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What is an Earnest Money Contract?
An earnest money contract is a legally binding document between parties made during the exchange of the earnest money. Earnest money is a monetary deposit made in good faith on a home loan or real property to the seller from the buyer during a home sale. Generally, the earnest money can be anywhere between 1-10% of the sale price. The earnest money contract sets the conditions for refunding the deposited amount.
Here is an article on earnest payments .
How Earnest Money Contracts Work
Earnest money protects the seller if the buyer backs out of a sale. An earnest money contract protects both parties by setting terms and conditions of the earnest money refund. It also provides remedies for both parties in case of a breach of contract or dispute.
Generally earnest money contracts contain crucial information pertaining to the sale and the exchange of the earnest money–such as contingencies, timeline of exchange, refund process, escrow agent, etc.
Here are some examples of how earnest money works .
Key Terms in an Earnest Money Contract
Earnest money contracts set the terms and conditions of refunding the deposited earnest money and provides remedies in case of breach of the contract. Here are some of the key terms you are likely to encounter in an earnest money contract:
- Buyer and seller details: An earnest money contract will contain the information about the buyer and the seller to establish the parties that are entering the agreement.
- Escrow agent information: The earnest money is generally held by an escrow agent agreed to by the parties involved in an escrow account . The escrow agent can be the seller’s attorney, the real estate agent or an agent of the title company or a third party. In case of a breach, the escrow agent may return the amount to the seller and in case of a dispute the escrow agent might hold the earnest money till the dispute has been resolved.
- Amount of deposit: There is no rule about how much earnest money has to be. Generally, this ranges from 1-10% of the sale price. The earnest deposit contract will note the amount of the deposit being held.
- Property details: The earnest money contract will also contain information about the property being sold. It will also note the purchase price, representations and warranties, financing, mortgage note , title insurance , closing costs , lead-based paint disclosure and other relevant details of the sale.
Contingencies are an important part of earnest money contracts. These contingencies provide buyer protection by ensuring refund of the earnest money in case of certain special events. Here are some common contingencies used in earnest money contracts:
- Mortgage contingency clause : A mortgage contingency clause can be used when the buyer is purchasing real estate through a mortgage. This clause would ensure that if the buyer is unable to secure mortgage and complete the sale, the earnest money deposit will still be returned to the buyer.
- Inspection clause : An inspection clause allows the buyer to have certain amount of time to conduct home inspection for any issues. If the home fails this inspection and the buyer backs out of the sale, the earnest money can still be returned to the buyer if the inspection clause has been added to the earnest money contract.
- Appraisal contingency: An appraisal contingency allows earnest money refund in case that the appraisal , or appraised value, of the real estate is lower than the sale price.
- A contingency for selling an existing home : A contingency for selling an existing home makes the sale contract contingent on the sale of a current home. If the current home doesn’t sell and the sale doesn’t go through, this type of contingency still allows for earned money refund.
If you would like to learn more about contingencies in an earnest money contract, here is an article .
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Can I Get My Earnest Money Back?
Earnest money contracts have contingencies that protect both the seller and the buyer. In case a sale goes through, earnest money is generally refundable. Contingencies set out more terms under which even if the sale doesn’t go through, the earnest money is refundable.
However, if the buyer backs out or the sale is incomplete due to reasons not set under contingencies in the contract, the seller can forfeit the earnest money.
Here are some ways you can protect your earnest money.
What Happens to Earnest Money at Closing?
If the appraisal is completed and both the buyer and the seller is happy with the price and the inspection is completed without trouble, the buyer and seller move to closing. At closing, the buyer pays the seller and receives the rights to the property. At this time, the escrow agent will pay the buyer the earnest money which was being held in escrow. Sometimes, depending on how the earnest money was paid, it will be applied towards closing costs or down payment.
In cases where the buyer secures a loan with no down payment, the earnest money will just be applied to closing costs. The surplus will be paid back to the buyer. In cases where the earnest money deposit is not paid in cash and instead using other assets such as a watch, car, boat, real estate, etc., it might be returned to the buyer or liquidated and then applied to closing costs and down payment.
Here is an article on escrow money at closing .
Get Help With an Earnest Money Contract
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Meet some of our Earnest Money Contract Lawyers
William L Foster has been practicing law since 2006 as an attorney associate for a large litigation firm in Denver, Colorado. His experience includes drafting business contracts, organizational filings, and settlement agreements.
