From the NYT:
It’s a deal. Or is it?
After apartment-hunting in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for months this spring, Dr. Ronald Nath finally lucked out with a two-bedroom duplex at the top of a condominium, listed at $800,000.
A day after a crowded open house, Dr. Nath, a Massachusetts surgeon, offered $803,000 for the unit, which was to be a home for his son David, a television news producer. But because of its location and the outdoor spaces on both floors, the unit attracted more than a dozen offers, which prompted the seller to request higher bids.
For his “best and final” offer, which usually signals the end of the haggling process, Dr. Nath promised $912,000, which seemed to do the trick. The seller congratulated Dr. Nath and told him the unit was his; a contract was drawn up.
Not so fast. A few days later, like a kite in a gust of wind, the price soared again, to $995,000. Insulted by what he described as being “played,” Dr. Nath refused to raise his offer and ultimately lost the unit to a buyer who plunked down $1.1 million. “I was absolutely outraged,” he said. “When you give your word that a deal is done, you’re supposed to fulfill your agreement.”
A real estate deal, like any other business transaction, isn’t ironclad until signatures wind up on a contract, said Tom Le of the Corcoran Group, the seller’s broker, who defended his clients’ right to get the highest possible price for their unit, even if it left some raw feelings.
“Of course Dr. Nath is going to be upset, because his heart was set on the apartment,” Mr. Le said. “But the truth is, Dr. Nath was given every single opportunity to match the price.” He added that after watching home values plummet over the last few years, sellers finally have relief. “They’ve been scraping by for years just to get to this point.” Both the seller and the buyer declined to comment, said Mr. Le, who added that even he had been taken aback by the intensity of interest in the home.
Whether caused by economics, or the unseemly equivalent of moving the goalposts to prevent touchdowns, experiences like Dr. Nath’s are becoming more common in a market with a huge pool of buyers chasing a limited number of homes.
Not too long ago, an accepted offer marked the home stretch of the deal: the expectation was that the two sides would sign a contract and a deposit check would be cashed a few days later. Now, as sellers go back on their word and repeatedly increase their asking prices, “best and final” often seems to mean “O.K. and almost there,” according to real estate industry sources.
Buoyed by a new confidence in the market, some sellers seem intent on keeping the bidding alive even after there appears to be a winner, with some demanding sharply higher prices, as in Dr. Nath’s case, and others coming back with gradual $15,000 bumps every week or so. Are these sellers merely reacting to a fast-moving market — or are they, as unlucky buyers might suggest, just being greedy?
“It’s surprising how ugly it’s getting.” said Robert Frankel, a real estate lawyer who has handled closings for two decades. Years ago, goalpost-shifting was virtually nonexistent, he said. Recently, he has been seeing one a week, while other lawyers have complained about having to draft multiple contracts for some properties.