Tips On Real Estate Contracts

Broom Clean

Most purchase agreements contain language that requires a home to be free of trash and debris and "broom clean" at closing. While this language is not precise, the general idea is that you should convey a clean house to your buyers, one in the same condition that you hope to find your new home.

When the movers leave with your furniture, you may even want to consider hiring a professional cleaning service to thoroughly clean the home. It is crucial to leave your house as pristine as possible for the new owners. This includes getting rid of any leftover junk in the storage spaces. When the buyers show up for their final walk-through, they will feel much better about finalizing the sale if everything sparkles. This will set up a positive mood for completing the transaction and help to minimize any disputes at the closing.

Clean Contracts

"Clean" is a term that is often used to describe an offer on a house. A "clean" offer does not refer to the price of the house, but to the terms of the agreement. If you really want a particular house, the "cleaner" you can make your offer, the better.

What are the characteristics of a clean contract? A contract is considered "clean" when the buyers are paying cash or are clearly qualified for a mortgage, the sale isn't contingent on the sale of another home, the buyers don't ask the sellers to carry any of the financing, and if the closing date coincides with the sellers' needs. A clean contract doesn't have any unusual requests for repairs or insistence that certain articles convey that would not ordinarily stay in the house. A clean offer has an important competitive edge if you are offering less than full price or if you are in a situation where there is more than one offer on the property.

Completing The Sale

Some buyers and sellers arrive at the closing feeling terrific about the transaction. They like each other, their new home, their real estate agent, and even the lender! Others feel completely stressed out as a result of the transaction process. Whether you are the buyer or the seller, you can play a part in determining which of these scenarios characterizes your closing. 

The professionals who are involved in real estate transactions work hard to make things go as smoothly as possible, but the quality of the transaction often depends not so much on what happens, but how you react to what happens. If you communicate confidence in the professionals who are helping you, the atmosphere will remain positive even if there are complications to be worked through. Real estate transactions are inherently complex. One of a real estate agent's most important responsibilities is to complete the sale, even if everything that could possibly go wrong occurs.

Contingency Contracts

Buyers walk into your home in your area and fall in love with it. There is one problem--they will have to sell their home before they can buy yours. Their offer contains a contingency clause which makes the purchase dependent upon selling their present home. Should you accept such an offer?

Your decision should be based on several factors. Is their home being professionally marketed at this time, or are they trying to sell it themselves (a risky proposition!)? How long has it been on the market? Is it overpriced? If the house doesn't sell, can the buyers take out a bridge loan or make other arrangements to get to the closing table? How important is timing for you? Will the buyers agree to let you continue marketing your home and accept a non-contingent contract (and void theirs) if their house does not sell? Contingent contracts often work out well, but you need the help of a professional to weigh the pros and cons.

Contingency Contracts

Buyers walk into your home in your area and fall in love with it. There is one problem--they will have to sell their home before they can buy yours. Their offer contains a contingency clause which makes the purchase dependent upon selling their present home. Should you accept such an offer?

Your decision should be based on several factors. Is their home being professionally marketed at this time, or are they trying to sell it themselves (a risky proposition!)? How long has it been on the market? Is it overpriced? If the house doesn't sell, can the buyers take out a bridge loan or make other arrangements to get to the closing table? How important is timing for you? Will the buyers agree to let you continue marketing your home and accept a non-contingent contract (and void theirs) if their house does not sell? Contingent contracts often work out well, but you need the help of a professional to weigh the pros and cons.

Contingency Sale

Sellers may be reluctant to accept an offer that is contingent on the sale of another property. However, such a sale can be structured to minimize the risks.

The seller should put a limit on the amount of time that the buyers have to accept an offer, and they should keep their home on the market during that time. They should also reserve the right to require that any contingencies be met within a short period of time, ideally 24 to 48 hours, if they get a second offer. This is called a "First Right" contingency. 

Contingent sales can work well for the sellers. The buyer is not in a position to ask for concessions on price or terms and may be able to get interim financing. Each situation is different, however, so go over the terms with your real estate agent before accepting a contingent offer.

Deadlines

Both buyer and seller should be aware of all of the deadlines in their purchase agreement. Each contract is different, but there are usually time limits covering the structural contingency, the financing application, the loan commitment, and the closing.

If you are a careless buyer, you could lose your right to ask a seller to pay for needed repairs. There may be a limit on the time the seller has to respond to the buyer's request to complete repairs that are not required by the contract. Failure to apply for your mortgage on time may place your deposit at risk if the loan is denied. In many cases, the agreement can be declared null and void by the seller if financing is not approved within the time frame set forth in the contract. A delayed closing can cost the sellers money, and they may ask the buyer to reimburse these expenses. 

