible for the entire purchase price, plus expenses and court costs. For more information about buying or selling a home, contact the Ontario Real Estate Association, or visit orea.com.

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