A real estate purchase agreement, also known as a “Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA)” is a binding contract used for facilitating the buying of a residential property. The document is completed by a buyer, who presents the completed document to a home seller as a means of “making an offer” on their property. The seller then has the option of accepting, declining, or negotiating the offer and conditions presented by the buyer.
Table of Contents
- Purchase Agreements: By State
- What is a Purchase Agreement?
- The Home Buying Process (8 Steps)
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Primary Parts of a Purchase Agreement
- How to Write
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
To state it simply, a purchase agreement is a form used for making an offer on a home. It contains a set of conditions and contingencies that are presented to the seller of a home, who will either accept, deny, or counter the offered price and/or a condition included in the contract. If the seller accepts, the seller and buyer will sign the form, officially making the agreement “under contract”.
The following is a general outline of the home buying process for purchasing a residential home:
The first step prospective homebuyers should take in the buying process is to identify exactly what they can and can’t afford. After all, there is no sense in finding the “perfect” home to only find out that it’s out of the buyer’s affordable price range. There are several important things that the buyer will need to get in order, which includes1:
The Downpayment – a buyer should allot a minimum of five percent (5%) for a downpayment on a home. However, the higher the downpayment that the buyer can make, the better it will pay off for them later down the road. Paying a greater down payment (15%, for example) will:
- Get the buyer a lower interest rate;
- Make the homeowner more interested in selling;
- Reduce the need for paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) and
- Result in a smaller mortgage payment.
Credit Score – in short, the higher the buyer’s credit score, the better the mortgage rate they’ll be able to get. Additionally, they’ll be able to take out a greater mortgage with less money down (if they so choose). In general, a credit score above 660 will allow buyers to acquire a home loan, although scores above 700 should be strived for.
Income & Expenses – While amassing a significant sum for a downpayment will reduce the loan amount and the rate, the buyer will still need to afford the monthly payments involved with the loan. The buyer should take a deep look at their income and expenses to ensure they would be paying no more than forty percent (40%) of their income towards all of the home expenses. Home expenses take into account insurance, taxes, and other related costs.
SmartAsset “How much house can I afford?” Calculator – can be used by prospective homebuyers for getting a ballpark estimate of the home price they can afford.
A pre-qualification letter is an official form given by a bank or mortgage lender. It is given after the hopeful buyer submits their income, assets, expenses, and provides them the necessary information for pulling up their credit score.
While not a technical requirement, obtaining pre-qualification can open up many more doors during the research and touring stage, and make sellers more interested in showing their property. Having said, it is not a guarantee. Just because a buyer acquires a pre-qualification letter doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to be able to get a loan.
According to Zillow’s Housing Trends Report for 20192, eighty-two percent (82%) of home buyers used a real estate agent or broker to assist with the home buying process.
Why use a realtor for buying? Some of the more common reasons include:
- It doesn’t cost anything additional (the seller typically pays the realtor fees);
- Increased confidentiality due to the broker’s fiduciary duty;
- Negotiation is significantly easier (since the realtor will be doing it); and
- Agents have superior attention to detail (and know what to look for).
To find a realtor, prospective buyers can:
- Browse online search tools (such as the “Find a REALTOR” search tool)
- Go to open houses and speak with agents;
- Speak to family and friends to see who they recommend; and
- Browse reviews online.
With the help of their agent (assuming one was selected), buyers can begin searching for a home. The buyer should create a list of “must-haves” to narrow down the scope of properties to a more manageable list. On the other hand, buyers should avoid being overly picky to avoid unnecessarily limiting their options. Informing the agent exactly what they’re interested is highly recommended, as they will conduct research on their own time and know exactly where to look. The following are platforms for finding for-sale homes:
Once the buyer finds a home they’re interested, they can ask their agent to set up a private showing of the property.
If the buyer tours a property they’d like to move forward on they will need to complete the purchase agreement. The form serves as an offer, informing the seller exactly what they’re willing to pay (is rarely what the home is listed for), what contingencies they have (if any), and the other aspects of the agreement. Upon receiving the offer, if the seller deems it is a fair offer they’ll accept it. However, buyers should be ready for the seller to try and negotiate a few sections of the offer to better suit their needs. This process can go back-and-fourth any number of times until the parties agree or decide to walk away.
