Q: I’ve been reading your extremely informative and helpful column for over a decade now and look forward to it every Saturday. And so I don’t want you to take this personally, and I know you probably won’t publish this, but I need to vent to the only lawyer I know.
Two years ago my son and his wife had to sell their house through a short sale because she worked for the county and lost a lot of pay, and my son’s company shut down. He got a new job but at half the pay. Last year, the people who bought their house hired a lawyer to contact them to claim the foundation was faulty and the roof leaked. She demanded $76,000 or she would sue on behalf of the buyers.
My son tried to talk with the lawyer, asked if he could take a look at the problem and, being a contractor himself, told her he’d be willing to fix whatever problems there were. The lawyer wouldn’t take “yes” for an answer and again demanded $76,000. Of course, my son doesn’t have $7,500 dollars, let alone ten times that.
Eventually the lawyer filed a lawsuit against my son and daughter-in-law. They have no money to hire a lawyer to fight this. They did the best they could with what they have to help the buyers, but the lawyer is just rude, unprofessional and money-hungry.
So I have two questions.
First, I didn’t think you had responsibility for the condition of the house if you sell through a short sale. And also, what can we do about this lawyer who seems to think her only reason for living is to ruin helpless people’s lives?
A: Surprise! I’m publishing it.
Let me take your second question first.
To put this delicately: Yes, there are jerks in the legal profession. Of course, there are also jerks in the medical profession, auto repair, food services, police, fire, janitorial services, dog catchers, whatever . . .
The problem with jerk lawyers is they operate in a complicated environment that the general public doesn’t understand and can’t navigate without help. And the result of not navigating it properly can be a life-destroying judgment.
I’ve been doing this a long time now. I’ve dealt with hundreds of attorneys, not just in Solano County but all over the country.
By far the vast majority, and by that I mean 99 percent, have been professional, courteous, and throughout the process been trying to find a way to resolve whatever issues exist between everyone’s clients. The goal isn’t to fight if a more amicable solution can be found. This explains why only about one out of 10 lawsuits ever go to trial.
But a couple of times each year I run up against someone like you’ve described.
Often they are very young attorneys who get out of school and feel like the gunslingers they’ve seen on TV shows and they act accordingly. Most learn quickly that they not only become shunned by the legal profession as a whole, but by their clients who just wanted a resolution while their attorney just wanted to fight.
Some lawyers though, sadly, never get the message. I think they largely believe that by acting tough they engender fear in their opposition.
That can be true with the general public, but believe me when I tell you they just look like idiots to their fellow attorneys. They don’t look scary, just sad and frustrating.
And so, even though it doesn’t solve your son’s problem, on behalf of the profession I apologize for this lady.
As far as what to do about her, here’s an idea.
Have your son call the buyers directly. A lawyer can’t call another lawyer’s client directly. But that prohibition never applies to the non-lawyers.
Chances are good the buyers just want the problems resolved and aren’t interested in fighting if fighting isn’t necessary. In other words, if the attorney alone is the problem just try to circumvent her. Ultimately, she is legally obligated to take her marching orders from her client.
As far as your first question; the seller of a residential home in California, whether through a short sale or a “normal” sale, has disclosure obligations and potential liability to the buyer. The fact that it’s a short sale never changes that.
So your son would be well served to simply reach an agreement to make some repairs with the buyers.
Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any questions you would like answered in this column you can contact him atSolanoScene@TJones-Law.com