Protecting My Buyer Clients Good Faith Deposit

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As I wrote a few days ago, the buyer's deposit is always at risk. This is just a fact of real estate transactions. I could pretend it's not so, but that wouldn't keep the deposit from being at risk - it would just make me a liar. Nonetheless, because it's cash that the buyer had to forego spending that money in order to painstakingly set it aside a few dollars at a time, they understand that the deposit is real money in no uncertain terms, where most don't have that same understanding about a loan that's probably fifty times bigger and just as real. It may be comparatively rare that the buyer's deposit is actually forfeit (As of yet, I haven't lost one), but by recognizing this fact and planning for it, I can protect a client's deposit far more effectively than anyone who pretends otherwise.

The first rule is to be careful writing the offer. I want to make certain that all offers (and counteroffers) consist of something my client qualifies for and that I can make happen. This is one of the best reasons why real estate agents want to know enough that they could do loans, even if they don't. If I wasn't a loan officer, I'd consult a loan officer before writing an offer. Review client qualifications and necessary loan guidelines before the offer is written. If the issues of whether the client can qualify and what needs to happen so they do qualify have already been solved, you start the transaction with the largest part of the road to successful completion already paved.

Related to this is the issue of a client getting cold feet, which is one of the most common ways to lose a deposit. The best way to solve this is by showing them enough properties that they really understand the value offered by this one. Some agents believe in pressure sales and glossing over problems with the property. I believe in meeting these issues head on. The first thing I tell folks at our first meeting is that there is no such thing as a perfect property. They need to decide what they're willing to live with and what they aren't, and how much they're willing to pay for not doing so. It's my job to make certain they understand what the issues are with a given property, and that they'd be happy paying the necessary price to live there. All of an agent's nightmare scenarios start with talking someone into buying a property they don't like, so I'm not going there ever. This also solves the "cold feet" before we make an offer, where someone who doesn't understand these issues is going to be in danger of cold feet at every bump in the road.

The main issue with all of the buyer contingencies is time. You have a certain number of days to deal with those contingencies. When I get them done well before the time limit, the time limit isn't a problem.

For the loan contingency, I want an automated underwriting decision ASAP. Usually, there are reasons not to do this before we've got that fully executed purchase contract, but once we have that contract, there's no reason whatsoever not to do it that day.

I also want to order inspection and appraisal immediately, to meet those contingencies. I've got seventeen days for those. If I've got the appraiser and inspector out there the next day, I should have their report within two to three business days after that. Any subsequent negotiations needed due to those reports, I can start on right away. If the seller isn't going to be reasonable (or reasonable enough), we can find out about it right away and if the buyer decides to walk away based upon these reports or subsequent negotiations, we're in a much better position to argue that they should retain the deposit than if it were twenty-five days into the transaction and now the deposit is in jeopardy regardless of whether the contingencies have been released in writing or not. All parties agreed the contingencies ran for seventeen days in the purchase contract, and if that period is up, there's an argument to be made that the deposit is forfeit. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if it's a good, valid, legal argument, but if the whole issue is moot because we're done on day ten, the argument never gets started.

While this is all going on, I'm getting any final loan stuff together. This includes Preliminary Title Report and Escrow information. That complete loan package should be submitted before I go home on the day I get the appraisal. If it's not done by then, something major is wrong. I can submit loan packages with the appraisal "to follow", but it's better to submit them complete in the first place, even if it does mean I've got to pay for color copies. Every time an underwriter touches a file, they can add conditions. Those conditions can effectively make a loan impossible, and far more loans are approved with impossible conditions than flatly rejected. Also, submitting a loan with minimal information is itself one of the best ways to raise red flags in an underwriter's mind, or would be if raising red flags in the underwriter's mind was a good thing. It isn't. Once red flags get raised, expect them to throw as many roadblocks at you as they can. Better to submit a clean, complete loan package as soon as possible. Doing the extra work right off the bat really does save you a lot of future work.

Even when refinances are running several weeks, purchases are usually no more than two days for underwriting. If you submitted a clean complete file, any prior to documents conditions you do get will minimal and trivial, and the funding conditions should be just the absolutely standard cookie cutter stuff. I don't like getting anything other than the routine funding conditions that happen on every transaction, because it means I have to get those conditions and wait a couple of days for the underwriter to get back to the file. This waste of time is my fault if it happens, but with the best will in the world, it will happen to you a pretty significant percentage of the time. It's not a disgrace, it's just something to avoid if you can get ahead of how underwriters think. You can always mark time if you have to, but you can't get it back once it's gone.

I believe in giving the seller and their agent a reasonable amount of time to hang themselves, but once the loan is submitted, I'm going to be asking about their responsibilities if I haven't gotten evidence they're done yet. Allowing them to hang themselves doesn't mean letting them hang my client. I want to see that termite inspection in particular before the end of seventeen days. The standard contract has the buyer responsible for section 2 work. It's never happened to me, but it's very possible that there's enough section 2 work needed to call the transaction into question. After seventeen days, this becomes more difficult for the buyer.

As soon as possible, I order the closing documents and get them signed. Even if you're not ready and able to close the transaction as a whole, this is a good idea. Something that's already done correctly isn't going to be an issue if my client gets called away on business - particularly out of the country as does happen. Notary work becomes a real issue outside the United States - it must be done at a US Consulate or Embassy. There is no exception for "Buyer had to leave the country" (or even just "go out of town") written into the time frames and contingencies on that purchase contract. I suppose you could ask for one, but it will make most sellers more than a little nervous, for tolerably obvious reasons. Better to know and plan in advance, but life happens. Better not to be bit if it does.

If I can get all the ducks in a row before the contingency period expires, not only does this preserve my buyers rights and give us an advantage in subsequent negotiations, but preserves as much as possible of my client's options to exit the transaction while preserving their right to recover the deposit. If I can close the entire transaction before the end of the contingency period, that makes me very very happy, and not just because I get paid sooner. It means that the issue of my client losing the deposit for walking away never comes up..

By finishing everything before the end of the contingency period, I've also preserved as much as possible of the right of specific performance in case the seller gets cold feet. It happens. Not so much right now, but a few years ago in the crazy seller's market, it happened because sellers thought they could get a higher price. If my buyer client is happy with the state of the contract as it sits, their lawyer can quite likely argue specific performance of the contract, and maybe recover legal costs too. Not my place to say whether or not, as I'm not a lawyer. I only know that lawyers seem to be much happier with agents that keep this information in mind.

If I can't close it before the end of contingency period (and I recently had signed loan documents sitting at escrow for two weeks while we waiting for the sellers to finish termite work), I still want to get together with my clients before the contingency period expires, put the evidence in front of them, and have them make a choice to continue or abort the transaction. Just because the contingencies haven't been released in writing is no reason that a seller's lawyer can't argue that they were released anyway. Much better if the argument never comes up because it's a moot point.

There is nothing I can do that generates an ironclad, foolproof guarantee that my client won't lose their deposit. But doing things the right way, quickly, can certainly make it a lot less likely than pretending that tje deposit isn't at risk. Lawyers and judges are the only ones who can answer the question of whether it has been forfeited, but it the issue is resolved without them getting involved, everybody is going to be happier. Neither party should have signed the purchase offer if they didn't want the transaction to happen on those terms set forth in the contract. Therefore, making it happen quickly, reliably, cleanly, and before the deadlines have passed is the best way to prevent making anyone unhappy.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on June 2, 2008 7:00 AM.

Buying Out A Partner - With Complications was the previous entry in this blog.

Why Is My Rate Higher Than My Lender Promised? is the next entry in this blog.

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