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What is a Real Estate Contract?

A real estate contract is a legally binding document between two or more parties participating in a purchase and sale, exchange, or transfer of real estate. It outlines the expectations of the homebuyer and seller. Real estate contracts need to be in writing to be enforceable. A real estate contract generally covers terms of finance, seller assist, home inspection, fixture and appliances, closing date, sale of existing home, etc.

Here is an article about real estate contracts.

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How Real Estate Contracts Work

A real estate contract works in three main steps:

  1. An official offer form is created by the homebuyer’s agent and submitted to the seller. This initial offer will outline the description of parties involved, the property details, purchase price offer, earnest money deposit, closing costs and closing date.
  2. Upon receiving this initial offer, the seller now accepts, rejects or counters the offer. The counter could include proposed modifications or negotiated terms such as purchase price, closing costs, contingency, etc.
  3. Once both parties accept and sign the contract, it becomes a legally binding contract.

Here is an article on how to decide on the best offer.

Key Terms Found in Real Estate Contracts

In order to understand a real estate contract, you need to know what the key terms and components in the contract mean. Here are some common terms used in real estate contracts:

  1. Price: Given that any real estate transaction is a significant investment for the buyer, price is the first thing the parties consider. You can ask their real estate agents for a comparative market analysis (‘ comparables ’) to determine whether the current price is above or below the market value. Chances are that you will need to take out a mortgage for purchasing real estate (unless you are financially secure enough to make an all-cash offer). Before drawing up the offer, you need to research your interest rate for financing based on your credit score . Once the offer is made and if you have to back out, the seller will typically be able to keeps the earnest money. If you are using a loan to finance the deal, you will need to mention it on your contract.
  2. Riders: Riders or addendums allow changes to the real estate contract based on special circumstances. Some common riders include disclosing rules of homeowner’s associations or a Federal Housing Administration rider specifying that the buyer would secure a mortgage via FHA.
  3. Contingencies: Contingencies are the requirements that need to be met before closing. Some examples of contingencies include obtaining a loan to finance the purchase, buyer selling their current home, repairing any issues found during home inspection and house appraisal being equal to or higher than the sale price. Common terms in real estate contracts include:
  4. Seller assist: For instance, if you want the seller to pay for some of the closing costs, you can ask for seller assist in your contract. It works similarly to credit where the seller absorbs some of the closing costs.
  5. Title search: A title search is the process of going through public records to find the property's rightful legal owner, or any existing liens, encumbrances, or other claims, in order to avoid any third-party claims on the property.
  6. Recording fees: A recording fee is charged by a government agency for recording the purchase or sale of any real estate.
  7. Earnest money: Earnest money is the payment made to the seller to show good faith at the time of signing the contract.
  8. Deed of trust: A deed of trust is a security instrument between a lender and a borrower is an alternative to a mortgage which allows parties to give the property to a neutral third party while the debt is paid off. They are used in some states instead of a mortgage to secure a loan, which allows the lender to foreclose on the property if there is a default.
  9. Mortgage Note: A mortgage note contains all terms of mortgage, signed at the time of closing.
  10. Closing costs: Closing costs are additional fees needed to transfer the home to the buyer, beyond the purchase price. The contract should specify which party would be responsible for different closing costs such as escrow fees, title search fees, title insurance, notary fees, recording fees, transfer tax, etc.
  11. Considerations: Considerations mean anything of value exchanged in the transaction, generally referring to money.
  12. The signatures: No contract is legally binding before it is signed by both parties. Once the buyer has signed the contract but decides to pull out of the contract, the earnest money can be forfeited by the seller.

Here is an article of common contingencies in a real estate contract.

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Types of Real Estate Contracts

There are four types of real estate contracts:

  1. Purchase agreement contract: A purchase agreement is between the seller and the buyer outlining terms and conditions of the purchase. This can be one of the following three kinds:
  2. State/association purchase agreement: State/association purchase agreement is used by a real estate agent to draft a purchase agreement contract using local realtor guidelines.
  3. General purchase agreement: General purchase agreement is a condensed version of the State/association purchase agreement for when a buyer buys directly from a seller instead of a real estate agent.
  4. Property-specific purchase agreement: Property-specific purchase agreement is used for non-traditional properties.
  5. Lease agreement: A lease agreement between a tenant/renter and an owner of property includes details of renting the property, responsibilities and payment dates.
  6. Real estate assignment contract: A real estate assignment contract transfers a buyer or seller’s interest in a property, and is typically used to buy rights to a property by an investor with the intention of assigning the contract to a different buyer at a higher price.
  7. Contract for deed: A contract for deed agreement is used for buying property without going to a mortgage company. The buyer pays monthly payments and the deed is turned over when all payments have been made.
  8. Power of attorney: A power of attorney document assigns one person the power to act for another. In a real estate transaction, this could give one person the right to sell, purchase, refinance, manage, perform transactions, etc., depending on the specific terms of the power of attorney document.

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Who Creates Real Estate Contracts?

Typically, the buyer’s real estate agent would prepare a real estate contract if they are licensed to practice law. Otherwise, the buyer can have them drawn by a real estate lawyer.

