Top 10 Real Estate Terms Sellers Should Know
Real estate terminology can be confusing—but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re selling your home soon, here are the top ten terms you should know to feel confident during the process.
1. Buyer’s agent vs. listing agent vs. no agency
Let’s start with an easy one! Typically, buyers and sellers have different real estate agents. A real estate agent who works with the home shopper or buyer is called the buyer’s agent. A real estate agent who works with the home seller is called the listing agent because they are listing your home for sale.
It’s possible to have one agent representing both sides, which is called “dual agency,” but it’s not very common. Why? There is a potential conflict of interest in the case of dual agency, because real estate agents should always negotiate in their client’s best interest—which is hard to do when you’re representing both parties. For this reason, dual agency is actually illegal in some states--like Colorado. Instead we use a relationship called Transaction Broker. It is sort of the opposite of dual agency. Rather than pretend we can represent the best interest of both buyers and sellers, in the rare instance that a seller's agent also works with the buyer of the same home, that broker may have a prearranged option to not represent either party but act in more of a facilitator role. They should handle the terms of the transaction without advocating for either party. It can work when done professionally and with a high level of transparency.
I get lots of contracts with a cover letter from an agent who describes the offer as "non-contingent". This exhibits a lack of understanding of the Colorado contract, or at a minimum taking a lazy path to describe their offer. The reality is that the Colorado contract has many contingencies to protect the Buyer's earnest money while buyers do their due diligence and jump through the hoops of getting their new mortgage. A contingency is a clause in a real estate contract that allows one or both parties to back out of the deal if certain conditions are not met. Some common contingencies include:
Appraisal contingency: allows the buyer to back out of the deal if the property appraises for less than the agreed-upon purchase price.
Home inspection contingency: allows the buyer to back out of the deal if the home inspection reveals problems. This is the contingency I see used to terminate contracts the most often. In layman's terms, the Colorado Real Estate Commission approved contract stipulates that the buyer has to be satisfied in their sole subjective discretion with the physical condition of the home. YIKES! This is great for buyers, not so great for sellers!
Mortgage contingency: allows the buyer to terminate the deal if the buyer is unable to obtain financing.
Home sale contingency: allows the buyer to back out of the deal if they are unable to sell their current home.
Seller's purchase of replacement property contingency: allows the seller to back out of the deal if they are unable to find a suitable replacement property in time. Pretty rare but we'll do this from time to time.
Contingency clauses can be a valuable tool for both buyers and sellers, but they can also slow down your real estate transaction. By their nature, contingencies make it easier for either party to leave the deal—which can leave you back at square one. But that doesn’t mean you should turn down all offers that include a contingency--since they are built into every offer. Instead, talk to your real estate agent about the offer, and they can offer expert advice based on your market and your specific situation. A great agent will have extensive experience in structuring a win-win scenario between buyers and sellers and deeply understand each contingency and how to negotiate through the various provisions.
3. Due diligence period
This is the period between when you accept an offer and when the last contingency expires. During this time, the buyer is to do their “due diligence” and investigate the property thoroughly. This includes the home inspections, appraisal, title search, and property survey—and it’s also a good time for buyers to start comparing homeowners insurance quotes. This period is meant to allow the buyer to find out everything they need to know about the property to make an educated decision about the purchase.
Equity is the difference between your property’s current market value and how much you still owe on the mortgage. For example, if your Evergreen property is worth $1,500,000 and you owe $300,000, then you have $1,200,000 in equity.
The more equity you have, the better, because this is the amount of cash you’ll make from your sale (minus any transaction fees). More equity will make it easier to purchase your next home, or you can use it for saving, investing, retirement, education, and more.
5. Seller concession
A seller concession is something offered by the home seller to the buyer to facilitate or incentivize the purchase. These can encompass a variety of closing costs typically paid by the buyer, including appraisal fees, origination fees, interest rate buydowns or points, real estate tax service fees, and more—but they can’t include other purchase costs like the buyer’s downpayment.
Should you make a seller concession? That depends on your market. In a seller’s market where houses move quickly and receive multiple offers, seller concessions are usually unnecessary. But in a buyer’s market where available homes outnumber buyers and take a while to sell, a seller concession is a good way to stand above the competition and attract attention. Ask your real estate agent for their advice on your specific situation.
6. Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA)
A purchase and sale agreement (otherwise known as a PSA) is a document that is written after a buyer and seller have finished negotiations. It includes details like the agreed-upon sale price, closing date, earnest money, and both parties’ contingencies. This is the official agreement on the terms of the real estate transaction, and when it’s signed, it moves the process forward toward closing. It’s different from the purchase agreement, which is the document you sign at closing that finalizes the transaction after the contingencies have been met.
7. Covenants, conditions & restrictions (CC&Rs)
CC&Rs are a set of rules that govern what you can do with a certain piece of property in a given area. You may be familiar with Homeowner’s Association (HOA) rules in your neighborhood, which are a type of CC&R, but they’re also common in planned communities, condominium buildings, and industrial parks.
What are the purpose of CC&Rs and what types of things can they govern? These rules can apply the following:
Home maintenance like keeping your flower beds weed free, your lawn mowed, and your home in good repair
Home appearance like the color of your exterior paint or the type of trash can or mailbox you can have
Parking such as where you’re allowed to park or whether you can add a sunshade or carport for your vehicle
Pets such as breed and species restriction
Usually, the idea behind these rules is to keep an area aesthetically pleasing, safe, and to improve and maintain home values. Why is it important for you, a home seller, to understand the CC&Rs in your area? Buyers typically want to know this information before making an offer, and if you live somewhere with HOA rules and fees, you’ll have to disclose those in advance.
The Multiple Listing Service or MLS is the database in which all real estate listing information is stored. There are separate MLSs for states, regions, and even individual cities—and they don’t all have the same rules. MLS organizations in different areas require different information to be disclosed in a listing before it can go live in the database. Some basic information required by most MLSs include the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the square footage, the price, and the name of the listing agent—but there’s a lot more!
A rent-back is an agreement between a buyer and a seller that allows the seller to stay living in the home after closing in exchange for making rent payments. Why would a seller want a rent-back? In very competitive markets, it can be difficult to find a new home after you’ve sold the old one. In this case, if the buyer is able, they can offer a rent-back to the seller in a written agreement that gives you more time before you have to move out.
Closing is when the home sale has been finalized. When does this happen? A sale is considered closed when the contingencies have been met, all the paperwork has been signed, and all the money has exchanged hands—and in some areas, when the deed has been recorded with the county clerk’s office. When these steps are completed, you’ll hand over the keys, and the buyer will be the new homeowner.
At that point, you’ll be on to your next big dream!