Work closely with your real estate agent to ensure that all of your transaction deadlines are met.      

Disclaimer Clauses

Before the professional inspects the home that you are buying, you will be asked to sign an acknowledgment of the scope of the inspection. This document will probably include a disclaimer clause designed to relieve the company of responsibility if they should miss a defect. What happens if a defect is missed during an inspection?

The disclaimer clause may get the inspection company off the hook for a defect if there is no visual indication of a problem. If the inspector clearly indicated that he was not checking for that problem--many inspectors do not check for dry rot or inspect roofs--then the recourse will be limited. If negligence is involved, or if the defect should have been obvious to a professional inspector, the disclaimer is not likely to protect the inspector. If you find an undiscovered defect, discuss the matter with the inspector. Depending on the situation, the responsibility for remedying the problem may rest with you, the sellers, and/or the inspector.

Keeping Your Earnest Money Safe

When you make an offer on a house, it is accompanied by an earnest money check. Earnest money is intended to demonstrate that you are "in earnest" about purchasing the property. The earnest money check is made out to the listing company. What happens to this check?


The party holding the check acts as an escrow agent until you go into closing. At that time you will receive credit for the amount of your check against the down payment and closing costs. Real estate brokers are required by law to keep escrow funds in a special account. These funds cannot be used to pay any other expenses associated with the sale. If you don't complete the transaction, the purchase contract determines the disposition of your earnest money funds. Be sure to review this part of your contract with the real estate agent.


If you are in default on your agreement, the funds may go to the sellers, so be sure that you understand the deadlines in order to avoid breach of contract and forfeiture of your deposit. If you have any questions, be sure to ask your real estate agent for advice.

Legal Documents

The stacks of papers that you have to sign in order to buy a house can leave you confused. The person conducting the closing will ask you to sign your name to countless documents that are filled with legal jargon. Some buyers just barely glance at each form and sign them without a lot of questions, while others find it very frustrating to try to read every form at the closing table.

You should read and understand the papers you sign. If you are getting a loan to buy the property, most of the paperwork will come from the mortgage company. In most cases, there is little time to read everything in advance because the forms arrive at the closing office shortly before closing is scheduled to begin. Most of the documents use standardized language, however, and you should be able to get copies of the documents ahead of time from the lender so that you can have your questions answered and be comfortable with the settlement process.

Purchase Agreements

Whether it consists of several pages of big type or a few pages of fine print, a real estate purchase agreement is a serious, legally binding document. In most areas, there are "boiler plate" forms that spell out what each party agrees to do by certain dates and what happens if either side breaks the contract.

The best time to familiarize yourself with these forms is when you are beginning your search. Ask the real estate agent for a copy of the purchase agreement and then review it, keeping in mind that it has the force of law. If you don't understand the document, consult an attorney. If there is a dispute between buyer and seller, a court will hold you to what the purchase agreement specifies, not what you thought it meant or what you thought the real estate agent said it meant. 

There are several key points you should be clear about. What are the deadlines for loan application and obtaining financing? If you decide to back out because of the structural inspection report, can you do that? Do appliances convey? When will the closing take place? If you understand these clauses before you find the perfect house, you will avoid a lot of stress and minimize the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Sales Contracts

The purchase or sale of a home is one of the most complicated business transactions most people will be involved in during their lifetime. Whether the print is large or small, there is a lot of it! The purchase agreement covers not only the price of the property, but has many paragraphs governing the terms under which it will be conveyed to the new owners.

When you list your home for sale or when you begin your search for a new home, ask your real estate agent for a copy of the standard sales agreement. Familiarize yourself with the document ahead of time, and make certain you understand the responsibilities of both parties between the initial meeting of the minds and the closing date. You should be aware of all of the deadlines in the purchase agreement. Each contract is different, but there are usually time limits covering the structural contingency, the financing application, the loan commitment, and the closing.

You greatly increase the chances of a smooth transaction by being fully informed about the sales contract.

Selling Before Buying

Timing can sometimes be difficult if you have to sell a home before you can buy another one. Most people need the equity from the sale of their first home for the down payment on the new house. If your present home goes on the market first, you may be concerned that it will sell before you find the one you want to buy. On the other hand, if you find the perfect home before your present home is under contract, the sellers may be reluctant to accept your offer, and you may be too nervous to sign a contract.

It is a good idea to sit down with a good real estate agent for some professional advice before you begin your search. It will probably be necessary to be flexible on the closing date, because it can be easier to find a home that you want to buy than to sell your present home. After finding the house you want, you can ask the lender about arranging a short-term bridge loan that can make the purchase possible before you sell your current residence.

