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I was looking at this listing in or near Dorris for reasons that don't really matter.

The listing says it's on Juniper Street; but there is no such lot on Juniper Street. I spent some time trying to locate it before determining the listing is somehow bad.

It wouldn't take someone with much less head than me to realize the lot doesn't fit and the listing partial address is completely bogus. I'm used to seeing these without a street number and it turns out it really is on the street but doesn't have a mailing address yet, but this one just isn't.

I'm left wondering what would have happened if I put an offer in describing Lot 5, Juniper St, Dorris CA; how far the process would get before breaking down due to lot for sale is not the same as lot offered to buy.

The reason I'm asking on law is my initial hypothesis was nobody catches it until I go to take possession and go to where the address says it is, and the lot isn't there; which is a mildly interesting escrow case. The seller's commission of $200 means they won't do much work in checking things.

Internet search finds nothing; it's like nobody has written about this kind of problem before, which is weird.

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  • you can't buy real property in the US without title transfer. something in the process would reference the plat and show it didn't exist.
    – Tiger Guy
    Feb 25 at 23:37
  • @TigerGuy: Actually you can, but it's dumb in so many ways that almost nobody does it.
    – Joshua
    Feb 26 at 1:12

2 Answers 2

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This goes to the meeting of the minds element of contract formation

Put simply, so long as the parties agree on what they are contracting to do, they have a valid contract.

For your example, if the parties agree that the contract is for that property, regardless of how it is described, then the parties have a valid and binding contract, and any mistakes in the description just have to be fixed.

However, if the vendor is selling this property, and the buyer thinks they are buying that property, then we don't have a meeting of the minds, and the contract is void. The legal doctrine involved here is mistake, and it's a highly technical area of law. There may be compensation payable if there was negligence or misrepresentation by one or the other of the parties, but if the error is really nobody's fault - just a communication breakdown, say - then mistake is where we end up.

In theory, this is all very simple: a contract founded on a mistake is void ab initio - it never happened, and everyone has to go back to the status quo ante. However, if the mistake has gone on to affect third parties, then it might be impossible to unwind the transaction without damaging them. In such situations, the court will look to equitable remedies that reflect the state of things "on the ground".

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An offer would not be made with the street address but with the legal description and plat map recorded at the County Assessor-Recorder's office

First, you're not looking at the real listing. You're looking at some data a third-party (Zillow) bought and reformatted and mashed up. If you go closer to the source, it's shown differently. You need to get the data from the area's MLS direct, not though a third-party website.

Second, the mailing/street address is merely a convenience, an offer would be based upon the legal description of the property. The deed needs to be recorded by the county, and they would not accept an ambiguous description. Obviously, many properties may not have road/mail access to begin with. Further, a street address does not describe the extent of the property.

Instead, the offer would list Parcel 5, Lot 207 of the Pleasant Valley Highlands subdivision in Siskiyou County, California. It would also list the county assessor's parcel number. Some states it would list the plat book number and page. This description would lead to the map shown in your linked listing at the county assessor/recorder/clerk/register of deed's official records and that would form the legal description of the property you're buying.

The real estate agent would have this legal description in their MLS access, it's not visible under the consumer-facing data. Also note the standard MLS disclaimer: "Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed."

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  • Actually I had found the entry in Realitor.com and it seemed to be the more damaged listing to my eyes.
    – Joshua
    Feb 26 at 1:15
  • Hmmm; I have written an offer for buying a home before, on a two page form that was mostly fill in the blank, and it was done by street address. I don't really know anything after the offer letter point because I got outbid.
    – Joshua
    Feb 26 at 1:29

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