Mistakes to Avoid When Signing Residential Real Estate Contracts (Part 1)

by James J. Cummings III on February 13, 2011

You would not believe the common mistakes that I see buyers and sellers make when they sign contracts. Reading this article will help you sidestep some of these mistakes. After you have finally found the real estate you want to make an offer on, you have to make that offer on a form of contract.

Typically you are working with a qualified real estate agent, but not always. The “form” of the contract can make all the difference in the world to your outcome. Do not be tempted to download some form from the internet because this is a complicated matter and subject to local real estate practice, understandings and practice. Practices differ substantially just within a few counties. Make sure that your agent or your attorney uses the most recent forms produced by a collaboration between the Real Estate Board and the local County Bar Association.

You may have a form contract that says, for example, that seller shall provide a survey map and, as closing approaches, you may receive a four year old survey map. The Seller may be complying with the contract, but you may end up having to pay about $350 or more to get an updated survey. If you use the forms I mentioned above, the contract will require the seller to provide a survey dated after the date of the contract, which is what your mortgage lender and title company will want. This is just an example of the many differences you may find in using different forms of contracts.

The MCBA forms include the primary contract form plus addenda for such things as property inspections, well and septic inspections, lead disclosures, sale contingencies (when you have to sell your current home to buy the next one), and other similar important conditions to your offer. These will contain terms and conditions that all the local real estate attorneys know how to interpret and, thus, there will be far fewer problems and disagreements when using them.

The first thing you will need to add to the form of contract is the correct full names of those who will be taking title. Do not use “Jim” when your name is “James” and the names should match your names as they appear on yur driver’s licenses (which you will have to produce at the closing).

Some of this may be obvious, but next you will need the full proper address of the real estate and do not forget, if it includes an extra lot, be sure to include that in the offer. You would be amazed at some of the things that are not accurately included in contracts, which can lead to extremely serious problems.

If the “listing” printout is available, check it over carefully and include in the contract the things that the seller has said is included in the deal (refrigerator, stove, etc). Accrurate descriptions of the very things that you are offering to buy are fundamental to a good contract. Other items to be careful to include would be items the seller has offered to complete (for example, finish exterior painting, opening the pool prior to closing, etc.

Remember that in New York, real estate contracts are subject to the General Obligations Law, which requires all terms of a real estate deal to be in writing. If it is not in the contract, you may be out of luck despite what may have been promised verbally.

We will continue this discussion in “Mistakes – Part 2”

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