If the parties come to an agreement, they will sign the purchase contract. The buyer will then provide the seller with their earnest money deposit, which shows their intent to purchase the property so long the remaining steps go as planned.
To ensure they’re not buying a property with an underlying issue (such as lead walls or contaminated water), the buyer will hire an inspector to go through the house thoroughly. Depending on the systems and features of the home, the inspection may cover a varying number of items. The most common areas an inspector will cover include:
- Structural components
- Plumbing / electrical systems
- HVAC systems
- Heating elements
The buyer is typically responsible for paying for the inspection, although they can require the seller to pay in the purchase contract if they so choose. The price of a home inspection will range from $200 to $496. “Going cheap” on an inspection is not recommended, as any defects the inspector finds could wind up saving the buyer hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.3
If the buyer will be paying for the property with a loan, they will need to obtain a mortgage through a financial institution. Assuming the buyer already anticipated for this by saving up for a down payment, ensuring their credit score is worthy, and the other recommendations from the first step, this process should go smoothly.
However, even if the buyer was pre-approved for a loan, the financer will require the property to be appraised by a neutral 3rd party appraiser. An appraiser is a person that is paid for by the mortgage provider. The appraiser’s job is to determine the property’s value in a non-biased way by going through every aspect of the property in painstaking detail. Mortgage providers require this as they want to ensure they are loaning for an investment that is worth it in the long run. So long the appraiser gives a value of the property that is in-line with the dollar amount of the loan the buyer is requesting, the buyer should be able to obtain the loan.
Once the mortgage application has gone through successfully, the parties have conducted a final walkthrough, and all contingencies have been removed, the parties can close on the home. At closing, the parties will be signing numerous documents and paying for the closing costs, among other activities. So long the closing process goes off without a hitch, the buyer will be the official owner of their new home.
Can a seller back out of a purchase agreement?
No, not without consequences. Because a purchase agreement is a legally binding contract, once the seller signs it, they are agreeing to sell their house for the price stated in the form.
Does a Purchase Agreement need to be Notarized?
No, so long the agreement is signed by all the parties involved, it is binding and sufficient. The reason it does not need to be notarized is due to it not transferring the actual rights to the property – it simply records that the parties have agreed to sell the property for a certain value (among other conditions and/or contingencies).
When does a Purchase Agreement Expire?
Whether or not the contract expires is based upon the conditions included within it. In the free template provided, Section 28 “Offer Expiration” allows the buyer to specify a date in which the contract will be automatically revoked. However, it is not a required section – some purchase agreements may not contain it. In the event the contract does not contain it, it would expire automatically at the closing date. If an issue occurs and it’s been months since the contract’s signing, both parties can agree to terminate the agreement.
To be effective, a purchase agreement needs to contain several elements. These are:
The contract will contain space for recording the property’s full address, type (condominium, triplex, single-family, etc.), and legal description. The legal description of the home can be found in the deed and should be copied over word-for-word.
Purchase Price + Financing
Arguably the most important section of the contract, the purchase price is the full amount the buyer is willing to pay for the property. Also included in the section (or sometimes in its own section altogether) is the how the buyer will finance the purchase; covers whether the buyer will be paying in cash, receiving financing from the seller, or with a new mortgage (bridge loan, VA loan, fixed-rate, variable, and so on).
A contingency is a clause that states a certain condition must be met prior to a buyer going through with the purchase. Depending on the desirability of the property and the state of the market, buyers will vary the number of included contingencies. Other than the offered price, contingencies are one of the most commonly negotiated terms of a purchase agreement.
Earnest Money Deposit
The earnest money deposit is paid by the buyer to the seller upon the signing of the purchase agreement. It shows the seller that the buyer is wholly invested in purchasing the home, and gives the seller the confidence to proceed with the deal. If the buyer backs out for a reason not covered by the contract, the seller gets to keep the deposit in exchange. The deposit is often held by a third party (such as a real estate brokerage or title company) in a trust account.
Closing Date + Costs
The closing is the time in which the parties finalize the contract and officially transfer ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer. Typically both parties share in the closing costs, although the seller can expect to pay more because of the buyer/selling agent’s commissions. Buyer closing costs are typically two to five percent (2-5%) of the property’s purchase price, whereas the seller’s closing costs can amount to between eight to ten percent (8-10%) of the purchase price4.
