Appraisal Contingency…A dangerous poison pill

Seller beware. Wisconsin’s Offer to purchase (WB-11) includes an escape clause for the Buyer. The Appraisal contingency on page 5 of 9 of the Offer to purchase allows the Buyer the right to terminate the contract if the appraisal indicates an appraised value for even one dollar ($1.00) less than the purchase price. That’s an easy exit and great risk an informed Seller would probably not accept. Savvy listing agents will catch this poison pill before the owner accepts the Offer.

What, you say buyers are unlikely to terminate an offer for an appraised value slightly less than the purchase price? OK. I agree. However, what else is on the table if the Buyer has a right to terminate the Offer? Oh, I don’t know, how about EVERYTHING? Consider this. The appraisal gets to the buyer 30 days from acceptance of the Offer. We’re probably 15 days from closing. The Seller is not in a strong negotiating position at this late date, and all of the other buyers who’s offers the Seller didn’t accept are gone. An inspired Buyer may choose to ask for more than a price concession. The closing date, included items, repairs, credits, new inspections, testings are open for discussion.

In competition, (Seller’s market)Buyer’s and their Buyer Agents are wise to soften the appraisal contingency if it has to be included. Below is a condition Buyer’s can add to their Offers to make their Offer more palatable to the Seller, and it’s a condition thinking-ahead listing agents will discuss with the Seller before an appraisal contingency Offer is accepted.  (Counter-Offer)

Appraisal Contingency page 5 of 9, lines 264 through 269. In the event said appraisal indicates the appraised value is not equal to or greater than the purchase price, Buyer shall deliver to the Seller the appraisal report and an Amendment to change the purchase price to an amount not less than said appraised value. This amendment shall include no other conditions and allow the Seller at least 24 hours from Seller’s actual receipt of the amendment and appraisal to accept. Acceptance of this amendment satisfies the Appraisal Contingency. The Notice of termination provided for in the Appraisal Contingency shall not be sent to Seller by Buyer prior to the expiration of Seller’s deadline for acceptance of the price change amendment.

IMPORTANT: Seller is not obligated to accept the price change amendment, and may deliver a counter proposal to Buyer. In lieu of the price change amendment, Buyer may give Notice to Seller that the Appraisal Contingency is satisfied.

That’s a lot of words. You might have a better idea, but this is more safe for the Seller and still provides the Buyer with the protection the contingency is intended to provide.  It may be necessary to talk to the other agent to make sure they understand this modification.

Side Note: The current WB11 is old. We were still in the recession in 2011 when the form was introduced. Comparable sales were few and far between. Buyers had a distinct advantage (Buyer Market) and they could shift risk to the Seller. The appraisal contingency was almost non negotiable. When the market shifted to a Seller’s Market, this appraisal contingency, already firmly embedded in the contract and common practice started to work against Buyers. Those who did get their Offers accepted with this contingency found themselves in surprisingly strong negotiating position. We can do better than to end up far down the line, away from the crowd of buyers, and all alone with the Seller, standing between a rock and a hard spot.

Seriously Talking About Drinking Water

It took the Flint, Michigan lead contaminated water crisis to dramatically change the conversation from passive to serious in a hurry. The scientific, educational, and public safety communities will provide the research evidence to keep pressure on state and local governments, and utilities to effectively mitigate lead levels in water. The EPA has established action levels for remediation.

Attention is focused on old and deteriorating lead water lines serving communities . Wisconsin identified 5 counties with high risk lead levels and allocated limited funds to those counties replace public and private lead service lines. The other 67 counties are not lead free. They just aren’t in the top 5 as identified so far. In Dane County, the city of Madison has been sharing the cost of replacing lead service to homes since 2001. (By sharing, the City rebates the homeowner $1000.00 of a typical $3,000 bill.) Mount Horeb was in the news this year. A sample of homes in target areas of the Village showed 16% of the homes with higher than safety standard levels of lead in their drinking water.

Estimates for replacing lead lines put the cost at $3,000 to $5,000 per house. Obviously State and Local governments have a significant price to consider as they  write public policy to comply with EPA 15 Parts Per Billion action level directive.

As real estate licensees in the lead-in-the-water discussion, our place is not to be a referee or judge. We will see differing opinions on risk. We will hear debates of the merits of pipe replacement. Expect to hear no-fear opinions from the municipalities and water utilities. Our role is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement THEY are satisfied with, and their satisfaction of the risk of lead poisoning can not include our opinions of the evidence or the science.

Homes built prior to the 1940’s are the ones most likely to have lead pipes coming into the house from the street. It’s not always easy to see the lead pipe, but inspectors may have clues to look for. A water test for lead won’t show the a lead pipe exists, but it might provide some evidence that the water is relatively safe.

As a plan of action, consider a test by a licensed plumber done in compliance with EPA rules. Homeowners may avoid delays, surprises, and difficult negotiating positions by testing for lead in the water before offering the house for sale. Maybe we will see more home buyers requesting water tests for these older homes. Assisting the parties in knowing the rules of proper testing will always be safe and prudent practice.

 

 

 

 

 

The Contingency is the instruction for what to do if this or that happens

When concerns arise in a transaction the licensees have only to look to the contract to see what the Buyer and Seller have already agreed to do to move forward together or by parting ways.

Contingencies are the agreements between the Buyer and Seller of the steps to take as the parties satisfy their obligations under the contract.  Notices and amendments are the methods of communication between the Buyer and Seller when real estate licensees are involved.  Conversations between licensees on behalf of the buyer and seller are NOT acceptable alternative communications to amendments and notices signed by the Buyer and Seller.

