The Basics of Making an Offer

A written proposal is the foundation of a real estate transaction. 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 also all the terms and conditions of the purchase. For example, if the seller offered to help with $2,000 toward your closing costs, make 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® have standard purchase agreements and will help you put together a written, legally binding offer that reflects the price as well as terms and conditions that are right for you.  Your REALTOR® will guide you through the offer, counteroffer, negotiating and closing processes. In many states certain disclosure laws must be complied with by the seller, and the REALTOR® will ensure that this takes place.

If you are not working with a real estate agent, 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 is usually presented to the seller by your real estate agent, by the seller’s real estate agent, 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.

What is in an Offer?

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). So it’s important that the purchase offer contains all the items that will serve as a “blueprint for the final sale.” The purchase offer includes items such as:

  • address and the legal description of the property
  • sale price
  • terms: for example, all cash or subject to you 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 payments are to be adjusted (prorated) between buyer and seller
  • provisions about who will pay for title insurance, survey, termite inspections, etc.
  • type of deed to be given
  • other requirements specific to your state, which might include a chance for an attorney to review 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 that are discussed in detail below