The basics of making an offer

This is the time to think carefully about what you want and what you can afford. If your offer is accepted, it becomes a legally binding contract. Make sure you don’t include anything in the offer that you’re not totally comfortable with doing. Make sure you put everything in writing. Offers usually include items like:

  • Proposed purchase price Remember, the seller may counter-offer with a higher purchase price – consider that when you decide on your proposed purchase price.

  • Concessions This includes things you’d like the seller to help pay for, like closing costs.

  • Conveyances This covers any personal property to be included in the sale, like the washer and dryer or the refrigerator.

  • Home inspection contingencies Make sure you’re prepared if the home inspection report shows major problems. Know what you will ask the seller to fix prior to buying the home and what you will ask a reduction in price for to account for the cost of repairs that you will do yourself.

  • Earnest money Earnest money is a deposit you offer to show you’re serious about purchasing the house. Earnest money is usually held in escrow and applied to your closing costs at settlement. If you fail to meet the terms of your contract, you may lose this deposit.

  • AcceptanceThis covers how long the seller has to respond to your offer before the offer is no longer binding.

  • Mediation and arbitration These are legal methods for handling contract disagreements between you and the property seller. These methods are not necessarily beneficial to you, and you do not need to agree to them.

When the Offer Becomes a Contract

Once the seller accepts your offer, the offer becomes a contract. What’s in a contract varies from state to state, depends on the state where the house resides, but some common things you’ll find include:

  • Legal description This describes the property you are buying in terms of its dimensions relative to a fixed point (like a road) or in relation to a recorded subdivision plat or declaration of condominium. It often includes the street address of the property.

  • Selling price and deposit This is the price you and the buyer agreed upon, as well as the amount of earnest money you’ll pay when you sign the contract.

  • Mortgage contingency A contingency protects you by stating that the sale depends on a lender approving you for a specific mortgage, rate, and term.

  • Closing date and location The closing date (also called the settlement) can be several weeks to several months away to meet the seller’s and your needs.

  • ConveyancesDouble check these conveyances to make sure that the items are there and are what you and the seller agreed on in the offer.

  • Home inspection If you’ve made the contract contingent on a home inspection, this will set an inspection date and provide an explanation of what will happen if the inspection identifies any problems.

  • Possession date This is the date you can move in. It’s usually the closing day or very soon after it.

  • Property insuranceThis details the home insurance policy that will cover the property until the closing date. This can be the buyer’s or seller’s policy.

  • Property disclosures This includes legal notification of any required information concerning the property. For example, it could contain copies of the documents from the homeowners’ association. This section would also outline any problems with the property that must be disclosed.

Withdrawing an offer

Can you take back an offer? In most cases the answer is yes, right up until the moment it is accepted, or even in some cases, if you haven’t yet been notified of acceptance. If you do want to revoke your offer, be sure to do so only after consulting a lawyer who is experienced in real estate matters. You don’t want to lose your earnest money deposit, or find yourself being sued for damages the seller may have suffered by relying on your actions.