The Terms in Your Offer to Purchase

In a 10-page contract, there are quite a few terms and conditions to cover with a buyer when they're writing one with the agent, or with sellers when they receive one from an interested buyer. If using a Realtor as your agent, then you should be using the standards forms with the California Association of Realtors logo imprinted at the top and which are used statewide in residential transactions (logo at right). This post won't answer all questions, by the way, your own case will be individual to your concerns and interests.

  • Expect to take some time meeting with your agent the day you make an offer. It's pretty hard to do in five minutes (as I've had some people actually expect). You need to understand buyer contingencies; you should have already contacted a loan officer and bring a letter or certificate or pre-approval with you to the meeting; and be prepared to write a check for the deposit money, which will be held in trust by your agent until submission to escrow.

  • The Loan: While funding the loan could remain a contingency throughout the escrow (it's negotiable with the seller), obtaining your down payment and costs of the loan is not, and the contract says "buyer shall act in good faith to obtain the designated loans"--which means that even if one source in this volatile market may no longer be able to help you, you have to do your very best to find another loan in order to honor your agreement with the sellers. After all, you said you would buy the house from them, they've made their arrangement to move one, they may in contract themselves with another purchase they worked hard to find and negotiate, and they're counting on you to perform. Also, you should have already worked out what monthly payment you're comfortable with, because if your agent does not write in a maximum interest rate for your loan on the contract, you could be legally obligated to pay any interest rate, no matter how high.

  • Escrow Time: This is another negotiated item, both the provider and the length of time. The usual time is 30 days, but what if the buyer has to give notice, or sell, or what if the seller needs more time to move out, or has a contingency to buy a new home; or what if the buyer's loan is FHA which typically takes a little longer for cosing ... then 30 days might mean 45-60 days. AND, if you decided to purchase a "short pay" property, your escrow time would more likely be 60-90 days because most banks aren't working that quickly on those approvals ... so then if you're financing that property, your interest rate environment could change in that period of time. Be prepared.

  • The Appraisal: The appraiser is sent out by the lender to appriase the property, and often the contract requires the buyer to remove that contingency within 17 days. The seller wants to move one, and the buyer wants to know the selling price and appraisal are in agreement. This is just one of several areas where if there is no agreement, the buyer may cancel (not will, "may"). Appraisal reviews are more common, take up additional time in escrow, and even if they don't delay the close, nerves could be frayed over this issue.

  • Buyer Inspection(s): This is a major contract contingency, so on the day the buyer has his/her physical inspection, you should be able to follow the inspector around as much as possible and ask questions, or certainly at the end, and most certainly when you get your report, which also the seller receives. Because the buyer has only so many visits to the property before it closes, it's tempting to use that time for home decorating ideas and measuring for furniture. But later on, if an issue comes up, you the buyer might wish you had paid more attention to that inspector while he/she was there, and whom you paid for the inspection.

  • Are tenants currently living on the property? Make sure your contract covers their departure or their continuing occupancy.

  • Seller Disclosures: The contract spells out the timeline and the nature of these disclosures, and the buyer right to cancel. Carefully look at the Transfer Disclosure Statement, and if you still have questions, take the time to follow up with your agent. The seller is supposed to disclose known defects, but the sellers don't always know absolutely everything about their property. Buyers must do their "due diligence", which is the buyer is given 17 days and a separate buyer inspection form to let them know all the issues to look into if necessary. There are other numerous documents to sign, including the natural hazard report, California tax report, lead-based paint, water heater, smoke detector, and other required or recommended forms, as much as 17-18.

  • Taking Title: You need to instruct the escrow officer , and if necessary, get legal advice about how to do this, whether you're single, divorced, married, have a trust, etc. Are you taking joint tenancy, community property with right of survivorship, sole proprietor? How title is taken can affect future legal rights.

These are just a few of the basics of dealing with an offer, other issues include dealing with homeowner associations, liquidated damages and arbitration/mediation. Buying or selling a home is a significant event for most people, it's important to set aside the right amount of time for it. The more you prepare yourself in advance the less chance you will have buyer or seller remorse about how your transaction was handled. Dian Hymer's "Starting Out" is a good publication for buyers.

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