Terry Brennan is an experienced corporate, intellectual property and emerging company transactions attorney who has been a partner at two national Wall Street law firms and a trusted corporate counsel. He focuses on providing practical, cost-efficient and creative legal advice to entrepreneurs, established enterprises and investors for business, corporate finance, intellectual property and technology transactions. As a partner at prominent law firms, Terry's work centered around financing, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, securities transactions, outsourcing and structuring of business entities to protect, license, finance and commercialize technology, manufacturing, digital media, intellectual property, entertainment and financial assets. As the General Counsel of IBAX Healthcare Systems, Terry was responsible for all legal and related business matters including health information systems licensing agreements, merger and acquisitions, product development and regulatory issues, contract administration, and litigation. Terry is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, where he was an Editor of the law review. He is active in a number of economic development, entrepreneurial accelerators, veterans and civic organizations in Florida and New York.
I'm a Washington-licensed lawyer specializing in trademark practice and with an extensive trademark education and academic background. I currently work with domestic and international businesses seeking trademark protection in the U.S. by conducting trademark searches, providing legal advice, submitting USPTO applications, and preparing responses to office actions. I'm passionate about trademark law and always looking forward to helping small and medium businesses promote their value by having a registered federal trademark. If you have questions or concerns about trademark/copyright/IP licensing and require legal advice, feel free to contact me so we can have a first chat.
Mr. Pomeranz serves as the principal of Pomeranz Law PLLC, a boutique law firm representing clients across myriad industries and verticals. Before founding the firm, Mr. Pomeranz served as Senior Vice President, Legal & Compliance and General Counsel of Mortgage Connect, LP in 2017. Mr. Pomeranz also served as Counsel, Transactions for Altisource Portfolio Solutions S.A. (NASDAQ: ASPS) beginning in 2013, and was based in the company’s C-Suite in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Mr. Pomeranz began his career with Mainline Information Systems, Inc. as an in-house attorney.
I have 10 years experience providing general counsel, in the form practical and timely legal advice, under strict deadlines to individuals and various business unit stakeholders, balancing commercial needs with legal concerns at large corporations and start-ups. I am skilled at reviewing, analyzing, drafting and negotiating commercial and government contracts globally for the procurement and sale of services and goods. I also help clients ensure compliance with regulations (including data privacy), laws and contractual obligations and protect, enforce and exploit intellectual property rights and support in the development of IP strategy. I am a Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) licensed by the IAPP - International Association of Privacy Professionals.
Over 15 year experience drafting, reviewing and negotiating contracts both as in-house counsel and in law firms, including my own law firm.
Rinky S. Parwani began her career practicing law in Beverly Hills, California handling high profile complex litigation and entertainment law matters. Later, her practice turned transactional to Lake Tahoe, California with a focus on business startups, trademarks, real estate resort development and government law. After leaving California, she also served as in-house counsel for a major lending corporation headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa as well as a Senior Vice President of Compliance for a fortune 500 mortgage operation in Dallas, Texas prior to opening Parwani Law, P.A. in Tampa, Florida. She has represented various sophisticated individual, government and corporate clients and counseled in a variety of litigation and corporate matters throughout her career. Ms. Parwani also has prior experience with state and federal consumer lending laws for unsecured credit cards, revolving credit, secured loans, retail credit, sales finance and mortgage loans. She also has served as a special magistrate and legal counsel for numerous Florida County Value Adjustment Boards. Her practice varies significantly from unique federal and state litigation cases to transactional matters. Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Ms. Parwani worked in private accounting for several years prior to law school. Her background includes a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate from Iowa (currently the license is inactive) and a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation (currently the designation is inactive). Ms. Parwani or the firm is currently a member of the following organizations: Hillsborough County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Tampa Bay Bankruptcy Bar Association, National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She is a Fellow of the American Bar Association. Ms. Parwani is a frequent volunteer for Fox Channel 13 Tampa Bay Ask-A-Lawyer. She has published an article entitled "Advising Your Client in Foreclosure" in the Stetson Law Review, Volume 41, No. 3, Spring 2012 Foreclosure Symposium Edition. She is a frequent continuing legal education speaker and has also taught bankruptcy seminars for the American Bar Association and Amstar Litigation. She was commissioned by the Governor of Kentucky as a Kentucky Colonel. In addition, she teaches Immigration Law, Bankruptcy Law and Legal Research and Writing as an adjunct faculty instructor at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor campus in the paralegal studies program.