DEAR BENNY: Isn’t a contract a contract? I am about halfway through an eight-month listing agreement. The Realtor is pressuring me to again lower the asking price. He has shown me where similar homes for sale have recently had their asking prices reduced. I know the market is going that way, but I cannot afford to lower my price and don’t have an urgent need to sell immediately.

Do I have any legal or ethical obligation to lower my price or can I simply stick to my guns and expect that my contract be continued as is? I assume that the listing contract is legally binding and cannot be changed. If I wanted to go to another Realtor, could I get out of it or do I need to wait for the contract to expire?

For example, when the Realtor asked me again to lower the asking price, I asked him to lower his commission and he said the contract specifies the commission and it cannot be changed until the contract expires. So my point, which went unnoticed, was that the contract should be continued as is. –Craig

DEAR CRAIG: Yes, a contract is a contract and is legally binding on all parties. But that does not mean that a contract cannot be modified, changed or even terminated, if both parties to the contract are in agreement.

You do not have to lower your price from a legal or ethical reason. If you had to sell, then yes, it would be a good idea — especially in this market — to do so. But since you are not in a hurry to sell, then I would "stick to your guns" and to your contract. I remain optimistic that the market will rebound, but I can’t tell you when this will happen. We are starting to see some positive signs in the real estate market; how long that will last is anyone’s guess.

You made a good point to your real estate agent. If he wants you to lower your price (which would be a modification of the listing contract), he could also agree to reduce his commission.

Getting out of a listing contract depends on the custom in your area. In my experience, most listing contracts can be terminated before the end of their term, but you may have to reimburse the agent for any expenses incurred while the agent was under contract.

DEAR BENNY: I want to purchase a house, but my apartment lease is not finished until July. Is there some type of law or relief to where I do not have to pay the remainder of the lease? I know that management will take me to small claims court, but I didn’t know whether there was a type of law or type of relief in the case of becoming a first-time homeowner. –Leasa

DEAR LEASA: I know of no such law. I suggest that you (1) contact your landlord (or the management agent) and see if you can work out an acceptable compromise, but (2) try to schedule your settlement (escrow closing) as close as possible to the termination date of your lease. In my opinion, it often makes sense to buy first, and then have some time to move furniture and make any improvements or repairs to the new property while you still have somewhere else to live — even if you have to pay an extra month’s rent.

DEAR BENNY: I have a rental house that is under contract with a rental agency. About six months ago, an individual from the agency called me and stated that the house needed a new roof. The agency had an estimate that sounded reasonable so I gave my approval. I sent the agency the money to complete the job. I waited for the roofer to fulfill the contract the agency had with the roofer. After a long wait the roofer came and picked up half of the contract money, but never started working or even delivered roofing materials.

The agency brought suit and now has a judgment against the roofer, but I don’t think the roofer has any money to satisfy the judgment. To the best of my knowledge the agency didn’t check for references, licenses or insurance. If the agency can’t get the down payment through the judgment, is the agency legally obligated to return my down payment? If I have to take the agency to court would I have a case against the agency? –Paul

DEAR PAUL: That’s a tough question, and you really should consult a local attorney for specific advice.

Have you done any research yourself? Was the roofer licensed in your jurisdiction? Is there a written contract between the agency and the roofer? What arrangement or contract do you have with the rental company? I need to know a lot more before I can give you a response.

In general, if the agency did not do its homework, then you may have a case against them. But litigation is always time consuming, expensive and, more importantly, uncertain.

Depending on the amount in question, I would hesitate to file suit. But let your lawyer give you an opinion based on all of the facts. …CONTINUED

DEAR BENNY: About six months ago we refinanced out home. We are starting to receive solicitations from the mortgage lender asking us to sign up for their mortgage protection program. The program offers to pay off our loan upon death, or make payments upon disability or unemployment. This sounds too good to be true. What is your experience with these programs? Are they a scam? –Lisa

DEAR LISA: I would not call them a scam, but because they are a moneymaker for your lender, you are getting those solicitations.

Read the fine print carefully. Exactly what does it cover? Are there any exclusions in the plan?

Compare the proposed benefits to your own insurance policies. You may already be covered and don’t need additional insurance.

Many of these policies require you to pay the same yearly premium throughout the life of your mortgage loan, despite the fact that your loan will decrease in value over the years.

I don’t recommend these policies. If you need — or want — such mortgage protection, talk with an insurance agent (or search the Web) and do a lot of comparison shopping before you make any commitments.

DEAR BENNY: What do I need in order for me to refinance my property? –Frank

DEAR FRANK: I am never to busy to respond to questions that I receive, although I cannot promise to answer all of the many inquiries I receive on a daily basis.

You want to refinance. Everyone’s situation is different. For example, I would need to know your income, and your credit (FICO) score. I would need to know how much money you currently owe, and how much equity you have in your house.

These are the kinds of questions that mortgage lenders will want to know in order to analyze your situation and provide you with some alternative mortgage programs.

In my opinion, the best way to proceed is to discuss your situation with several lenders. There is no harm — and no shame — in shopping around for the best deal.

Take notes, get quotes, and then decide what is best for you. If you are having trouble making that decision, I suggest that you talk with a financial advisor — although that usually is not necessary.

Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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