When a buyer and seller agree on a purchase price and terms, the buyer shows the seller a sign of good faith in the form of earnest money. This money, typically 1% to 3% of the sales price or whatever is customary for the local market, is deposited with an escrow agent or title company, a neutral third-party that serves to finalize the transaction for both sides.
Earnest money is designed to protect the seller. It shows the buyer is serious, but if the buyer doesn’t follow through with the contract, the seller could lose valuable marketing time when the transaction doesn’t close. They’ll have to start all over again to market the home. There are also opportunity costs – the seller could have possibly sold the home to a different buyer and perhaps for better terms. For that reason, the seller can keep the earnest money.
This also protects the buyer. The buyer can get out of a sales contract and get their money back if contingencies outlined in the purchase agreement aren’t met. Typical contingencies are that the buyer’s lender agrees to make the loan, the appraisal meets or exceeds the sales price of the home, the home passes inspection or that the buyer sells their current home before closing on the seller’s home.
Earnest money paid upfront in the transaction means the buyer has to come up with less money at closing or the deposit can be used as part or all of the down-payment.
In 2021, existing-home sales rose 8.5% during 2020, the highest level since 2006 as supplies of homes for sale fell to an all-time low of 910,000, equivalent to 1.8 months of available inventory.
In December 2021, housing sales declined 7.1% over December 2020. The National Association of REALTORS (NAR) explained that the dip was likely due to supply constraints over decreasing demand from homebuyers. Employment in December rose by nearly 200,000 and the unemployment rate was 3.9%. Also favoring homebuyers, salaries rose 4.7% year-over-year, even while those gains were countered by the highest rate of inflation since 1982, a 7% increase from 2020.
The cost of housing, including owner-occupied and rented homes, rose 4.1%, the fastest rate since 2007. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that building costs rose nearly 19% in 2021 which slowed construction, along with materials and labor shortages. For these reasons, the housing industry is unlikely to increase supplies of new homes by only 2% in 2022, which will make existing homes more coveted.
Homeownership is an excellent hedge against inflation, primarily because buying a home at a fixed price and interest rate where it applies. While home prices and interest rates continue to rise, the cost of housing decreases as long as the homeowner retains the property.
With signs positive that housing demand will continue, NAR predicts that mortgage interest rates will stay under 4% and that home prices will rise 3% to 5% by the end of 2022.
Real estate professionals are licensed by regulators in the state where they practice. A candidate must be sponsored by a licensed real estate broker, take state-approved training, pass the licensing test, and then join the sponsoring broker’s firm as a salesperson and agent of the broker.
State licensing laws allow certain types of representation in fairness to consumers. Some agents act as fiduciaries for their clients which means they owe loyalty to the one who hired them, but in that case, they also owe honesty and fairness to other parties in the transaction. Other agents act as facilitators which means they can work with both parties in the transaction honestly and fairly but they can’t show favoritism to either side.
A seller’s agent, also called a listing agent, has signed representation and listing agreements with the seller. The agent can show the seller’s home to buyers, but can’t share confidential information from the seller to move the sale along. A buyer’s agentworks the same way with the buyer and can’t disclose confidential information to the seller.
Buyers and sellers can use the same agent under dual agency, but both parties must sign a consent form. Dual agency is common when a listing agent finds a buyer for the seller’s home. If both parties want fiduciary-level service, the real estate broker can assign a different agent to assist the buyer.
Contact your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network agent for more information about the levels of service they offer.