So you have found the great city condo or suburban spread, and now you want to buy it. That is great, especially in a down market, when prices can be fantastic and a lot of people are eager to sell. When writing your offer though, don't be quick to have your realtor do everything for you. You must know and understand that the realtor has no idea what most of the contractual provisions mean, and they certainly won't be around to assist you in a dispute after the closing. As such, if you hand over the offer documents to the realtor or broker to fill out for you, without understanding yourself what they mean, then you may get stuck in a transaction that leaves room for improvement.
Here are some tips for making your real estate offer shine (in no particular order):
If you are selling and willing to include your stereo speakers or those fabulous curtains you bought, then be sure to include them. It saves time and the contract is an excellent "go to" document when something isn't understood. Put it ALL in there! You can leave out, however, manuals for the refrigerator or furnace (as in, if someone wants them, they will ask themselves or through counsel), instructions for heating and cooling systems unless there is something special about them, and typical home mechanical systems. Most of this stuff is standard and you don't have to include it in the contract.
If you are the buyer, then you always want to ask that any taxes be prorated at 110% of the most recent bill, so that you get the most coverage from your seller if taxes are paid in arrears (i.e. we pay now for what happened last year). Also, buyers can ask for re-proration agreements and escrow money to be held. It's hard to get sellers to agree to this, but it never hurts to ask. Your attorney can explain more. Conversely, if you are the seller, then the contract should be listed at 100% or 105% prorations, but not more. Sellers spend a lot to sell real estate, so they should hold onto their pennies wherever possible.
Listen Buyers, we know that if a toilet is loose, it DOES NOT cost $1000 credit to repair it. Please be fair about your credit requests. When making an offer on real estate based upon your visual inspection, it's understood that there may be some inspection items. But most typically, the Property is being sold as-is. You should be looking under sinks and in basements when you first look at the Property. While no one expects that Buyers would forgo a licensed inspector, all too often credit requests at closing are way overstated. Sellers beware of high closing cost credit requests, and ask for estimates to prove the value of the credit. Each side needs to be honest about the deal, and that includes inspections.
Remember Buyers, the purpose of the mortgage contingency is to protect you if you can't get the loan. Your seller knows this. However, the mortgage contingency is designed to be waived at a certain time, if say, you have been approved and your loan is on track. You can't expect your seller to leave his/her property off the market for months, all while you have your hand held by your lender, promising you that the loan will clear. At some point well before closing, you need to allow the contingency to be waived and to trust that your mortgage broker is doing his/her job. All too often I see buyers trying to extend the contingency until closing. This is improper. If you can't get your loan, then you shouldn't be signing contracts. Bottom line? Your contingency should be 30-45 days. If a mortgage broker can't get a deal done in that time-frame, then he can't do it at all. Real Estate contracts should not include contingencies that are longer than this unless there is a good reason. New construction aside, long contingencies hurt the seller and should be avoided where possible for the seller.
If the property is being sold "as is" then that means that you don't need to bother to complain to anyone when the property is not to your liking. All AS-IS transactions should come along with a fairly detailed inspection, so that you can understand what you are buying. The contract language should be very clear that the parties will not be discussing credits, inspection items or repairs on AS-IS transactions.
Be sure that you are aware of whether your jurisdiction requires certain disclosures. If your realtor does not give you all the forms, you can check with your local government entities or real estate associations to make sure of what you need. You want to avoid exposure by failing to make disclosures and mistakes can happen if realtors don't provide the right documents. Be sure. Be complete.
In states where people close at a title company, typically the seller's lawyer picks the title company. That is standard. If the parties decide to close elsewhere, that is great - but be sure to understand that your local area has a custom and whatever that may be, it's typical for your area and is not likely to be changed.
Although many states don't require or advocate the use of real estate lawyers for real estate transactions, and often suggest that title company personnel can help at closing - don't buy this! Title company agents and realtors are NOT attorneys. They are not trained in the law, they don't study the law, and they probably don't know the law. Don't be stuck in a transaction without understanding the documents, the meaning and the liabilities. Use an attorney every time. It can save you thousands.
In sum, when real estate contracts are put together, it's recommended that each side be familiar with the documents, the words and the implications. To avoid a "blind leading the blind" scenario, you can always obtain consultations with attorneys or develop a relationship with a local attorney to help you. Contracts can be changed by the lawyers later, in most instances, but it saves time and money to do it right the first time. Be smart, and prepared and diligent, and you will always be better off!