Buyers and Sellers entering into a real estate Agreement of Purchase and Sale are usually at opposite ends of the spectrum on a number of issues the most important of which is money. Obviously the purchase price is the biggest hurtle to agree on, secondary to that, deposits can sometimes be a thorny issue as well.
Contrary to what you may believe, an Agreement of Purchase and Sale is a binding contract even if there is “zero” monies paid as a deposit. A contract is made based on considerations being made. In real estate, the considerations made in an Agreement of Purchase and Sale includes the Seller transferring the title to the property to the Buyer. It may also require the Seller to include specific items ie: the appliances and other things that are specified in the Agreement. Similarly the Buyer agrees to pay the Seller the agreed to purchase price on a specific date etc. All of these items are essentially promises that are being made by both parties in the terms of the contract. What makes the contract binding is not the deposit but the fact that the Agreement is signed “under seal.” As you will note on most real estate forms, signatures are make next to a small black seal and the Agreement is noted as being SIGNED, SEALED and DELIVERED…..
Virtually all Agreements of Purchase and Sale do however include a deposit the mount of which can vary. There is no specified or accepted deposit amount ie: 10% of the purchase price etc. The deposit is a further show of good faith by the Buyer. The amount of the deposit is not only based on price but also the length of the closing date is an important factor as well. If a Buyer purchases a property with a long closing date ie: 6 months with say a $2,000 deposit, there is not much of a deterrent for them to not complete the Agreement if all they have at risk monetarily is $2,000.
Most real estate transactions today have “conditions” that for the most part need to be satisfied by the Buyer. These can include the sale of the Buyer’s current home, securing a mortgage to complete their purchase, obtaining a satisfactory home inspection report and so on. Conditions are typically worded such that if they have not been either satisfied or waived by the Buyer by a set date and time, “…the offer shall become null and void and the deposit shall be returned to the Buyer in full without deduction.” Seldom are deposits “non-refundable” unless specified as such which is rare. Sellers are as a rule not eligible to keep the Buyer’s deposit even when the Seller feels the Buyer has reneged on the terms of the Agreement.
Deposits are for the most part held in the trust account of the real estate Brokerage representing the Seller(s). So what happens with the deposit when an Agreement of Purchase and Sale becomes null and void or should a conflict arise between a Seller(s) and Buyer(s) and the Agreement is not completed?
Real estate Brokerages can release a Buyer’s deposit one of two ways. When an Agreement is aborted, the Seller and Buyer sign a “Mutual Release.” This releases both parties from the contract, the Brokerage holding the deposit refunds it to the Buyer(s) and life come goes. If either the Seller or Buyer refuses to sign a Mutual Release it may be an indication that one of the two parties is going to litigate in an attempt to make the Agreement enforceable. Should that be the case, the only way in which a Brokerage can release a deposit to the Buyer is via a Court Order.
If you are a Seller, you want a sufficient enough of a deposit so as to feel comfortable that the Buyer is committed. A relatively large deposit potentially signifies that the Buyer(s) have the financial ability to complete the transaction. As a Buyer, you naturally may want to cough up as small a deposit as possible as most deposits are held on non-interest bearing trust accounts. This means that if your money is sitting in a real estate Brokerage’s trust account for several months, it is not earning you any interest. As a Buyer, providing a larger deposit shows you are serious and depending on the Seller it may give you more leverage with respect to negotiating the price, closing date and other terms that you want.
I hope you find this information helpful and I encourage your comments.