You can find templates online to draw up your own real estate contract. However, it is advised to consult a real estate professional to ensure a smooth deal. If you have questions about drafting a real estate purchase agreement, it is best to consult a real estate lawyer who will have knowledge about the laws and requirements for lease agreements in your state.


Here is an article on roles and responsibilities of real estate lawyers and agents.

Getting Help With a Real Estate Contract

Do you have any questions about real estate contracts and want to speak to an expert? Post a project today on ContractsCounsel and receive bids from lawyers who specialize in real estate law.


ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.


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Karl D. Shehu, has a multidisciplinary practice encompassing small business law, estate and legacy planning, real estate law, and litigation. Attorney Shehu has assisted families, physicians, professionals, and people of faith provide for their loved ones by crafting individualized estate and legacy plans. Protecting families and safeguarding families is his passion. Attorney Shehu routinely represents lenders, buyers, sellers, and businesses in real estate transactions, researching and resolving title defects, escrowing funds, and drafting lending documents. To date, Attorney Shehu has closed a real estate deal in every town in Connecticut. As a litigator, Attorney Shehu has proven willing to engage in contentious court battles to obtain results for his clients. While practicing at DLA Piper, LLP, in Boston, Attorney Shehu represented the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies in multidistrict litigations filed throughout the United States. He has been a passionate advocate for immigrants and the seriously injured, frequently advising against lowball settlement offers. He is willing to try every case to verdict, and he meticulously prepares every case for trial. Attorney Shehu began his legal career as a consumer lawyer, utilizing fee-shifting statutes to force unscrupulous businesses to pay the legal fees of aggrieved consumers. For example, in Access Therapies v. Mendoza, 1:13-cv-01317 (S.D. Ind. 2014), Attorney Shehu utilized unique interpretations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Truth-in-Lending Act, and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to obtain a favorable result for his immigrant client. Attorney Shehu is a Waterbury, Connecticut native. He attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel grammar school, The Loomis Chaffee School, and Chase Collegiate School before earning degrees from Boston College, the University of Oxford’s Said Business School in England, and Pepperdine University School of Law. At Oxford, Karl was voted president of his class. Outside of his law practice, Attorney Shehu has worked to improve the world around him by participating in numerous charitable endeavors. He is a former candidate for the Connecticut Senate and a parishioner of St. Patrick Parish and Oratory in Waterbury. In addition, Attorney Shehu has written extensively on the Twenty-fifth Amendment and law firm retention by multinational firms.

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Real Estate

Real Estate Contract

Georgia

Asked on Mar 24, 2022

How many years does a quick claim become effective?s

Number of years for quick claim to be effect ive

Meghan T.

Answered Mar 29, 2022

A quit claim deed is effective upon execution so long as the deed is dated as of the date of signature. Execution means that the deed is signed, in front of a witness and a notary. The witness and notary must also sign the deed. Finally, the deed must be recorded. This means that the deed must be submitted to the Superior Court recording office of the County in which the property sits. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, Meghan K Thomas

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Real Estate

Real Estate Contract

Illinois

Asked on Mar 27, 2022

what is better to buy land or rent for construction in US?

we are a construction company from Ukraine, we are planning to build a cottage town in the USA

T. Phillip B.

Answered Apr 5, 2022

I suppose it doesn't matter if you have the lease giving you permission and the lease is long enough to justify the building expense when you won't own it. But I'd buy the land so you could eventually sell the property with the building on it.

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Real Estate

Real Estate Contract

Georgia

Asked on Mar 18, 2022

WHAT ARE YOUR FEES TO PERFORM QUIT CLAIM DEED COMPLETE BUTTS COUNTY GEORGIA 30233

SON AND EX

Meghan T.

Answered Mar 29, 2022

Hi. The cost for my practice to prepare a Quit Claim Deed is $99. The Cost for me to handle the closing is $250 plus recording fees. These costs apply for any county within the state of Georgia. Let me know if you have any more questions. Meghan K Thomas

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Real Estate

Real Estate Contract

New York

Asked on Dec 26, 2021

Can you purchase or refinance under a land contract?

I’ve been living here for 2 years. Currently have been working with my credit union and they are having a terrible time trying to understand the legalities of my land contract first off, and secondly they just don’t seem to know what they are doing. It’s been over 8 months, 4 different loan officers and I’m once again waiting for someone else to help finish this thing out. It’s only $60,000 with a $120,000 appraisal. So, as of now I am stuck paying 2.5x monthly under this land contract than I was promised would be an easy mortgage process. So any guidance in the right direction would be very helpful. It’s a New York home. 20 yr fixed, no balloon, with a (brace yourself) 12% apr. HELP ME PLEASE! One month I’m being told to authorize a credit check for a first time homebuyer grant method of mortgaging this property. The next it’s authorizing it for a refinance. I do have earnest money deposits for over $3,000 and another $3000 paid towards principal under this land contract also.

Jane C.

Answered Jan 11, 2022

I suggest you speak with a New York real estate attorney. That attorney needs to review the documents related to the transaction.

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