Residential real estate transactions rarely involve the amount of money that characterizes most commercial property transactions, but residential real estate transactions may be far more likely to stir family emotions. A recent dispute between a father and son over the sale of a house in Naples required judicial intervention to complete the sale negotiations.

According to news reports, the father and son purchased the house as joint owners a few years ago. The father is a successful entrepreneur and owns a successful label printing business in Ohio. The son resided in the house and objected when his father wanted to sell it.

The son made several “alterations” to the premises that sharply reduced its fair market value. The exterior is covered with splotches of bright colored paint. The interior also received a decorating do-over. The son’s efforts appear to have been intended to prevent anyone from buying the house. A purchase agreement was signed during the summer, but the son and his father continued their dispute.

The son violated a court order finding him to be in contempt, and at the hearing at which the fate of the house was decided, the judge sentenced the son to 60 days in jail. The judge assigned the case to a local magistrate to resolve the factual questions about the nature and extent of the damage. At a hearing before the judge, the magistrate said that the son had “absolutely destroyed the property.”

The real estate agent who was the listing agent agreed. She estimated that adequate repairs would cost about $300,000. When the owners signed the listing agreement with the owners, the house was valued at $549,900. After the realtor saw the extent of damage, she lowered the asking price to $449,000. At the hearing, the judge approved a sale contract calling for a price of $225,000, an amount which the realtor described as the value of the land alone.

News reports indicate that the son could not afford an attorney. He also appears to have rejected the judge’s offer to appoint a public defender. This case demonstrates how attorneys can help their clients by advising them against self-destructive conduct. If the son had been represented by a knowledgeable real estate attorney, he may have avoided the jail sentence and may been able to split a much higher sail price with his father.