Note: Both the Buyer and the Seller need to initial the bottom of all eight (8) pages of the contract. This confirms they read through each page and understand what each page conveys.
Step 1 – Parties
To start the purchase agreement, the Buyer will need to write the “Effective Date” of the contract. This is the date the contract will become effective, or valid. The day, month, and year should be entered in the spaces. Afterward, the “Buyer” and the “Seller” will need to be identified. For both parties, enter their full names, street addresses, cities, states, and ZIP codes into the applicable fields.
Step 2 – Property Description
To accurately describe the property, the Buyer will need to enter a description of the property for sale. For the “Property Type”, state what kind of property is for sale. Options include “Condominium, Duplex, Triplex, Fourplex, PUD (Planned Unit Development), and Single Family Home”, to name a few. Then, enter the full address where the property is located. On the next line, enter the “Tax Parcel Information” (also called the “Tax Map & Lot Number”). This can be found by contacting the county recorder’s office in the same county as where the home is located. For the bottom two (2) lines, enter a description of the property. The description can be found on the deed and should be copied word-for-word.
Step 3 – Included Personal Property
If the sale price of the property includes other items, such as a TV, couch, vehicle lift, treadmill, etc, it should be written into the agreement. All of the property that is listed will be considered as the “Property” being purchased.
Step 4 – Earnest Money
Earnest money is a deposit made by the Buyer to infer their commitment to purchasing the home. Enter the total amount of money ($) being offered as earnest money. In the first space, enter the value as a dollar-amount (e.g “$5,000); in the second space, enter the value in words (e.g “FIVE-THOUSAND”). Check the box corresponding to the type of payment being made (either cash or check). If the state requires the deposit be placed in a secondary trust account, check whether it will be deposited with the listing or selling broker. Add any other provisions related to the earnest money if necessary in the lower two (2) lines.
Step 5 – Purchase Price & Financing
Enter the amount the Buyer is offering to purchase the property for. In the first line enter the numerical value (e.g “$500,000), followed by the word value in the second line (e.g “FIVE HUNDRED-THOUSAND”).
Next, the Buyer will need to list how they are paying for the property. The three (3) options include a New Mortgage, Cash, or Seller Financing.
New Mortgage: If via a mortgage, check the box corresponding to the type of mortgage being used for the property. Included options are VA “Veteran’s Association”), FHA, SDHDA, Conventional, or another type of loan (can be listed on the provided line). Then, enter check the box corresponding to the method in which the loan status letter will be 1) delivered to the Seller (include the date), or 2) attached to the contract. Proceed by entering the number of “legal banking days” the Buyer has to make an application for the new loan (among the other loan-related tasks).
Cash: If the Buyer is making a cash offer, enter the total deposit they are willing to make for the home. It says “remaining balance” because the dollar amount should be subtracted from the earnest money deposit being made to the Seller. The Buyer should provide a letter verification from their banking institution for verifying they have the funds available for the cash offer. Check whether the verification letter will be 1) attached to the contract, or 2) delivered to the Seller (enter the date if this option is checked).
Seller Financing: If the Buyer will be receiving financing from the Seller, the following details will need to be entered into the corresponding fields:
- Loan Amount ($)
- Down Payment ($)
- Interest Rate (Yearly %)
- Term (Length of the loan – check whether it is in months or years)
- Documentation (Attach/send documentation relating to the Buyer’s ability to purchase according to the purchase price & the Seller’s financing).
- Enter the date the Buyer has to provide the documentation to the Seller; and
- Enter the date in which the Seller has to approve the Buyer’s documentation by.
Note: If the Seller doesn’t approve of the Buyer’s documentation, the Seller has to return the Buyer’s documentation within five (5) business days.
Step 6 – Sale of Another Property
If the Buyer’s purchase of the property is based upon whether or not they need to sell their own home first, check the second (2nd) box and enter the mailing address of the property (that needs to be sold) followed by the number of days from the effective date in which the property needs to be sold by.
Step 7 – Closing Costs
Check whether the closing costs (appraisal fees, title insurance, surveys, notary fees, etc.) will be the responsibility of the Buyer, the seller, or both. The most common option is for the fees to be split up between both parties. Having said, agent fees are almost always the responsibility of the Seller.