Buying a house involves a lot of paperwork. There can be several pages to the contract itself, plus the various addendum and contingencies. If you apply for a loan, there will be another stack of documents at the closing table. Although your real estate agent reviews the transaction, it is extremely important that you understand the papers you are signing.

If a dispute arises, the outcome will be governed by how the contracts actually read, not what you thought your real estate agent told you when you signed them. To avoid confusion, it is a good idea to pick up copies of the purchase agreements and closing papers ahead of time. This will allow you to read them at your leisure, without the pressure of several people waiting for you to read everything at the closing. Don't hesitate ask questions if you don't understand something or if the language is ambiguous or confusing.

Signed Sealed and Delivered

Most people assume that when a real estate deed is signed, it is effective. However, there is one more essential part of the process. Even if a deed is properly executed, it is not effective until it has been delivered to and accepted by the buyer. This can sometimes create bizarre results. Here is an example. 

An elderly man properly signed, sealed and acknowledged a deed to his nephew and placed it in an old tin box in his room, where it was discovered shortly after he died. The nephew lost a contest with other heirs over the property because the deed was not delivered, and therefore, was not effective at the time of the old man's death.

Until the deed is delivered, the title remains with the seller, who could change his mind at any time and destroy the deed. But once the deed has been properly delivered and accepted, the title passes and cannot be revoked. Thus the old, old saying: signed, sealed (and notarized) -- and delivered.

Taking It With You

Before you list your home for sale, take a careful look around. Are there some items you will want to take with you? There may be a dining room chandelier that has been in your family for three generations, a ceiling fan in the master bedroom, or the bookcases in the den that look built-in but are not.

Normally all fixtures are conveyed to the new owners when a house is sold. This includes anything that is attached to walls or ceilings and, in some areas, all major appliances that are installed in the house. If you have fixtures that you don't want to convey, tell your agent what you want excluded from the agreement at the time you list your property for sale. 

If it is convenient, it is best to remove any light fixtures or ceiling fans you plan to take with you and replace them before the property is shown to prospective buyers. List all items that are not being sold with the house on your home fact sheet to ensure that they will not become an issue when a buyer makes an offer.

The Purchase Contract

An important part of being an informed buyer or seller in a real estate transaction is understanding the purchase contract. Before you sit down with an agent to make a written offer to purchase a home or receive an offer on your home, you should take a look at the real estate forms used in your area.

In some areas the real estate agents use standard contracts which have been approved by the local Board of Realtors. In other parts of the country, agreements that contain a significant number of clauses are drawn up by real estate attorneys. You should get a copy of the paperwork you will be signing so that you can read it at your leisure and absorb the information. 

Don't hesitate to ask questions about anything that you don't understand; and if any of the standard clauses do not fit your particular situation, you can discuss the wording that you would like to have changed. The key is to familiarize yourself with the paperwork before you have found your new dream house or buyers for your home.

The Sales Price

After your search for a house and all the negotiations are over, you arrive at the the sales price. Finally, you feel some certainty about your bottom line. However, it is not unusual for there to be disagreements about what is included in the sales price. Careful drafting of the paperwork can help to avoid future disputes.

The following definitions may help. Real property is land and any permanent attachments, such as buildings, landscaping and fences. Personal property consists of movable possessions, such as furniture and clothing. A fixture is defined as an item of personal property which has become part of the real property by virtue of becoming permanently attached, such as a new sink, a Jacuzzi, or a chandelier.

The principal area of dispute about the sales price often relates to fixtures. Most preprinted real estate contracts will provide space for the fixtures to be listed. Whether you are selling or buying, you should make use of this space. Do not assume curtains, satellite discs, antennas or fireplace equipment come with the house. You should also make it very clear what you don't want left on the property. If you are specific about every item that may be questionable, you will greatly reduce the chances of a dispute after the closing.

Understanding The Contract

When you are selling a home, the most important part of the transaction occurs after you have found a buyer. If your property is being marketed professionally, the real estate agent will put together the purchase offer and present it to you.

Each local Board of Realtors has standard contract forms which reflect the legal requirements of the jurisdiction in which you live. These contracts include the sales price, financing contingencies, completion deadlines, and other items that are required in order to meet local government requirements.

You may find that trying to sell your own home in order to save the brokerage fee is false economy. Real estate sales are complicated, and a slight variation in language can sometimes cost you a sale and/or a lot of money. Many of our listings came from sellers who thought their homes were sold, only to lose the buyers at the last minute--on a technicality!

Shirl A Thornton
Shirl A Thornton
Real Estate Professional