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Local Customs Prevail

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The State of Alabama requires a certain amount of education before one can sit for the real estate licensing test. One huge part of the licensing education is a discussion of professional liability. The training includes a seemingly constant refrain that the potential agent should always quote sources and encourage consumers to consult an attorney. When I took those courses, I often wondered; if we are steadily telling people to consult an attorney, why do they need an agent?

The answer is a wise one: Let lawyers practice law, and let agents stick to real estate.

As such, I would encourage the reader to consult an attorney on all of the matters below, as I am just a real estate agent. Not a lawyer.

With that disclosure out of the way, I would like to talk about subjects that sometimes cause confusion when buyers and sellers negotiate a real estate contract. In Alabama, the law says that everything is negotiable. There are no standard terms or standard rules.

I will say that, from market to market, we do find that local customs prevail. I find it interesting that even in the same state there are varying degrees of “normal.” Agents from other areas, such as Montgomery, Auburn, Birmingham or even the beach, show property here at Lake Martin, and sometimes, even present offers. When that happens, there is usually a frank discussion between agents to identify the parts of a contract that might be different in each region. Even when both agents are from the lake, a clear understanding of all the contract terms is paramount. I will attempt to touch on a few parts of the sale that might possibly be confusing.

One important part of a real estate transaction is figuring out when the buyer actually takes possession of the real estate purchased. In the case of a lot purchase, it is really no big deal. Usually, the seller has little or no property on site; therefore, there is nothing to move. But what about a home purchase?

In this situation, buyers and sellers can agree to just about anything. Two possibilities are: 1) buyer takes possession at closing, or 2) buyer takes possession, say, two days after closing. I have seen cases where the seller doesn’t move out, but instead rents back from the buyer for a month.

Admittedly, around Lake Martin, closings like that are pretty rare. That is understandable, as most buyers use the properties as vacation homes and are looking forward to vacating as soon as possible. In many a closing, the buyers drive up to the closing attorney’s office in a U-Haul, loaded to the gills and ready to move and hit the water for some fun.

Sometimes, sellers might want to wait and not give possession until after the actual closing. They might think, why should I move all of my stuff out before I am absolutely sure that I will get my money? I can see their logic, but the same could be said by the buyer. Why should I give them my money when they haven’t even started moving out yet?

The point is this: Be sure to read the contract and negotiate based on your preferences; however, I would guess that 95 % of the time, possession is given at closing here at Lake Martin. Maybe this gets back to the high second home rate in the area. Maybe it is because, many times, furniture is involved, and that cuts down the burden of moving.

Speaking of furniture, that’s another area of the contract that sometimes causes confusion. I get a lot of buyers that ask a common question when walking through homes, “Is the furniture included?”

Again, it pays to be really specific. As a buyer, if you can’t imagine finding a kitchen table more perfect for your family, go ahead and write it in the contract. If you are the seller, and you know that no matter what, there is no way you can part with your MeMaw’s antique rocker, it is wise to specify it as excluded in the contract.

Exclusions can work on the buyer side, too. I have had a few buyers say, “they better be sure to get that junk in the yard out of here,” and we have had to write it in as an exclusion.

One last word on furniture and any other personal property: Consult your lender on the wording here. Some underwriters have major objections to seeing anything, even refrigerators, included in the real estate contract. Other loan underwriters don’t mind, as long as you state that they are adding no value to the real estate purchase. Check before you write it up.

Surveys are another example of possible confusion. I have had agents tell me there is a law in the State of Alabama that says all sellers must provide a survey. That is incorrect. In fact, most brokers’ contracts are written in such a way that you have to check a blank to stipulate who will pay for a survey, buyer or seller. Again, consult an attorney to be sure you understand the contract.

Did you clean up after yourself?

If you are a seller in the home transaction, is there a clause in the contract that addresses the cleanliness of the home? If you are the buyer, is this a high priority? If so, make sure you have some language in the contract that covers it. Also, maybe you had better schedule a walk through before closing, so you can make sure the contract was followed. There are many definitions of “clean,” so in my opinion, it is difficult to address this in writing.

When I am advising sellers on this subject, I ask them to go overboard. I have never seen a buyer complain that a house is too clean. The main point here is that nothing is standard. Sellers are not required to dust the first bunny. Put it in writing.

Those are just a few areas of the real estate sale that might cause potential misunderstandings. To find out more, talk to your real estate agent, and yes, consult an attorney.

Note: I originally published this article in my monthly column in Lake Magazine.  I am proud to write about Lake Martin Real Estate for Lake Magazine.

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