Is This Really a Price Escalation Offer? Probably not.

Buyer: “Mrs. Seller. You are asking $300,000 for your house. Here is my offer for $300,000.  If you get another offer by 7:00 PM tonight for $300,000 or more, my offer will then be $1,000 more than that other offer, up to $351,000.”   The first price escalation offer may have started just like this. A capable, committed, fearless buyer promising to pay more than any other offer the owner has in hand,  up to a specific amount. That’s a true escalation offer. It’s free of stipulations. No if, and, or but. This buyer is appealing.

The Price Escalation clause common in our market is remarkably diluted of fearless commitments from the buyer with weak if, and, and buts.  If we take the written watered down clause and put it in a conversation it looks like this:

Buyer: “Mrs. Seller. You’re asking $300,000. My offer is $300,000. If you have another offer in hand for $300,000 or more, I’ll increase my offer by $1,000 up to $351,000. BUT you have to show me the other offer as proof. AND I get to scrutinize it to see if that offer has credits, concessions, or seller costs which mine doesn’t have. If after I compare to make  sure we are apples to apples, and I’m satisfied, I will sign an amendment to change the purchase price. Oh, by the way; if the appraisal doesn’t support the price, I can rescind my offer. We’ll see the appraisal in oh, 30 or 35 days from now. About 5 days before closing. ” 

Every real estate licensee and attorney  sees the caveat filled contingency is trouble waiting to happen.  The buyer who needs this kind of protection is not the price escalation buyer you want. This buyer is hopeful that you will be so enthralled by the big number that you will overlook the conditions. The game is on and it’s a gambler’s game. You and the buyer are taking a chance that the appraisal will or will not support the Offer price. A low appraisal is a big win for the buyer. You’re 4 weeks closer to closing and your other buyers are gone as is your leverage.  So, before you accept an offer with a diluted escalation clause you gotta ask yourself: “Do you feel lucky?”

A skilled real estate licensee will know how to modify the Offer to protect you when this contingency shows up in your offer. It’s great to have a strong, committed buyer interested in your property. The buyer capable of a true escalation commitment won’t be afraid. You’ll know her when you see her offer.

Did an Attorney Draft that Offer? Even a first year agent can draft impressive contracts.

A Realtor in his first 12 months of business submitted an offer yesterday and got this response from the listing agent. ” Did her attorney draft this Offer?”  Agent replied, “Nope. Just me.”  Listing agent: “Are you a lawyer?” Agent: “Nope”.

I always ask new licensees to tell me what they fear most about starting their careers. It’s common to hear that what wakes them up at 3 AM with worries is making mistakes, disappointing someone, or just plain looking like they don’t know what they’re doing.  There is a solution to that worry and fear. It’s learning. More than two years ago we started weekly Skill Share sessions designed to raise our knowledge of contracts.  We believe the best way to be relevant in the real estate transaction is to know how to make the contracts work for our clients and to do that we had to know what is and isn’t in the contracts. We had to learn to take addenda from other firms and lawyers apart to discover the hidden trips, and traps. We’ve done that, and more.

Today, our experienced agents and our relatively new agents who make the commitment to attend, participate, learn, and share have insight well beyond the understanding of even the most experienced agents. (Don’t be so sure that experience equals competence. Time is not the difference maker, learning is.)

Imagine being well prepared to fix a bad contingency and prepared to draft terms that work for everyone. You can do it in your first year. Just make the commitment to learn. We’ll give you the insight. That’s our unfair advantage. We care that you’re prepared.

Is an Email a Notice?

Hypothetical Situation:  The terms of the contract include this statement: “Within 24 hours of receipt of the report, Buyer shall deliver a copy of the report and a notice to Seller stating the defects the Buyer objects to, or this contingency shall be considered satisfied.”

At 3:00 PM on October 21st, the buyer receives “the report”.  At 9:00 AM on the 22nd,  the Buyer agent attaches the report to an email and sends to the Listing Agent. The email reads in part:  “The buyer is concerned about the condition of the furnace. They would like ask Seller to have an HVAC contractor service the furnace.”

