What does it mean to be “out of contract” in a home sale?

Is your indecision putting you out of contract? Worried looking woman with laptop computer.Every region of the country has some unique real estate vocabulary and phrases.  Here, in Silicon Valley, when we say “you’re out of contract“, it’s another way of saying “you are not doing what you promised to do in the purchase agreement that you signed” (meaning the real estate contract).  In other words, there is a seller or buyer default happening.

“Out of contract” is not a legal term. I remember hearing a local real estate educator say “there’s no such thing”. It’s not an official status. But it is a way of describing behavior that’s not in alignment with the contract’s express promises.

Contractual “Save the Dates”

Both sellers and buyers make promises to do certain things and most of these promises are tied to time frames or dates.  Here are a few of these time-sensitive promises or contractual obligations:

  • sellers agree to leave the utilities on until close of escrow
  • sellers promise to maintain the home until close of escrow as it was on the day the property went into contract (so mow the lawn, water it etc.)
  • buyers assert that they will get their initial deposit to title within a set number of days (the California Association of Realtor’s form states 3 business days or provides a blank to fill in an alternate number – it’s often 1 business day here)
  • buyers promise to remove contingencies within the times they stipulated in the offer
  • sellers will move out in according to the date set out in the contract
  • indecision over material facts or between buyers may make it hard to decide whether or not to remove any contingencies
  • buyers agree to take possession (move in) per the time/day agreed to in the purchase agreement (not before)
  • sellers bind themselves to having repairs done in a certain manner (depends on contract and clauses, if promised)

At one time or another, I have seen all of these items not adhered to by the parties who were supposed to make good on their word, and stranger violations that I don’t want to write about here lest I give someone a bad idea. I have seen sellers not move out on time (in some cases, elderly sellers who grossly misjudged the effort required to vacate.)  The failure to do so causes stress and anxiety, and sometimes worse: fear and anger.

Out of Contract: Why the Delay?

Sometimes, when either party is consumed with worry, a kind of emotional paralysis can set in. Luckily that is rare, but I have seen it. Buying and selling a home is extremely stressful, and once in awhile it coincides with other things: the death of a family member, a diagnosis of cancer, a divorce, a relocation that one party doesn’t want. So many things can happen at the same time. You may have heard the saying that “a confused mind says no”. With real estate, the confused mind doesn’t write or accept an offer, or doesn’t move forward as planned.

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