Yes, the dream scenario for selling a home is that the entire process goes off without a hitch. But the reality is that sometimes there will be bumps in the road, and the best thing you can do is work closely with your agent to be prepared for them. One such obstacle is when a buyer decides to terminate their contract to purchase your home after all the terms have been agreed to. So, what’s a seller to do? Here’s a quick overview of how to prepare for this situation and the important role contingencies play when selling your home.
What Happens When a Buyer Backs Out of a Real Estate Transaction?
To be clear, a buyer can back out of a real estate transaction. The outcomes of doing so vary greatly. In certain cases, the buyer walks from the table with all their money intact. In others, they will have some fiduciary responsibility to the seller. If a buyer is hesitant about purchasing a home, the best time to back out of the deal is before their offer is accepted. As things progress, the ramifications of a buyer backing out can get messier. Once the purchase agreement is signed by both parties, it becomes legally binding, and the sale of the property can proceed.
After your agent and the buyer’s agent agree on purchasing terms, the buyer will place their earnest money—a deposit of funds to indicate that the buyer is serious about their offer and intends to pay the seller—in escrow to make sure they distribute properly when the deal goes through. Whether the buyer is on the hook for the funds in escrow depends on the terms of the contract, how far along you are in the selling process, and the corresponding state laws where the home is being sold. If a buyer backs out of the deal for a reason that was not stipulated in the real estate contract, then the funds will typically go to the seller. Still, this scenario can leave sellers scratching their heads. It’s not as if they’ve done anything wrong, and they thought they had found the right buyer, only to have the carpet ripped out from under them at the last minute. So, how can you protect yourself when selling your home?
The Importance of Contingencies
This situation highlights the importance of contingencies. Contingencies exist to protect buyers and sellers from the unknowns of a real estate transaction. Buyers will typically include contingencies in their offer to specify the criteria that will allow them to walk away from the deal unscathed and the timeframes for doing so. As a seller, it’s critical that you work closely with your agent to understand the terms of the buyer’s offer. Read about Common Real Estate Contingencies to understand the ins and out of the different contingencies buyers will generally tie to their offer.
What to Do After a Home Buyer Backs Out
Backup offers are made with the knowledge that an existing offer is already on the table. They stipulate that if the first offer falls through, the second buyer’s offer is accepted. Talk to your agent about the possibility of accepting backup offers when you sell your home. Whether a buyer backs out due to buyer’s remorse, something they discover in the home inspection process, or for any other reason, backup offers can act as a remedy for their indecision by keeping the line moving to the next buyer.
If a backup offer isn’t on the table, the seller is left with the decision of whether to sell again. It’s true that a relisted home may elicit questions from buyers. They will want to know why the home is being relisted and what went wrong with the previous offer. It’s important to coordinate your relisting strategy with your agent and discuss what disclosures are appropriate. It may be discouraging to deal with a buyer backing out but remember that selling a home is all about finding the right fit. A buyer walking away doesn’t mean your home isn’t worthy of a winning offer, it just means that you haven’t found the right buyer yet.
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