04 May 2009

Buyers: Be Prepared When Making a Contract Offer_PART III

Terms of the Contract Offer
 What is the required amount of a binder deposit? There is no law as to a required amount, but local real estate practices may determine what is acceptable. Common sense should prevail in determining the amount of the Binder deposit however. Writing a check for $100.00 shows good faith, but what kind of statement is that making to the owner when the contract offer is presented to them?

Would a more substantial initial deposit, say $1,000.00, make a stronger statement? How about $5,000 as an initial deposit, or even more? Wouldn’t a larger initial deposit check make a stronger impression with a seller in making a decision to accept a contract offer or in contract negotiations?

The Binder is generally not deposited by the Real Estate Broker until there is offer and acceptance, a signed contract of sale. However, there are State Real Estate Licensing Laws which regulate how long a Real Estate Broker can hold a deposit check without depositing it into the Company’s Trust Account. In cases where contract negotiations are prolonged, perhaps beyond five business days, most Real Estate Brokers will either deposit the check into their Trust Account during contract negotiations, or ask the buyer to write a new check as contract negotiations continue.

If the contract offer is not accepted, the Binder is returned to the buyer. If the contract is accepted and signed by the owner, the Binder will be deposited in the Broker’s Trust Account and will be applied to the buyer’s down payment and the purchase price.

Earnest Money Deposit

Commonly referred to as the second deposit, this is the additional upfront deposit made in the purchase of real estate and is also part of the buyer’s total down payment. The earnest money deposit could be 10% of the purchase price depending on the real estate market the home is being purchased in, the price range or the total amount of the down payment being used by the buyer, whether the home is in Iselin, New Jersey, Colonia or Edison, in Middlesex County or in any other state.

It is quite common in many real estate markets that homes are purchased where the total down payment is less than 10% of the purchase price. In these type real estate transactions, the earnest money deposit will generally be some portion of the total down payment, or perhaps the entire amount of the down payment in a transaction where the buyer has a total down total payment of 3.5 % to purchase a home. The amount of earnest money deposit is something that may eventually be determined during contract negotiations.

The earnest money deposit is generally paid within a certain time frame or after completion of Attorney Review. It is generally paid to the Selling Broker, unless local real estate practices provide otherwise, or there is a change made to the contract of sale during the Attorney Review process where the Seller’s Attorney requests to hold all deposit monies in their Trust Account.

There are times when a contract of sale is terminated after Attorney Review, such as home inspection problems, mortgage denial and others. In those situations where a contract to purchase is cancelled in accordance with the terms of the contract, all deposit monies previously paid by the buyer are refunded.

Many buyers, and buyer agents, under estimate the importance of these two aspects of contract preparation, and the benefits they can provide in contract negotiation.

The Initial Deposit and Earnest Deposit can be the difference in whether a contract offer gets accepted and signed by the seller, especially in multi-contract presentations.

Mortgage Considerations

A contract to purchase real estate will include a mortgage contingency clause which provides a time period for the buyer to apply for a mortgage of a specific amount and obtain mortgage approval in order to complete the purchase of a home. This is commonly referred to as the “mortgage contingency clause” in real estate contracts. The time frame for mortgage approval varies from buyer to buyer, and is determined by the type of mortgage being obtained (Conventional, FHA, and VA) and how complete the mortgage pre-approval process was. A buyer’s Real Estate Agent or Mortgage Representative can help in providing more information about the time frame required in processing the formal mortgage application and obtaining the written mortgage loan commitment.

It is recommended that a buyer reviews their Mortgage Pre-Approval when submitting a contract offer, and provide a copy to their Buyer’s Agent. Review is necessary in order to verify that the mortgage amount in the contract offer is the amount in the Mortgage Pre-Approval, or less.

All too often buyers begin their home search in one price range and later find that they need to increase their price range, and increase the mortgage amount, to find a home they like. Obtaining an updated and revised Mortgage Pre-Approval to reflect the mortgage amount in the contract offer is highly recommended.

