Lessons in Real Estate…Your Honor Says What?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT reinct.com REB 0788053


Instructions in probate court offers are taken extra extra literally.



One would think when you are old and sick in the hospital and you’ve hired many professionals to deal with your assets that everyone would be working for your best interests completely and absolutely.

This story will make you shudder and re think who you are leaving in charge of making decisions for your assets.

I found a cute little cape home for sale on the MLS. It was priced well below market value although it needed some updating and freshening up. I was looking to buy this house for myself as a first investment property to rent out.

A few weeks prior I offered and missed out on a home just like it that sold for 128k.  This time I was armed and ready to offer the highest I was willing to go for this hidden gem that came with instant equity.  This is the first time I had offered on a home that was in the process of probate, so this was a completely new experience for me.

The probate judge had requested that all the offers are submitted to the probate court directly and don’t even cross the listing brokers desk. I found that an unusual way of doing things but, okay I thought I guess this helps them get a higher price because it doesn’t give the listing agents any capacity to withhold any offers etc…. This struck me as being a very fair process for the seller.

My offer was the highest in the room, and by a significant amount of $13,000.  However, I did not get the house even though for a few heart stopping moments I thought I did.  Here is the kicker. My deposit check for the down payment was not exactly 10% of the offer. It was short by literally $100, only because by nature I had decided to round down rather than round up.  I was stunned as I walked out of that court room, my offer was very legitimate. I had brought my checkbook in case I had a chance to offer more and need to give a larger deposit. But the probate judge refused to consider my highest offer in the room by, merely because my 10% deposit was $100 short of being exactly a 10% of the total amount I offered.

I thought it was really bizarre and even unethical turn of events for the judge to not accept the highest offer in the room. The homeowner is actually sick and infirm, and she would expect all these professionals to accept the best possible price for her.  But instead they ignored my offer, based on the deposit check not being a precise amount. Ive never seen such an irrational decision take place and all the people involved seem to think there was nothing wrong with it.

As soon as I got home I emailed the listing broker to express my surprise at the turn of events and that I felt that was unjust towards her client.   I asked her to take my offer and give it to the seller’s attorney as the backup offer in case the first buyer can’t or doesn’t proceed.

The bigger surprise was the listing brokers comment to me when I told her it’s a shame that the judge’s poor decision lost her client $13,000. She said, “well if a judge made an exception for you he would have to make an exception for everyone”.  But if I was the highest bidder in the total amount offered, then that point is completely moot. 

The lesson here was round up not down when deciding the amount of your deposit check, especially with a property being decided in probate court.  And be careful who you choose to trust to act in your behalf when you become incapacitated.

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Comments (24)

Terry McCarley
Coastal Real Estate - Cape Coral FL - Cape Coral, FL

I have dealt with several probate homes over the years and can't help but wonder if a minimum down payment was required with all offers.  If so, that should have clearly been stated in the MLS.  If a specific minimum down payment was NOT required the Judge was out of line.

Jun 24, 2016 11:16 PM
Annette Thor

Terry, The judge did have instructions to have a cashiers check for 10%, but I rounded down and it was $100 short.

Jun 25, 2016 08:56 AM
John Wiley
Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL, ECO Broker, GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

Thanks for sharing your very frustrating experience.

Common sense is not a frequently used attribute these days.

So, we learn and hope the next opportunity goes more to your favor.

Jun 25, 2016 01:25 AM
Annette Thor

Well John since that incident, now I only round up for deposit checks.

Jun 25, 2016 09:19 PM
Annette Thor
Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT reinct.com - Westport, CT
Residential & Commercial Real Estate Broker in CT

Hi Sandy and Norm, I really would have expected common sense to prevail and was surprised when it didn't.


Jun 25, 2016 08:49 AM
Kimo Jarrett
Cyber Properties - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

Unfortunately, a lesson learned about probate transactions. Calling the probate attorney assigned to that case would have been prudent because probate transactions is a different process entirely. I would encourage all agents to attend a probate real estate seminar or class just for the education if not for marketing to probate opportunities. 

Jun 25, 2016 09:23 AM
Annette Thor

A class on the probate processes would have been useful here Kimo. I expected the decisions in probate would have been based on the same merits as a regular real estate transaction.

Jun 25, 2016 09:23 PM
Jeff Stevens
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Mexico Properties - Las Cruces, NM
Jeff Stevens, Associate Broker/REALTOR

Wow! I can't believe the judge wouldn't do a little "side bar" with you and ask if you perhaps would consider writing another check for the $100! Someone was in a bad mood that day I'm thinking. Lesson learned indeed.

Jun 26, 2016 02:34 AM
Annette Thor

I had my checkbook too in case I decided to offer more than my highest offer Jeffrey. The judge did a huge diservice to this poor sick homeowner, and probably unbeknownst to her.


Jun 26, 2016 08:36 PM
Dan Tabit
Keller Williams Bellevue - Sammamish, WA

Hi Annette, 

I think the lesson I got from your story is not to expect reasonableness or common sense from anyone, not even a judge!  Some people are more in love with the details than the big picture.  Too bad for you and for the seller.  


