Family fights to get deposit back after ‘dream home’ falls through

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NOBLESVILLE, Ind. -- A family that signed paperwork and put down a deposit to build their "dream home" is now fighting to get their money back.

When Nelsen Leo signed on the dotted line to build the house in Hamilton County, he said he thought it was a done deal. Six months later, though, that's far from the case.

"I cannot move forward, and I cannot move backwards because they have my money," Leo said.

Leo and his wife, who runs her own tailoring business, entered into a contract with Ryan Homes in June. Leo is a truck driver, and shortly after they paid the $5,000 earnest money deposit, his salary changed.

According to experts, a job change during the homebuying process can greatly decrease your chances of getting a mortgage.

Leo said he was denied by four different lenders, including two recommended by Ryan Homes.

"I told them ... I need my deposit back because I can't get a mortgage," Leo said.

Ryan Homes initially wouldn't return the deposit, though, instead sending Leo a letter in November that said he was in default and did not "use good faith" in securing a mortgage.

"I don’t know what good faith is: after four or five tries of different banks and I’m getting the same answer, what do they expect me to do?" Leo said.

Experts told CBS4 that legally, since Leo didn't get approval within 45 days, he may be out of luck.

In a voicemail, though, a Ryan Homes representative told Leo that if he was denied by both of the company's preferred lenders, he'd be refunded.

CBS4 Problem Solvers tried to talk to Ryan Homes, but a company representative would not make any comment.

The day after our request, the company offered to give Leo the $5,000 back if he signed a mutual release, which included a non-disclosure clause.

Leo refused, saying he wanted to warn other homebuyers about his case.

"They really need to look at the purchase agreement. They need to know the law," Leo said.

Betsy Isenberg, director of the Indiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, agreed. She said consumers often come to the office after they have trouble with mortgages.

"One of the many things that we suggest is if you are going to purchase a new home, you should get pre-approved by at least three different lenders," Isenberg said.

Isenberg also suggested buyers consult with a financial planner and know what you can afford before you sign.

"You want to be in the best position so that when you are putting money down, earnest money or anything like that, you are ensuring that you are going to be able to move forward with that purchase," Isenberg said.

Leo said he will continue to fight to get the deposit back, saying "It is wrong for them to keep $5000 of somebody’s hard-earned money."

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