Terminating a Real Estate Contract: Guidelines, Risks, Consequences

  • When you’re listing a home, a real estate contract sets out the terms of the sale.
  • Sometimes buyers have to end the contract due to financial challenges or problems with the home.
  • The consequences of terminating a contract depend on whether there are contingent liabilities or not.

Most people who make an offer to buy a home do so with the intention of seeing the deal through to completion. But things do happen, and occasionally home purchase deals fall through.

Rising interest rates, affordability issues, and even problems with the home itself can make buying it less appealing than it was when you originally decided you want it. However, before you back out of your contract, it’s important to understand the potential financial and legal ramifications.

What is a real estate contract?

A real estate contract is a legally binding agreement that outlines the terms of a real estate transaction. When a buyer wants to buy a new home, their agent sends an offer letter with the proposed terms.

A real estate contract usually contains the following information:

  • Buyer and Seller Information
  • Details of the property
  • price of the house
  • Funding information
  • Serious deposit
  • Any eventuality under which the sale may be terminated
  • Estimated completion and ownership dates

If the seller accepts the buyer’s offer, the house is officially under contract and both parties sign the house purchase agreement.

Can a buyer terminate a real estate contract?

Both the buyer and seller can back out of a home purchase agreement, although buyers usually have more options. How easy it is to withdraw from a sales contract typically depends on the wording used in the contract.

And terminating a real estate contract can have financial consequences. For example, unless there are contingencies to protect you, you risk losing your earned money.

Terminating a home purchase agreement can make sense

According to Hayley Tomazic, real estate agent and founder of Curated Properties, there are many reasons someone might need to cancel their home purchase. One reason contracts are often canceled is because of a failed home inspection.

“If the buyer finds something substantial related to the house, such as B. a structural defect that he was not aware of, he can cancel,” she explains.

Buyers may also have to terminate the contract if they lose their job or are unable to obtain financing. The buyer could also be forced to terminate the contract if the home is not valued at the agreed price.

Withdrawing from a contingency deal

As a buyer, the easiest thing to do is walk away from a home purchase due to unfulfilled contingencies. The following contingencies are usually included in a home purchase agreement:

  • Financing: A financing contingency allows you to withdraw from a purchase if your financing fails. For example, if you lose your job and your financing fails, you can no longer buy the house.
  • Home inspection: This contingency allows you to withdraw from the sale if the home inspection uncovers any problems with the home. You can either renegotiate the price, ask the seller to make improvements, or walk away altogether.
  • Appreciation: If the home appraisal is lower than the amount you are offering, you can withdraw from the purchase.
  • Sell ​​your current house: Some buyers have a contingent liability that says the purchases can only be made after they sell their existing home.
  • Title: Your mortgage lender will require a title search prior to closing to ensure there are no problems with the property. When the title search uncovers an ownership dispute, you have reason to go.

Withdrawal from a sale without contingencies

When the market favors sellers, some homebuyers may forgo contingencies to make their offering more competitive. While this may occasionally work out in your favor, waiving contingencies has consequences if you wish to withdraw from your contract.

For example, you lose any serious money you put on the house. You’ll also lose the money you’ve already spent on services like a title search or home inspection.

When is it too late to terminate a home purchase agreement?

According to Tomazic, once all the contingencies are resolved, it’s too late to cancel the contract. If you cancel your contract, the seller can either release you from the contract of sale or sue you for certain performance.

And once you’ve closed the property, you’re the new owner. “If you discover significant issues that have not been disclosed, you may have an opportunity to sue the previous owner for failing to disclose material issues, but you can no longer terminate the contract at this point,” Tomazic said.

What are the consequences of withdrawing from the real estate contract?

As a buyer, you lose the most financially when you back out of a real estate contract, especially when there are no contingencies. You lose the money you earn and any money you spent on an appraisal, home inspection, or other service.

For the seller, the real risk is “that the financial consequences of returning to the market are unknown,” says Tomazic. “They may not earn the same amount of interest after they are returned and achieve a lower sales price with poorer conditions.”

And depending on the wording of the contract, the buyer could take the seller to court if he finds the reasons for avoiding the contract unjustified.

The final result

Buying a home is a big investment and you want to make sure it’s the right decision for you and your family. If you’ve lost a job or are concerned about problems at home, moving away could be the right choice.

If you’re considering bidding on a home, it’s important to include certain contingencies in the contract. Things show up and real estate contracts fail, “so contracts have contingencies that allow you to cancel them,” Tomazic says.


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