Jun 27, 2016 02:59 AM
Annette Thor

One would think the value of the bigger picture would have prevailed, but not in this case!

Jun 28, 2016 05:39 AM
Jerry Lucas
ABC Legal Docs LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Notary Training, Consulting. Colorado Springs, CO

There are rules and laws that are followed. The judicial branch does not make or negotiate the laws, they follow them.  The legislature makes the laws.  In business, terms can be negotiated between parties.  The lesson is to know and follow the court rules.

Jun 28, 2016 02:20 AM
Annette Thor

And to round up, instead of down on deposits Jerry Lucas !

Jun 28, 2016 05:40 AM
Jerry Lucas

Your quote above in reply #4: "The judge did have instructions to have a cashiers check for 10%." Don't blame the judge.

Jan 09, 2017 07:29 AM
Marney Kirk
Cummings & Co. Realtors - Towson, MD
Towson, Maryland Real Estate

Hi Annette, that does seem a shame that the seller lost that money due to that -- wow. Hard lesson.

Jun 28, 2016 03:07 AM
Annette Thor

Marney Kirk it was one of those experiences that just leaves you completely stunned.


Jun 28, 2016 05:48 AM
Gabe Sanders
Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales - Stuart, FL
Stuart Florida Real Estate

Very interesting story, Annette.  I wonder if the judge has any latitude with this proceeding or if he's bound to stick by the letter of the law.

Jun 29, 2016 04:17 AM
Annette Thor

He sort of conveyed the thought that my offer was not a valid one...this was where I'd expect the listing agent or attorney to start becoming more vocal and come to bat for their client...and they didnt.


Jun 29, 2016 09:25 AM
Sharon Altier
Coldwell Banker Realty - Elmhurst, IL
Luxury Property Specialist, CSC, SFR

Tough lesson. 

Jun 30, 2016 03:33 AM
Jan Green - Scottsdale, AZ
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Interesting post.  Too bad you didn't end up with the home!

Jul 01, 2016 04:07 AM
Debbie Reynolds, C21 Platinum Properties
Platinum Properties- (931)771-9070 - Clarksville, TN
The Dedicated Clarksville TN Realtor-(931)320-6730

When you are before a judge you are never quite sure what kind of day they are having and what the outcome will be. Thanks for sharing your lesson learned, Annette.

Jul 06, 2016 01:08 AM
Annette Thor
Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT reinct.com - Westport, CT
Residential & Commercial Real Estate Broker in CT

Thanks for the comments Sharon Altier, SFR Jan Green and Debbie Reynolds , surely I will be rounding deposit checks up from now on. 

Jul 06, 2016 08:16 AM
Sharon Altier

Annette Thor it's all in the details.....we all overlook something from time to time...

Jul 06, 2016 04:28 PM
Annette Thor

Perhaps Sharon Altier, SFR ...but I wouldnt have called my legit offer an invalid one.


Jul 25, 2016 03:15 AM
Annette Thor
Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT reinct.com - Westport, CT
Residential & Commercial Real Estate Broker in CT

Hi Patricia Feager I fully expected the brokers to go to bat for their client and I was surprised they didnt.  But the judge felt it was completely appropriate to consider my offer an invalid one over $100....this one kept me scratching my head for a long time.....

Jul 25, 2016 03:13 AM
Bob "RealMan" Timm
Ward County Notary Services - Minot, ND
Owner of Ward Co Notary Services retired RE Broker

Good information Annette Thor and I see both sides, had the 2nd highest bidder found out that you rounded down they could have appealed it and the Judge could have ended up in the hot seat... even losing his position.

Sep 03, 2016 08:12 AM
Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho

I agree Bob.  mark

Nov 26, 2016 09:21 PM
Annette Thor
Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT reinct.com - Westport, CT
Residential & Commercial Real Estate Broker in CT

Hi Bob "RealMan" Timm so many real estate scenes happen that leave you perplexed at the fuzzy logic used. 



Sep 05, 2016 04:40 AM
Bob "RealMan" Timm

That's for sure Annette Thor and it's not just Real Estate where we find that fuzzy logic .


Sep 05, 2016 07:32 AM
Debe Maxwell, CRS
Savvy + Company (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC

That is so sad that the judge did that to that poor homeowner.  How closed- minded!  I'm sorry you missed another one but, just know that there's something even better that will come along for you!  

Nov 12, 2016 02:41 PM
Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho
Sandpoint Realty LLC - Sandpoint, ID
North Idaho Real Estate - 208-255.6227

Costly lesson learned.  Hopefully you will not have a third 'at bat' with poor results.  Mark

Nov 26, 2016 09:19 PM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

I do think Jerry Lucas is correct. 

Jan 09, 2017 05:42 AM
Margaret Rome Baltimore 410-530-2400
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome


Hmmmmm..Makes you wonder if there was someone on the "inside" making their own bid.

But then again, I just read the comment by Jerry Lucas  

Apr 17, 2017 07:20 PM