Step 8 – Closing
In this section, the date and time of the closing are established. Enter the day, month, and year in which the closing will take place, followed by the time (check whether AM or PM) the Buyer and Seller will meet.
Step 9 – Survey
If the Buyer intends to have a survey made (required if they are obtaining a mortgage), they should check the appropriate option of the four (4) provided. Then, they will need to check whether the survey will be paid for by the Buyer or the Seller. Remember, since the purchase agreement is often used for making an offer on the property, the Buyer should only require the Seller to pay for the survey costs if they believe they have a good chance of their offer being accepted.
If the Buyer intends to waive having a survey done on the property, they will need to place their initials in the provided space.
Step 10 – Title
In this section, the Buyer needs to enter the number (#) of days they have to notify the Seller of any matters in the title search they find unacceptable. If the Buyer doesn’t notify the Seller in the time provided, it will be considered that they “Accept” the title for what it is. In the next paragraph, enter the number (#) of days the Seller has to remedy any issue(s) discovered in the title search report. If they do not remedy the issues in the number of days provided, the Buyer has the right. to cancel the agreement and obtain the Earnest Money that they initially deposited.
Step 11 – Inspection
An inspection is a pivotal step in the home buying process. If the Buyer acknowledges the importance of having an inspection of the home, they should initial the space provided. If the Buyer’s offer depends on them being able to obtain a property inspection (highly recommended), the first box should be checked. If not, check the second (2nd) box. If the Buyer will be having an inspection, enter the number of days the Buyer has to provide the Seller (or their agent) with the results of the inspection.
If the Buyer agrees to an inspection and one (1) or more issues are found, list the number of days the Buyer and Seller have to negotiate on a settlement for the issue(s). Then, enter the number (#) of hours that have to pass after the negotiation deadline before the contract terminates.
Step 12 – Appraisal
An appraisal is a requirement if the Buyer will be applying for a mortgage for the property. Check one (1) of the two (2) provided options:
- Check “Shall not” if ft doesn’t matter whether or not the property’s appraisal is equal to or greater than the purchase price as established by Step 5.
- Check “Shall” if it is a contingent that the property’s worth is at least equal to (if not greater) than the established purchase price. And in the event the appraisal value is lower than the purchase price or the appraisal discovers repairs that the property requires, the parties will negotiate the contract. Enter the number (#) of days the parties have to negotiate a new price (or other condition) until the agreement terminates (and the Buyer is refunded their Earnest Money).
Step 13 – Termination
For the “Termination” section, enter the number (#) of days the Seller has to return the Buyer’s Earnest Money deposit (in full) in the event of the contract’s termination.
Step 14 – Dispute Resolution
This section covers what will occur in the event the parties enter into mediation over a dispute over one (1) or more conditions of the contract. If the costs of said mediation will be shared among the Buyer and Seller, check the “Yes” box. If the costs will be solely that of the Buyer, check the “No” box. Regardless of the option chosen, the Buyer(s) should write their initial(s) in the spaces provided.
Step 15 – Governing Law
Enter the state in which the property is located. This will be the state property statutes in which the contract is governed by.
Step 16 – Offer Expiration
Because the Buyer doesn’t want to be stuck in “limbo”, where they are waiting for the Seller’s response indefinitely, they will need to enter the full date (day, month, and year) followed by the time (check AM/PM) in which the agreement will be revoked if a response is not heard from the Seller. If the contract is revoked, the Seller would be required to reimburse the Buyer all deposited Earnest Money.
Step 17 – Disclosures
If the Buyer intends to attach addendum and/or disclosures to the contract, they should check the second (2nd) box and write a description of any attached documents. If there are no attachments, the first (1st) box should be checked.
Step 18 – Additional Terms
If the Buyer has any additional terms, conditions, or contingencies they would like to add, they can do so in the three (3) lines provided.
Step 19 – Signatures
Depending on the number of Buyers and Sellers (and if both parties have agents representing them), not all signature fields may need to be used. However, at minimum, the Buyer will need to write their signature (digitally or by hand), followed by the date in which they’re signing and their printed name. The Buyer’s agent should write the same.
If the Seller chooses to accept the purchase offer, they (and their agent) will write their signatures, dates, and printed names.