How Long Does a Home Seller Have for Offer Acceptance?

A lot depends on the offer and the seller

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The timeframe for offer acceptance by a home seller depends on the offer and the corresponding language in the purchase contract. The contract typically states a time limit, and some states have prescribed limits as well.

Keep in mind that the response you receive might not be acceptance of your offer. The seller might make a counteroffer, or she might reject your offer entirely. And a delay from the norm could have a number of different causes.

A Timeframe Example

In the California Residential Purchase Agreement (Form RPA-CA), the timeframe for offer acceptance is found under "Expiration of Offer" toward the end of the contract. It stipulates that the offer will be considered revoked if it's not signed by the seller and delivered to the buyer by 5 p.m. on the third day after the offer is signed by the buyer. A buyer can enter a specific date or keep the default of the third day.

In other words, if you receive an offer dated Jan. 2 but it didn't arrive until Jan. 3, and if it was valid for 72 hours to 5 p.m., the purchase contract would expire at 5 p.m. on Jan. 5. Any money that has been paid by the buyer, such as earnest money, would promptly be refunded.

There Are Some Exceptions

The timeframe is likely to be longer when a bank is selling a property, either as a short sale or due to foreclosure. Anticipate a minimum of five days in a foreclosure situation, and a month or more for a short sale...unless you're dealing with HUD or Fannie Mae. In this case, you might get a response in as little as two days.

Prompt Delivery

A buyers' agent should immediately deliver an offer to the seller's agent when the buyer has signed it. A buyer's agent who receives the buyer's signature on an offer on Thursday but waits until after the weekend before sending it would be handing over an expired offer if it was subject to a three-day expiration date.

The Counteroffer

A seller might issue a counteroffer to the buyer to circumvent the problem of an expired offer. The counteroffer would re-start the clock. It could extend the time of offer acceptance, but it might also include a change in terms of price. 

This process can go back and forth indefinitely until you reach an agreement or one party or the other quits and ends negotiations.

A buyer can also authorize her agent to accept delivery of the signed offer. If the buyer's agent's name isn't entered and the box remains unchecked, the offer won't be considered delivered until the buyer actually receives it. That time period could push the contract into expiration, which is why many agents prefer to receive delivery on behalf of their buyers.

The Outbid Offer

Sometimes sellers want to wait a bit to see if a better outbid offer will arrive. In this case, a seller might ask the buyer to give him more time to accept an offer.

In another scenario, a seller might try to receive and decide upon another offer before the existing purchase offer has expired. A seller whose home has been on the market 60 days might want to concentrate on dealing with the offer at hand, however, especially if it's a good one.

This can avoid missing a prime opportunity because the longer the house will typically become more difficult to sell the longer it's on the market.

Multiple Offer Situations

A listing agent will generally advise buyers' agents to have their clients make their best possible offers in multiple offer situations. He'll set a deadline by which this must occur or the offer won't be considered. Then all offers are presented to the seller at the same time, avoiding unnecessary delays.

Sometimes the Seller Won't Respond

Sellers don't have to respond, even to say, "No, thanks," and sometimes they simply won't. This generally occurs because the offer is either extremely low or because unreasonable contingencies are included.

This is particularly the case when sellers have more than one offer on the table. They don't want to be bothered with officially rejecting your offer. They might feel offended or that you're so far apart in terms that countering isn't worth the time and energy it would take.

What to do in this situation? Get an honest opinion from your agent as to how reasonable—or unreasonable—she thinks your offer was. You might already have an idea because she tried to sway you from certain contingencies at the time you made your offer, or she warned you that the price you offered was particularly "low-ball."

If you hear nothing for an extended period of time, and if you're not dealing with a short sale, you might want to resubmit a new offer at better terms, if possible.