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Buying

What to Do When a Seller Won't Leave Your New Home

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A Nashville seller is refusing to leave the home he sold. (Highwaystarz-Photography)

Let's face it: Just about everything involved with buying a home these days is a stressful dance -- from finding the perfect property in a skin-tight housing market to securing a mortgage in an age of ever-more-difficult-to-obtain credit.

But picking up the keys after closing on a residence is supposed to be the relatively painless part -- unless, that is, you're Tamara Holloway.

The first-time homeowner in Nashville, TN, was forced to unexpectedly wait before moving into her new abode after the seller simply refused to leave, according to ABC affiliate WKRN. First a day. Then another. Then a week and a half. Not knowing when the former owner would vamoose, she initiated eviction proceedings.

The seller, Justin McCrory, had lived in the single-family home for the past four years, and he told the TV station he believed he had a right to still be there. This was despite the property having officially exchanged hands on June 1. There was also no amendment in the contract stating he could stay longer.

Holloway was eventually able to get her keys after a nearly two-week standoff, according to the station.

So how can you make sure this doesn't happen to you? First, buyers should keep their eyes wide open during the final walk-through of their soon-to-be new home, says Denise Creswell, president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors.

"Make sure the seller has started moving things out," she says. "And be sure the property is in the same or better condition than when that offer was initially made."

And new homeowners should always pick up the keys to their new homes when they close, she says.

But keys themselves won't always protect the new owners, warns Andy Maloney, president of Nashville Title Insurance, a real estate closing firm that provides legal and title insurance services.

"If someone is still occupying the property, they're in possession," says Maloney. He's quick to add that in his nearly 30 years in the business, he's never heard of a seller simply refusing to get out.

He recommends that buyers work with real estate agents to help troubleshoot potential problems and offer advice to frazzled deed holders. Buyers should also be on the lookout for red flags -- especially extreme cases of seller's remorse.

If all else fails, new homeowners can turn to the courts. But evictions can be lengthy. They take about 30 days in Nashville and even longer if a decision is appealed, says local real estate attorney Timothy Nichols.

So make sure that you get everything in writing -- prominently including the date the seller will move out. No wiggle room. No stragglers. Got it?

"It's not unusual for sellers to stay in a property after closing," Nichols says. But "when that happens, there should be legal documentation prepared that protects the buyer if the seller does not vacate the property as promised."