January 18, 2022

Couple ordered to sell Bar Harbor home

ELLSWORTH – A Superior Court judge has ordered a Swans Island couple to sell property they own in Bar Harbor for $350,000 after a civil jury determined that the couple had violated an oral agreement to sell the farm.

Merval and Susan Porter will have to sell the house, horse barn and surrounding 37 acres they own on Crooked Road, known as Lakewood Farm, to the people living at the property, according to documents filed in Hancock County Superior Court.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm made the decision Friday, a week after a civil jury of six women and two men decided the Porters had broken an oral promise to sell the property to Joan Sullivan and her partner, David Andrews, for $350,000.

According to information provided by the Bar Harbor Assessing Department, the property and buildings have a total assessed value of $304,700. The most recent townwide property valuation in Bar Harbor was completed earlier this year.

Sullivan had been keeping horses at the farm when the Porters moved from the property to Swans Island in 2000, according to court documents. The Porters asked Sullivan if she wanted to buy the property and, after she said she did, she and Andrews moved in. During the civil trial, Sullivan and Andrews testified that after they relocated to the farm, they spent $20,000 to $25,000 on improvements to the house and barn and started a horse riding and boarding business on the premises.

Hjelm indicated in the court order that the improvements and opening the equestrian business, each of which was done with the approval of the Porters, were factors in his decision.

“It is significant that the plaintiffs worked hard to renovate the house as their own home and the home of Sullivan’s three children,” Hjelm wrote. As a result of the specific investments in the property, the judge wrote, “monetary damages would not constitute an adequate remedy.”

The lawyer for Sullivan and Andrews, Bernard Kubetz of Bangor, said Wednesday that the judge’s decision was the result his clients had hoped for. “It was entirely consistent with the jury verdict,” Kubetz said.

One of the issues decided by the judge was what the terms of the sale would be. The Porters originally had suggested to Sullivan and Andrews an interest rate between 5 and 7 percent and a mortgage term of 20-30 years, but they never made final what those terms would be, according to Hjelm.

Reiff had argued that the range of the sale terms was so broad that, depending on what the judge might decide, it could result in Sullivan and Andrews paying out $200,000 to $480,000 in interest on the sale of the property.

“The endless possibilities in between render the contract unenforceable as for vagueness,” Reiff wrote in a court brief.

Reiff said Wednesday that any oral agreement to sell property in Maine – like a promise to marry someone – should be unenforceable, especially if the sale terms have not been specified.

“They had discussed [the terms] several times, but it never came together all at once,” Reiff said. “It pays to be more sure about what you’re doing than the evidence in this case shows anybody was.”

He said the Porters are likely to appeal the case to the state supreme court.

Hjelm ordered the Porters to set the specific terms of the sale within 10 days of his decision. If the Porters fail to do this, the judge wrote, Sullivan and Andrews will have the right to set those sale terms.

Hjelm also ordered the Porters to pay all of the court costs of Sullivan and Andrews except their attorneys’ fees.

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