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Navigating the Path when a Buyer Backs Out: A Guide for Michigan’s Commercial Real Estate Owners

When it comes to commercial real estate transactions, the unexpected often becomes the norm. Among the myriad uncertainties, one situation that commercial real estate owners dread is when a buyer backs out of a Letter of Intent (LOI) or a Purchase Agreement. This article shares advice to empower Michigan’s commercial real estate owners with knowledge, helping them navigate the rocky landscape when a buyer reneges on a deal.

Understanding the Letter of Intent and Purchase Agreement

The Letter of Intent (LOI) and the Purchase Agreement are the two primary documents that set the stage for a commercial real estate transaction. An LOI, while non-binding, serves as a preliminary agreement outlining the main terms and conditions of the proposed deal. It sets the tone for negotiations and sets the expectations for the binding Purchase Agreement.

The Purchase Agreement, on the other hand, is a legally binding contract between the buyer and the seller. This document provides a comprehensive detailing of the agreed-upon terms and conditions, schedules, contingencies, and the specifics of the property sale. Understanding these documents is crucial to grasping the dynamics of a commercial real estate transaction.

Reasons Buyers Back Out

The reasons for buyers backing out of commercial real estate transactions are as varied as they are numerous. Unforeseen financial troubles could arise if a buyer’s business faces sudden losses, experiences a downturn, or cannot secure necessary funding. This financial instability can trigger a change of plans, causing them to back out.

Market conditions are another significant factor. Changes in the commercial property market, such as a sudden increase in supply, a decrease in demand, or shifts in interest rates—as we’ve recently experienced—can impact the perceived value of the property or the affordability of the purchase.

Additionally, unexpected findings during the due diligence period could reveal issues with the property itself or with its title, prompting a buyer to retreat. These could include structural issues, zoning problems, or legal disputes tied to the property.

Personal reasons also can’t be overlooked. Change in partnership agreements, strategic changes in business direction, or even health issues could influence a buyer’s decision to withdraw. Regardless of the cause, the effect on the seller can range from mild inconvenience to significant financial loss.

Legal Ramifications of Backing Out

When a buyer backs out of a Purchase Agreement, the legal ramifications can be profound, especially if it constitutes a “breach of contract”. In such cases, the buyer may be rendered liable for damages to compensate the seller for the financial loss suffered due to the abrupt reversal.

However, it’s crucial to note that not all breaches are created equal—some are legally justified, often hinging on contingencies specified in the Purchase Agreement. For instance, if a property inspection uncovers substantial issues not previously disclosed, or if the buyer’s financing falls through despite their good faith effort to secure it, these conditions can serve as valid legal grounds for a buyer to back out without penalty.

Yet, breaches without a legitimate legal basis can lead to serious consequences for the buyer. The seller might have the right to enforce the Purchase Agreement, retain the earnest money deposit, or even sue for damages. The specific remedies available typically depend on the terms outlined in the Purchase Agreement and relevant laws.

Immediate Actions and Enforcing a Purchase Agreement

Upon the realization that a buyer has backed out, one of the immediate actions to take as a seller is to consult your attorney. If the breach is not legally justified, enforcing the Purchase Agreement becomes a possible pathway.

The enforcement of a Purchase Agreement requires a court action where you, as the seller, petition for the enforcement of the contract’s terms. The court will then review the case, and if the buyer is indeed found to have breached the contract unjustifiably, the court can order the completion of the sale or, alternatively, award damages to compensate for the financial losses you have suffered.

In many cases, however, going to court is not necessary. Involving experienced legal counsel can often lead to a buyer who lacks justification for backing out to complete the transaction, or at least force them to the table to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

Keeping the Deposit and Legal Remedies for the Seller

The buyer’s and seller’s respective rights in a commercial real estate transaction will largely be determined by the contents of the underlying contract. That’s why it’s critical to have experienced legal counsel negotiate and draft a purchase agreement. In general, when a buyer backs out, one of the immediate steps a seller may consider taking is the retention of the buyer’s deposit. However, this isn’t an automatic right. The conditions under which the deposit can be kept should be stipulated clearly in the Purchase Agreement. 

In addition to retaining the deposit, sellers may also have access to other legal remedies. These include damage clauses and specific performance clauses, which can offer additional protection. Damage clauses allow the seller to seek compensation for the financial loss suffered due to the breach. Specific performance clauses, on the other hand, can compel the buyer to follow through with the original agreement.

Preventative Measures for Future Transactions

It’s said that prevention is better than cure, and this rings true in commercial real estate transactions. To safeguard your future transactions, reduce the risk of the buyer backing out by conducting thorough due diligence on the buyer. Assess their financial capacity and motivations before you sign a Purchase Agreement.

Furthermore, maintaining open lines of communication and transparency with the buyer can build trust and reduce the likelihood of unexpected roadblocks. While no measure can entirely eliminate the risk of a deal falling through, these steps can help you mitigate potential setbacks.


Commercial real estate transactions can be a tumultuous journey, filled with unpredictable events. As a commercial real estate owner in Michigan, understanding your rights, options, and preventative measures when a buyer backs out is critical. To learn more, or for assistance, please contact Zana Tomich.

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