The “Title Not Acceptable for Closing” contingency tells licensees exactly what to do on behalf of the buyer and seller.  Let’s walk through the contingency.

TITLE NOT ACCEPTABLE FOR CLOSING: If title is not acceptable for closing, Buyer shall notify Seller in writing of objection to title by the time set for closing. In such event, Seller shall have a reasonable time, but not exceeding 15 days, to remove the objections, and the time for closing shall be extended as necessary for this purpose. In the event that Seller is unable to remove said objections, Buyer shall have 5 days from receipt of notice thereof, to deliver written notice waiving the objections, and the time for closing shall be extended accordingly. If Buyer does not waive the objections, this Offer shall be null and void. Providing title evidence acceptable for closing does not extinguish Seller’s obligations to give merchantable title to Buyer.

Notice how simple the directions are. 1) Buyer sends a written Notice. (2) Seller either removes the problem condition of the title or sends a written Notice to Buyer. (3) When Buyer receives that Notice from Seller, buyer decides to waive the objection and of course does that with a NOTICE to Seller. (4) If Buyer does not waive the objection prior to the closing, the Offer is Null and void. Certainly in these days between Notices, the parties can negotiate by amendments.

Licensees are prudent to draft notices exactly as the contingencies specify.

An Offer. Just a conversation between two people…

It’s a cool fall evening. The street lights are on. A woman, carrying a tablet knocks on the front door of well cared for house. Her name is Betty, and she’s a Realtor. Betty is accompanied by a man.  A woman, let’s call her Nancy, opens the door.  Nancy is expecting the visitors. Nancy is the owner of the house. She opens the door and the conversation begins.

Betty does the introduction. “This is Roger Smith. Roger would like to buy your house. I’m Betty, and I represent Roger.”  Betty then goes silent.  She sits back and takes notes.

Roger, now sitting across from Nancy, speaks first. “I will pay Three hundred fifty thousand dollars to you for this house. To show I’m serious, I’ll give you Three thousand five hundred dollars.” Roger wants to acquire some of the personal property in the house.  He tells Nancy. “At the price I’m offering to you, I want that  stove and oven, the refrigerator, the dishwasher, your fancy wash machine and dryer, and that hot tub. And, I’d like that big screen TV on the wall in the family room downstairs.”

Nancy is listening to Roger. She doesn’t interrupt him. Betty, the Realtor takes notes and remains  silent.  Roger continues. “I’d like own the house on December 20th this year. Think about it for a couple of days. If you agree,  to get back to me contact Betty.  Here is her email address. And, oh by the way, I do need to borrow some money from Home Loan Bank before I can close. And one more thing, while I think this is a fair price for the house, to make sure  I’m not over paying, I want to have an appraisal. If that checks out we’re good to go. Oh yes, one last thing. I want to have someone inspect this place on my behalf. I’ll get that done after we agree on a price.”  Roger stands up. He says to Nancy, “That’s pretty much it. What do you think?”

Nancy thanks Roger, tells him she will think it over. After sleeping on it, Nancy decides she likes most of what Roger proposed. She would like to make a couple of changes. One is the price. Nancy will sell the house for Three hundred sixty thousand dollars. And, she’d like to own the house through the holidays.  She arranges to meet with Roger to explain her thoughts.

The Offer to purchase is between Roger and Nancy. Betty, the Realtor has a role. It’s an important role which can be done with care, competence, and precision. Betty’s role is to put the conversation in writing, offer some suggestions if necessary, and help assure the rules of real estate engagement are adhered to. The Offer to Purchase is written document of a conversation between a buyer and a seller. Because it’s a conversation between buyer and seller the items the parties discussed and recorded in writing are relevant. All of agreements are relevant…and if they aren’t in writing, they’re arguably not agreements between the buyer and seller.

Buyer Agency

Regardless of hopes, expectations, and myths, buyer agency places the licensee and the buyer on the same side with a shared perspective. Buyer agency is a privileged relationship where the most effective assets a Realtor legally has at her disposal are available for the buyer. Without buyer agency the licensee is unquestionably working as a sub agent for the listing broker with clear obligations to the interests of the seller. There is no gray area in Wisconsin real estate agency law.

In my opinion, there is one reason for working as a buyer agent and this is it: I intend to legally provide all of the services, share all of my insight, and work with the buyer to create appropriately safe terms. And this is important: Some of those terms may be to the advantage of the seller. I believe an informed person, given logical choices, is  comfortable taking on risk commensurate with the reward.

The assumption that buyers are best served by tipping the scales of every point in their favor is dangerous in the real estate market. Price is always important and to some extent it may be second to risk. Given a competitive price, prudent sellers weigh the risks of the contingencies before committing. An attractive number with high risk and low probability of closing might appeal to the gambler, but for the typical home seller who has other plans and commitments to meet, shifting risk to the buyer in exchange for a reasonable price is a more acceptable strategy.  The wise buyer agent knows the areas of a boiler plate contract ideal for softening.   We will find some of those easy to improve areas of offers in the coming weeks of Skill Share Thursday’s at Restaino & Associates. 9:30 to 11:00. Let me know if you want to attend.

You are remarkable.

Dare to go where perspectives are not what they used to be. Seth Godin and Simon Sinek inspire a new generation to go beyond “sales training” and become remarkable people connecting with remarkable people. You are a remarkable person. What the remarks are is up to you.

As proof that the torch has been passed, take a look at Ted  Ideas Worth Spreading.  You will not find one Ted Talk encouraging you to embrace the tired old sales ideas of manipulation by fear of loss, or “handling objections”. Ted is a Milky Way of bright ideas for being authentic, human, considerate, patient, and sincere. Given the choice, and we do have choices, what do you prefer to be remarkable for?