It is now 4:00  PM on October 22nd.  The Listing Agent informs the Buyer Agent that the Seller considers the contingency satisfied because the 24 hours has lapsed without the Buyer delivering a Notice of Defects per the terms of the Offer.   The Buyer agent believes his email was sufficient to be the notice called for in the Offer.

Is the email a Notice? Maybe. Determining if the buyer delivered notice timely is a question for the courts.  Deciding which forms to use is the responsibility of the licensee. Whether or not an email, text, or phone call is sufficient the licensee could first  determine if an approved form is available. (Wis Stat 452.40(2) and REEB 16 explain our obligation to use approved forms). In this case, a  Notice is available. The term notice is used in the Offer, the agent drafting the Offer is a licensee, and the parties could reasonably expect the licensees to use proper forms. It’s probably reasonable that the listing agent and the seller considered the email a “heads up” that a Notice was coming.  The Notice did not arrive and the agent and Seller concluded the buyer had a change of mind and opted to let the contingency be satisfied.

Could an attorney consider an email from him or her a sufficient notice. Probably. The attorney does not share our obligation to use available forms.

If the reason for sending an email, text, or leaving a voice message has anything to do with saving time, or for convenience, the question of whether or not a Notice is required is probably answered. Yes.

Current Assessment X Current Mill Rate is only one of the choices for property tax prorating

The Offer to purchase provides 5 choices for the buyer and seller to select from to agree on how to prorate the property tax bill for the current year. Except for closings at the end of December, the actual amount the city is collecting from the owner will be unknown at the time of closing.

Each choice on under Closing Prorations is a simple word problem. One or more of the choices may provide a fair and simple way for the buyer and seller to split the bill. In certain situations, one or more of the options may provide a windfall to one party, or may leave the new owner significantly under compensated.  To know which options may be acceptable to both parties, we can plug the known numbers into the formulas.

A: Net General Real Estate Taxes for the Preceding year (or the current year if known):  Assume the current year bill is unknown. The previous year tax bill may be close to the current year bill. Tax bills tend to increase each year, but the increase when divided over the year is probably minor enough that no one cares.

B: Current assessment time current mill rate: This is a bad choice when the community is in reassessment or the property being sold is new construction.  A reassessment will result in property values increasing close to market value. In the fall to keep tax bills from going through the roof, the mill rate will be adjusted down. Close when you know the new assessment but not the current year mill rate and the seller will leave a large chunk of money with the buyer. New construction built in one year and closed  in the following late winter or early spring before the new assessment is known will leave the buyer with a very small credit compared to the actual amount owed for the days of the year prior to closing.

C: Sale price, multiplied by the muni area wide percent of FMV multiplied by current mill rate.  This one is unusually complicated when compared to the next choice.

D: __________________ Create your own method. I think this is safe. Based on the facts of each transaction, the parties may estimate a tax bill. If bill was $10,000 last year, assume the next bill will be $10,100 or $10,300 or some amount. You will most likely be close because tax bills rarely go down. If it’s new construction, you could multiply the sales price by the known mill rate or if the closing happens in the same year that (a) the lot was vacant on Jan 1, and (b) the construction began after Jan 1 and was completed and closed prior to December 31 of the same year, the value of the lot times the mill rate will give you a number that’s close.

E: Buyer and seller agree to reproprate after closing.  Sounds like a great way to be exact, provided the new owner can collect from the seller, or the seller can collect from the new owner if money is owed.   I don’t want to suggest this option and I don’t want to be asked to intercede at Christmas when one party fails to pay up.

When the Notice or Amendment appears unfavorable, why do we call the other agent?

Working through inspection related contingencies is when the most agent to agent calls (by calls I mean text, email, and phone calls) are initiated.  Why is a call made so quickly in response to Notices and Amendments?  I believe it’s an unnecessary practice.  Here’s why:

The Offer to Purchase is an agreement between the Buyer and Seller. Sufficiently written contingencies (and every licensee believes they wrote sufficient contingencies) include the steps the parties will take when this or that happens. The contingencies define key terms. The parties agreed to these steps and terms. When one party follows those terms by sending a Notice or Amendment, or doesn’t follow those terms, by sending the wrong form or no form, the receiving party has a predetermined course of action. Nothing in the contract or license law states a licensee must, or should, make a call to object, question, debate, or educate the sender.  The approved and understood options include the recipient party responding by Notice, Amendment, acceptance, or silence. Of the  approved forms for licensees, email, text, and phone calls are not mentioned for good reason.

