Dad’s broken promise sours home renovation


Reader Question: My wife and I renovated a home owned by my father under the condition that the house would eventually be signed over to both of us. He does not want to sign the house over to us now that we have completed the project. He only wants it in my name and his. My wife contributed the labor and half the funds for the renovation. What legal options do we have? Is there a way to put the home in our name but with the condition that it can’t be mortgaged or pledged as collateral under any condition?

Monty’s Answer: There is a lot of history behind these questions as to how this situation developed to reach this point. Do you and your wife have a signed contract for the work to be completed? Is there an offer to purchase contract between the three of you that established a price and terms of the home sale? When you use the word “eventually” in your question, was there agreement on the definition of when “eventually” would come to pass? What is the approximate “before” and “after” value of the home? How much cash have you and your wife invested in the renovation? Did your father share in the funding?

These questions give you a sense of what is necessary to create a clear picture of the events leading up to today. You will have more issues to answer going forward.

A penny for your thoughts

You have spoken with your father to learn of his change of heart. Did you ask him what has happened to cause him to change the bargain? Whatever it is that he is thinking, finding a way that allows him to reveal that reason may go a long way toward a resolution. When you ask about a way to keep the house free of a mortgage and not used as collateral, could this be because his fear is that you and your wife will borrow against the house?

Some people are taken advantage of in their old age. Perhaps he has a friend that has shared a experience in a similar situation that has frightened him. There was no mention of the value of the home, nor the amount of money expended in the renovation. As an example, if the home is worth $250,000 and the renovation cost $25,000, he may now think it unreasonable to expect him to deed the property to you and your wife.

Could one assume that you and your wife fixed up the house primarily to make your father’s quality of life more comfortable? Or is it a rental home?

It is unclear if you have siblings that your father hadn’t considered earlier or what has caused him to change his mind, but understanding the ages of the three of you may have an impact on which tact to consider in opening the lines of communication and bringing you together.

Unless you and your wife have contractual documentation, forcing your father to keep his word may be a uphill battle. There may be other ways to satisfy both of you in some sort of compromise. A promise to repay the renovation costs, or accept his deed proposal and have a separate agreement with your wife.

So what’s next?

An attorney can answer your legal option questions. This is one reason for suggesting you compile a short written history to present to a lawyer along with any contracts if you decide to seek a legal opinion. Without knowing more about the circumstances, taking any legal action may be the very last option to consider.

Another option is asking your father to participate in mediation. It sounds less complicated, less intimidating, and more casual than a courtroom, and it is. Mediation is gaining in popularity in part because many courts are requiring mediation prior to accepting new cases.

The mediation process often reaches a resolution outside the court and keeps an already overcrowded venue more manageable. You can learn more about how mediation works on one mediation association’s website at Mediators are well trained and skilled at helping people overcome their differences; it is often far less costly.

If the three of you cannot reach agreement on your own a mediation panel or an attorney must sort out the issues. It would be a shame to have the three of you embroiled in a financial dispute.