Still More Real Estate
If you're working with a Realtor - whether as seller's or buyer's agent (but not both, I hope) - your purchase and sale agreement will likely consist of filling in the blanks on the agent's standard form. It's not a bad form at all and has been refined many times over the years, but it has the tendency to lull you into thinking that if you complete all the blanks to your liking, you're home free. Home free is a great place to be, but you want to make sure the agreement is leading you there.
What I'm primarily talking about is the section on the form for "Additional Provisions", where there aren't any guidelines at all, but where something else may really need to be added. Examples? OK, let's say you want this home to double as an office - very common these days. Most towns have zoning ordinances that either restrict home occupations or home-based businesses to certain districts, or at least require some form of approval. If it's just you in front of a computer screen, no one would likely know or care, but you might need to be sure your electronics would have good service there. Plus, maybe you need regular deliveries, or to hang out a sign, or have customers or clients come see you. In that case, there may be off-street parking requirements or limits on the kind of flashing billboard you can erect. Before you get locked into a purchase that doesn't take any of that into account, you'd want to add a provision that gives you time to check out the requirements and get any necessary approvals. Oh, and if you don't get approved, you might want the right to get your deposit back and have a chance to move on to a happier home.
Not your scenario, you say? How about this one. Your business career has thrived and now you want that stress-free second home on the lake. And you've always wanted that nice ski boat, a little fishing skiff, a sailfish, maybe a canoe and a couple of kayaks, even a SUP (ask your kids). The place that's perfect has a seasonal dock, but you want something larger that you don't have to pull in every fall. That usually requires State approval and can be hard to come by. You'd want your agreement conditioned on getting the necessary go-ahead, and you might want to sail off to another lake if you can't make it happen. If it's not there in black and white, the seller won't want to give back your deposit.
Other conditions that might be critical to the deal could be getting approval to add on for your mother-in-law, getting a neighbor to let you cut some trees for a view, or confirming that the town will plow the road in the winter if you plan to convert that rustic cottage into a year-round home. You can probably think of a lot of others that might be significant for you. The key here is not just to think about them, but to make sure they're in there with the financing and inspection terms. If they're left out, it won't matter how important those issues are to you; the seller will say, thank you very much for that deposit, and sell the property to someone else.
One final comment - and this is important whether you're in the real estate market or not. Most [non-real estate] contracts are legal and enforceable even if not in writing. The problem is proving an oral contract that's just floating out there in the breeze. Your rule of thumb should be this: if it's something that would hurt to swallow - financially or otherwise - then put it in writing. People don't do it because they don't want to insult their family members, friends or neighbors by making it seem like they don't trust them. That's not it, but people's memories and understandings differ and morph, particularly as more time goes by. And the written thing doesn't have to be full of "whereas" and "now, therefore"; it just needs to clearly say what's important. If it does, you may not be home free, but you'll be on the road there.
Posted on 08/09/2013