Buying Your New Home
Once you have selected homes you want to visit, the real estate agent will schedule viewings, typically three to four showings at one time within one area. This allows the buyer to see different neighborhoods and their proximity to work, schools, parks and any other places you consider important.

You are in a strong bargaining position and will look particularly welcome to a seller if you’re an all-cash buyer, you are already pre-approved for a mortgage and you don’t have a present house that has to be sold before you can afford to buy.

In those circumstances, you may be able to negotiate some discount from the listed price. On the other hand, in a “hot” sellers’ market, if the perfect house comes on the market, you may want to offer the list price (or more) to beat out other early offers. It’s very helpful to find out why the house is being sold and whether the seller is under pressure. Keep in mind that every month a vacant house remains unsold represents considerable extra expense for the seller. Some sellers are motivated to get out quickly, such as if the sellers are divorcing. Also, estate sales often yield a bargain in return for a prompt deal.

You have found the home you love, and now it is time for the agent to make the offer. Oral promises are not legally enforceable when it comes to the sale of real estate. Therefore, you need to enter into a written contract, which starts with your written proposal. This proposal not only specifies price, but all the terms and conditions of the purchase. For example, if the sellers said they’d help with $2,000 toward your closing costs, be sure that’s included in your written offer and in the final completed contract or you won’t have grounds for collecting it later.

Realtors usually have a variety of standard forms (including residential purchase agreements) that are kept up-to-date with the changing laws. When you use a Realtor, these forms will be available to you. In addition, Realtors cover the questions that need to be answered during the process. In many states, certain disclosure laws must be complied with by the seller, and the Realtors will ensure that this takes place.

If you are not working with a Realtor, keep in mind that you must draw up a purchase offer or contract that conforms to state and local laws and that incorporates all of the key items. State laws vary, and certain provisions may be required in your area.

After the offer is drawn up and signed, it usually will be presented to the seller by your Realtor, by the seller’s Realtor if that’s a different agent, or often by the two together. In a few areas, sales contracts are drawn up by the parties’ lawyers.

The purchase offer you submit, if accepted as it stands, will become a binding sales contract (known in some areas as a purchase agreement, earnest-money agreement or deposit receipt). It’s important that it contains all the items that will serve as a “blueprint for the final sale.” According to the NAR, these purchase offer items include such things as the following:
  • Address and sometimes a legal description of the property
  • Sale price
  • Terms (e.g., all-cash or subject to your obtaining a mortgage for a given amount)
  • Seller’s promise to provide clear title (ownership)
  • Target date for closing (the actual sale)
  • Amount of earnest-money deposit accompanying the offer; whether it’s a check, cash or promissory note; and how it’s to be returned to you if the offer is rejected or kept as damages if you later back out for no good reason
  • Method by which real estate taxes, rents, fuel, water bills and utilities are to be adjusted (prorated) between buyer and seller
  • Provisions about who will pay for title insurance, survey and termite inspections
  • Type of deed to be given
  • Other requirements specific to your state, which might include a chance for attorney review of the contract, disclosure of specific environmental hazards or other state-specific clauses
  • A provision that the buyer may make a last-minute walkthrough inspection of the property just before the closing
  • A time limit (preferably short) after which the offer will expire
  • Contingencies, which are an extremely important matter and discussed in detail below.

This is a deposit that you give when making an offer on a house. A seller is understandably suspicious of a written offer that is not accompanied by a cash deposit to show “good faith.” A Realtor or an attorney usually holds the deposit, the amount of which varies from community to community. This will become part of your down payment.


If your offer says, “This offer is contingent upon (or subject to) a certain event,” you’re saying that you will only go through with the purchase if that event occurs. The following are two common contingencies contained in a purchase agreement:
  • The buyer obtaining specific financing from a lending institution. If the loan can’t be found, the buyer won’t be bound by the contract.
  • A satisfactory report by a home inspector “within 10 days (for example) after acceptance of the offer.” The seller must wait 10 days to see if the inspector submits a report that satisfies you. If not, the contract would become void. Again, make sure that all the details are nailed down in the written contract.


You will have a binding contract if the seller, upon receiving your written offer, signs an acceptance just as it stands unconditionally. The offer becomes a firm contract as soon as you are notified of acceptance. If the offer is rejected, that’s that, and the sellers could not later change their minds and hold you to it.

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