Mortgage Interest Rates and Mortgage Rate Lock-Ins

Another important consideration is mortgage interest rates. Mortgage interest rates may fluctuate from day to day and mortgage rate lock-in may vary from one mortgage lender to another. Buyers should obtain a current interest rate quote when making a contract offer as the current mortgage interest rate may be different from the quoted interest rate when the Mortgage Pre-Approval was issued.

The interest rate affects mortgage payments, mortgage qualifying and price range.

Closing Date

A closing date is included in the contract offer. This date may be important to the seller in contract negotiations as it relates to their time frame in moving. It is also a consideration for the buyer with regard to their time frame in moving and perhaps with a mortgage interest rate lock in.

Mortgage lenders have various interest rate lock-in policies. Consult with the Mortgage Representative to obtain more information on interest rate lock-in policies and length of interest rate lock in period.

A contract offer to purchase real estate includes sales price, mortgage to be obtained and down payment.

Down Payment

The buyer’s down payment is somewhat fixed. It is generally the amount of money a buyer has saved, or has available, for the purchase of a home. However, there are minimum down payment requirements depending on the type of mortgage to be obtained.

When applying for a mortgage loan, the lender does verify the buyer’s assets. Commonly referred to as deposit verification, this occurs during the mortgage application process to insure that the buyer has the funds for the down payment as well as additional monies for closing cost expenses.

In making a contract offer, it is highly recommended that a buyer be aware of the various costs involved with the purchase of a home and obtain a reliable estimate of closing costs either from their Buyer’s Agent, Mortgage Lender or Attorney. Some of the costs related to closing title are directly related to the home being purchased, others are fees paid for services provided and then there are the costs related to obtaining the mortgage.

It is quite common for buyers to get assistance for the down payment, or closing costs, from family members. The mortgage lender will require a “gift letter” from the donor, and will also verify that these monies are available. While it is great that a family member says they will help in the home purchase, it is very important that a buyer in this situation obtains a commitment for an exact amount they will be given and explains the verification process in advance to the donor in order to avoid any complications later. A mortgage lender can provide specific details.

There are times when gift money is provided in advance of the home purchase and mortgage application. It is important that the buyer creates a paper trail with a copy of the check received, and the deposit slip depositing the money in their bank account. During the mortgage application process, the lender will ask for an explanation on any recent large deposits.

Mortgage Payment

The mortgage amount, and monthly mortgage payment, is determined by the buyer’s income qualifications. There are buyers who choose to maximize the amount of the mortgage as it relates to income qualifications, while there are other buyers who choose to mortgage less than their income warrants in order keep the monthly mortgage payment at a more affordable amount. That is all about personal choice.

When applying for a mortgage loan, the lender does verify the buyer’s income, requires copies of current pay stubs and prior income tax returns. Commonly referred to as income verification, this occurs during the mortgage application process to insure that the buyer has sufficient income to qualify for the mortgage loan requested.

A monthly mortgage payment includes principal, interest, real estate taxes and home insurance, commonly referred to as PITI, and is what is estimated in the pre-qualification process. During the mortgage pre-approval process, mortgage lenders calculate mortgage qualifications based on the current mortgage interest rate, estimated real estate taxes and estimated homeowners insurance. However, mortgage pre-approval for a specific mortgage amount is only an estimate.

There are situations where the pre-approved mortgage amount and price range is beyond affordability for a buyer. This can occur if the mortgage interest rate increases during the home searching process, or during the mortgage application process and the interest rate was not locked in. Likewise, if the home to be purchased has higher real estate taxes than what was estimated in the pre-approval process, the monthly mortgage payment will be higher and may be beyond affordability.

It is highly recommended that a buyer knows what the monthly mortgage payment will be based on their contract offer and match that payment to their mortgage pre-approval.

It is not purchase price which determines affordability, it is the monthly mortgage payment!


Initial Deposit

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