Lawyers may have permission to speak on behalf of their clients. They may have the protection to make representations. Licensees do not have the legal authority of an attorney. A good way to lose the authority we still have to complete forms is to fail to complete forms. Let’s think about this.

A call (text, phone, email, fax) is documentation of a message from one licensee to another. The commitment to the statements is arguably attached to the sender and whomever responds.  There is no commitment to the statements from the principals. A Notice, Amendment, Counter Offer on the other hand, is signed by the principals confirming the words are their words; the promise is their promise; the responsibility is their responsibility.   Documentation is clear when appropriate forms are signed.

If the intent of a call in lieu of a proper form is to speed the process or challenge the other agent, the intent is reason enough that the form is a better choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do We Want to Accomplish?

 

Seth Godin’s Blog

“Will the seller take a cash offer with no contingencies?”

Offers to Purchase are handshakes. You own this property, and I want to own it. I’ll give you $X and you give me the Deed on this date. The details could be left out if no one ever had a reservation. The details are the exit doors. Our job is to attempt to make clear what everyone intends and expects.

Dishonorable people intent on not keeping a promise will not be impeded by language of a contract.  Seth Godin notes that our future depends on good agreements with good people. What do we want to accomplish? We want to work with good people. The good contracts keep us in business so the good people can benefit from our good work.

Inspection Contingency: Two ambiguous deficiencies you want to avoid

Wisconsin Residential Offer to Purchase page 9 of 9, Inspection Contingency

Deficiency number 1. NOT TESTING.  Line 410 reads: “This contingency only authorizes inspection, not testing…”. To add clarity, lines 395-409 have the definition of the terms inspect and test.  You can inspect, but you shall not test.   It’s agreed, testing can not be done without a specific contingency and the inspection contingency is specifically not for testing.  Or, is it? At least one firm in Madison has an addendum with an additional contingency altering the inspection contingency to apparently permit testing.

“Addition to Home Inspection Contingency: It is understood that if the buyers’ home inspector recommends that additional inspections/test be completed, Seller agrees to that portion of the inspection being extended for ____days…”.  I put the problematic words in bold.  If I’m interpreting this correctly, if a home inspector recommends a radon, mold, lead paint, water, or air quality test be done, the contingency is extended.  I don’t know if the parties are agreeing to permit the test, or just extend the contingency satisfaction deadline.

Practice Tip:  Do not include any reference to testing under the Inspection Contingency. Use a specific testing contingency with stated acceptable levels.

Deficiency number 2, NOT ENTIRE PREMISES. line 412 to 413: “This Offer is further contingent upon a qualified independent inspector or independent qualified third party performing an inspection of________________________________________________________________________(list any Property component(s) to be separately inspect, e.g., swimming pool, roof, foundation, chimney, etc.)…”. Even with the hint telling us to insert components of the property, some licensees are writing “Entire Premises”.  The consequence of the words “entire premises” in the blank where specific components are to be written may be this:  A qualified independent inspector or independent qualified third party may do the inspection of the property instead of a “Wisconsin registered home inspector” as was first stated on lines 410-411.

When a component (fireplace, roof, foundation…) is inserted in the blank line as intended, the contingency is not ambiguous, and we have an agreement by the parties to allow a buyer to have a Wisconsin registered home inspector inspect the entire property, and a qualified third party or other inspector inspect the component stated, such as “the fireplace, the roof, the swimming pool, the shed, etc.”.

Practice Tip:  When in doubt about what might be written in the blank lines, first look to see if the creators of the form offered any hints or suggestions immediately after the blank lines. I can think of two places where they’ve done so in the Offer. If there is no suggestion, and you feel it necessary to insert something, make sure the words you choose complete a sentence and do not contradict the intent of the contingency.