Imagine being at the dermatologist’s office to get a mole removed, and she walks in brandishing a machete, rather than a scalpel?! Chances are you may think that even the most skilled technician might end up taking more of you with her than was intended (or necessary) for such a precise operation.
In the real estate game, the same thing happens when the time comes to excise a contingency from a ratified contract. Sellers’ markets beget demanding listing agents who, in return for a hard-fought concession, insist that a specific contingency – or worse, “all contingencies” – be lifted.
Eager to please and keep the deal rolling toward its intended conclusion, the unwitting agent who uses a machete, rather than a laser, to accomplish this task can back into a heap of unintended consequences.
Aside from the obvious inspection and financing contingencies within the FAR/BAR contract forms (each of which contingencies contain their own nuances and variables), agents tend to forget about those other matters upon which the contract is contingent, such as:
- The seller’s obligation to convey marketable title
- Survey-related issues
- Permit close-out
- Flood zone determination and insurability
…and so forth and so on.
Take, for example, the occasion under the regular FAR/BAR repair-limits contract when a seller agrees to address inspection-related matters, and the listing agent requests that in return the buyer “remove the inspection contingency.” A simple addendum saying “Buyer removes the inspection contingency in return for Seller repairing XXX prior to Closing” is defective for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- The contract form provides various specific definitions, including the meaning of “Inspection Period” within the “Property Inspection and Repair” section. There is no definition of “inspection contingency.” Therefore, such a reference is both overly broad, not to mention ambiguous.
- There are three different inspection topics within this section (“General Inspection,” “WDO Inspection,” and “Permit Inspection”), each with its own repair limit, and each dealing with a specific subject matter. A blanket removal of all inspection contingencies would theoretically terminate, for example, the obligation of a seller to correct costly permit or municipal lien violations that may exist or, worse yet, which may not have been revealed because the municipal lien search was not yet in hand when the General Inspection was completed and the repair concession negotiated.
- The walk-through inspection right (and Seller’s obligation to provide access for same) is contained in the same section of the contract. Depending on whether or not the parties are getting along, a blanket removal of “all inspection contingencies” could be viewed by an antagonistic seller as a waiver of the buyer’s final walk-through right and seller’s obligation with respect to same.
Similar care should be taken when assigning obligations to and as between parties. Take the situation where the responsibility for selecting and paying for title services is negotiated back and forth, and all three of the check boxes within the FAR/BAR contract’s Title Evidence and Insurance section end up deleted and replaced with a simple “Seller to pick and pay for title.”
In this case, kudos to the selling Realtor for pulling off a coup (whether or not intended) by moving the lender’s title insurance expense – a buyer cost even when the seller selects and pays for owner’s coverage – to the seller’s side of the balance sheet.
And, shame on the listing agent who wasn’t familiar enough with the standard contract form to realize that this deceptively simple alteration deleted a benefit contained in the pre-printed provision, and instead obligated their client to higher closing costs.
I could go on and on with stories of such unintended consequences where well-meaning agents were led astray by demands for some sort of action and the desire to get something – anything – in writing in order keep a deal moving (just imagine the fallout from the following addendum language, which I have seen used on far too many occasions: “Buyer lifts all contingencies to closing and Buyer’s earnest money deposit is non-refundable”…).
Suffice to say that too great an understanding of the standard contract form set is never a bad thing, and the knowledge of each form’s contents and inner-workings breeds nothing but a better intuition about how to deal with situations where a general request (or demand) can potentially lead to disaster.
As always, we are eager to assist with your contract and closing needs, and every request for assistance with contract formation or drafting is an opportunity for us to educate our agent friends about this essential, but highly technical, aspect of their business. Peak understanding leads to peak performance (not to mention satisfied, long-term clients), and we appreciate every chance we have to help our agents reach for the sky!
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