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When you formally make an offer on a home you want to buy, you'll fill out a lot of paperwork specifying the terms of your offer. Aside from the obvious things like the address and purchase price of the property on which you're making an offer, here are some items you should be sure to include in your real estate purchase contract.

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  1. Finance Terms
    If you are like most people and you won't be able to buy the home without obtaining a mortgage, your purchase offer should state that your offer is contingent upon obtaining financing at a specified interest rate. If you know you can't afford the monthly payment on the house if the interest rate is higher than 6%, don't put 6.5% in your offer. If you do that and you are only able to obtain financing at 6.5%, the seller will get to keep your earnest money deposit when you have to back out of the offer.

    If you need to obtain a certain type of loan in order to complete the deal, such as an FHA or VA loan, you should also specify this in your contract. If you are paying all cash for the property, you should state this as well because it makes your offer more attractive to sellers. Why? If you don't have to get a mortgage, the deal is more likely to go through and closing is more likely to happen on time. (Learn more in 6 Ways To Come Up With A Down Payment On A Home.)

  2. Seller Assist
    If you want the seller to pay part or all of your closing costs, you must ask for it in your offer. The offer should state the amount of closing costs you are requesting as a dollar amount (e.g., $6,000) or as a percentage of the home's purchase price (e.g., 3%).
  3. Who Pays Specific Closing Costs
    The agreement should specify whether the buyer or seller will pay for each of the common fees associated with the home purchase, such as escrow fees, title search fees, title insurance, notary fees, recording fees, transfer tax and so on. Your real estate agent can advise you as to whether it is the buyer or seller who customarily pays each of these fees in your area.
  4. Home Inspection
    Unless you are buying a tear-down, you should include a home inspection contingency in your offer. This clause allows you to walk away from the deal if a home inspection reveals significant and/or expensive-to-repair flaws in the structure's condition. For example, if the home inspection reveals that the home needs a new roof at a cost of $15,000, the home inspection contingency would give you the option to walk away from the deal.
  5. Fixtures and Appliances
    If you want the refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, oven, washing machine or any other fixtures and appliances, do not rely on a verbal agreement with the seller and do not assume anything. Specify in the contract any fixtures and appliances that are to be included in the purchase.
  6. Closing Date
    How much time do you need to complete the purchase transaction? Common time frames are 30 days, 45 days and 60 days. Issues that can affect this time frame might include the seller's need to find a new home, the remaining term on your lease if you are currently renting, the amount of time you have to relocate if you are moving from a job, and so on. Occasionally, the buyer or seller might want a closing as short as two weeks, but it's difficult to remove all the contingencies and obtain all the necessary paperwork and funding in such a short time period. (Learn more in 10 Hurdles To Closing On A New Home.)
  7. Sale of Existing Home
    If you are an existing homeowner and you will need the funds from the sale of that home to buy the home you are making an offer on, you should make your purchase offer contingent upon the sale of your current home. You should also provide a reasonable time frame for you to sell your home, such as 30 or 60 days. The seller of the property you're interested in is not going to want to take his property off the market indefinitely while you search for a buyer.

    There are many other things that go into a thorough real estate contract, but for the most part, you shouldn't have to worry about them. Real estate agents will commonly use standardized, fill-in-the-blank forms that cover all the bases, including the ones described in this article.

    In California, for example, a common form is the California Residential Purchase Agreement and Joint Escrow Instructions document produced by the California Association of Realtors. If you want to familiarize yourself with the details of the purchase agreement form you're likely to use before you write your offer, ask your real estate agent for a sample agreement, or search online for the standard form that is common in your state or locality. (If you are looking for a good deal and have time to wait, a short-sale house may be for you. To learn more, read Purchasing A Short-Sale Property.)

The Bottom Line
Even though these forms are common and standardized and a good real estate agent would not let you leave anything important out of your contract, it is still a good idea to educate yourself about the key components of a real estate purchase agreement.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Billionaire Pledges and Other Positive Press.

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