At least once a month, I get a call–usually a referral from a title company–about a problem caused by a contract for deed transaction. I wince, because the people who sell or buy under contracts for deed usually are people who don’t like working with lawyers, which makes my job harder. The people needing help for a problem that is difficult to assess and to fix often want to know exactly how much it will cost and how long it will take to fix. I could have prevented the problem in a couple of hours for $500 or less by configuring the transaction with a note and deed of trust or a lease with purchase option.
Now, fixing the problem it will require a lawsuit that could drag on for a couple of years or even longer. Legal fees and costs will be at least $2,000, but more likely $5,000 to $10,000.
If the property has been paid for under the contract for deed, but the seller has meanwhile died or become incapacitated due to Alzheimer’s or a stroke, solving the problem may require a probate or guardianship proceeding which may involve a nasty fight among the seller’s heirs.
If the buyer has defaulted, but won’t relinquish possession or has recorded some kind of claim in the county land records, a judicial foreclosure or quiet title suit and an unlawful detainer suit may be required. Sometimes the buyer, who has recorded the claim, is hard to find, and the best that we can do is get a default judgment based on service by publication, so the title is still uninsurable for years after the legal procedure to fix it.
I’ve added an article here to explain some of the problems I have encountered with contracts for deed.