Loading the player...

What is 'Earnest Money'

Earnest money is a deposit made to a seller indicating the buyer's good faith in an arrangement. Often used in real estate transactions, earnest money allows the buyer additional time when seeking financing. Earnest money is typically held jointly by the seller and buyer in a trust or escrow account.

Earnest money is also known as a good faith money.

BREAKING DOWN 'Earnest Money'

When a buyer decides to purchase a home from a seller, both parties enter into a contract stipulating the final sale price of the house and the down payment. The contract does not obligate the buyer to purchase the home, because reports from the home appraisal and inspection may later reveal problems with the house. The contract does, however, ensure that the seller takes the house off the market while the house is inspected and appraised. To prove to the seller that the buyer’s offer to purchase a property is earnest or in good faith, the buyer will be required to make an earnest payment as a deposit.

Earnest Money and Contracts

The earnest money paid is put toward the buyer's down payment when the transaction is finalized. The transaction is usually finalized after inspections are done and the buyer secures a mortgage with the bank. If the deal falls through, the buyer may or may not be able to reclaim his or her earnest money, depending on how the contract is phrased. If the contract stipulates that the buyer must have appraised the home by a certain deadline, and this does not happen within the specified time frame, the buyer will probably not be refunded his earnest money. If the buyer decides not to go through with the house purchase for contingencies not listed in the contract agreement, he is most likely to lose the earnest money deposited. The earnest money is retained by the seller to protect the seller from any monetary damages incurred from the broken contract and to keep the resolution of damages out of court. The buyer is likely to get his full earnest deposit back if a failed contingency, such as poor results from an inspection, ensues. Also, if the seller terminates the deal, the earnest money will be returned to the buyer.

Characteristics of Earnest Money Payments

The amount of earnest money to be paid varies from city to city and is to be paid within 1 to 3 days after the seller accepts the buyer’s offer. In Seattle, for example, the earnest money deposit lies in the range of 1% to 3% of the sale price of the property. This means that a property selling for $400,000 will require an earnest deposit between $4,000 and $12,000, as negotiated between the buyer and seller. In addition to the local market rates, the amount of earnest money also depends on the level of interest other buyers have expressed, how hot the housing market in the area is, and how quickly a prospective buyer can close on his or her offering price. In some areas with hot housing markets, the earnest money deposit can be between 5% to 10% of a property's sale price. Some sellers set fixed amounts on earnest money instead of going with a percentage of sale price or down payment. The fixed amount set by sellers usually fall within the range of $5,000 to $10,000. Of course, the higher the earnest money, the more serious the seller is likely to consider the buyer. Therefore, a buyer should offer a high enough earnest deposit to be accepted, but not so high as to put extra money at risk since there is still a chance that the deal might not go through and the deposit not refunded.

Earnest money is usually paid by certified check, personal check or a wire transfer into a trust or escrow account that is held by a real estate brokerage, legal firm or title company. The funds will be held in the account until the sale of the home has been finalized. At this point, the earnest funds are applied toward the buyer’s down payment. It is important to note that escrow accounts, like any other bank account, can earn interest. Therefore, if the earnest funds in the escrow account earn interest of more than $5,000, the buyer will have to fill out tax form W-9 with the IRS to receive the interest.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Buyer's Market

    A situation in which supply exceeds demand, giving purchasers ...
  2. Financial Buyer

    A financial buyer is a type of buyer in an acquisition that is ...
  3. Private Buyer

    A private buyers is an individual or organization that is purchasing ...
  4. Seller's Call

    An agreement between a buyer and a seller for a specific grade ...
  5. Sale

    A sale is a transaction between two parties where the buyer receives ...
  6. Exchange Ratio

    The exchange ratio is the relative number of new shares that ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Contingency Clauses In Home Purchase Contracts

    Here, we introduce widely used contingency clauses in home purchase contracts and how they can benefit both Buyers and Sellers.
  2. Investing

    The Ins And Outs of Seller-Financed Real Estate Deals

    There's more than one way to buy or sell a house. Seller financing presents yet another unique option.
  3. Personal Finance

    Understanding escrow

    Are you in the process of buying a house? Here is everything you need to know about the escrow process, a step-by-step guidance of buying a home.
  4. Investing

    10 Hurdles to Closing on a New Home

    A home will probably be the biggest purchase of your life - find out what can go wrong before you even close the deal.
  5. Investing

    Understanding The Escrow Process

    Learn the 10 steps that lead up to closing the deal on your new home and taking possession.
  6. Managing Wealth

    Rent-to-own homes: How the process works

    Here's what to watch for when negotiating a contract for a rent-to-own home – and who is a good candidate for this option.
  7. Investing

    Buying a Home Remotely: A Step-by-Step Guide

    Buying a home remotely can be a good option for a variety of reasons. The important thing is to find a good real estate agent whom you can trust.
  8. Investing

    Selling Your House? Avoid These Mistakes

    Don't put the sale of your home at risk by committing one of these dirty deeds.
  9. Investing

    5 Ways Overvaluing Your Home Can Hurt You

    Getting top dollar for your home is everyone's goal, but overvaluing your home can hurt its chances of being sold.
RELATED FAQS
  1. When should a real estate broker release earnest money deposit funds?

    Find out when and under what circumstances a real estate broker is allowed to release the earnest money deposit in a real ... Read Answer >>
  2. What are the Differences Between Ex Works (EXW) and Free On Board (FOB)?

    Although these terms are similar, responsibilities and obligations are delegated to different parties in EXW and FOB. Read Answer >>
  3. What is an assumable mortgage?

    The purchase of a home is a very expensive undertaking and usually requires some form of financing to make the purchase possible. ... Read Answer >>
  4. What do people mean when they mention real estate gazunders or gazumps?

    A gazump refers to the practice of raising the real estate's price from what was already verbally agreed upon. This move ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center