What First Right of Refusal Means for Contingent Offers

Couple being greeted by a female realtor at an Open House, with hopes to get a first right of refusal contingency

John Lund / Drew Kelly / Getty Images

A contingent offer is often the answer to buying and selling at the same time. Making an offer to buy a home when your own home is not yet sold is a dilemma for many home buyers. Regardless of whether it's a buyer's market or a seller's market, sellers aren't too eager to accept an offer that is contingent upon the sale of a buyer's home, either. But especially in a buyer's market, you will see an increase in offers with a contingency to sell the buyer's home.

Basic Types of Contingent Sale Offers

Although there are many variations of a contingent offer, many adhere to one of two formats:

  1. Seller will keep the property on the market but accept a contingent offer, providing buyers with a 72-hour (negotiable) first-right-of-refusal notice to perform in the event seller receives a better offer.
  2. Seller will take the property off the market and wait for the buyer to sell the buyer's existing home.

The likelihood is the seller will choose option one, but buyers would prefer option two. The reason a seller would accept option two is if there are not likely to be any other buyers making an offer to purchase. Most sellers will not wait forever and will stipulate a date for the transaction to close.

72-Hour Notice to Perform for a Contingent Offer

The notice to perform can be of any negotiated duration: 24 hours, 48 hours, or any number of days. The buyer and seller agree upon the period.

First, the seller sends the 72-hour notice to perform to the buyer, informing the buyer that another offer has been received and the buyer now has 72 hours to remove the contingency to sell the buyer's existing home. If the buyer does not remove the contingency to sell, usually the seller has the right to demand a cancellation of a contract and refund the earnest money deposit to the buyer.

Options for Removing First Right Sale Contingency

By accepting a contingent offer for a particular period, the seller is granting the buyer the first right of refusal. If another buyer wants to purchase the home—and the buyer has not yet sold the home—the seller may ask the buyer to remove the contingency.

It is best to get pre-approved for a bridge loan before receiving the 72-hour notice to perform. This way, you won't be scrambling around trying to line up the financing over an impossible three-day period. Bridge loans are an expensive option because you will pay loan fees.

Another option is to get a home equity loan or line of credit. However, most lenders will not give you a home equity loan or line of credit once your home is on the market, and a seller is not likely to accept a contingent offer unless your home is on the market. But it's not a Catch-22. If you set up a home equity line of credit before you put your home on the market, you can transfer funds or write a check.

You may also want to look into changing your mortgage to a higher loan-to-value option. If you were planning on putting down, say, 20% to buy your new home, put down less, and get a higher mortgage amount. Then, when your home eventually sells, you can use the proceeds to pay down the mortgage. Be aware that many higher loan-to-value ratios carry higher interest rates, and you may also have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI).

Some homebuyers may even be able to borrow the necessary funds from family members. If you are confident your home will eventually sell, some buyers choose this option.

Bottom-Line Risk for Removing Sale Contingency

Before you remove a sale contingency, review your purchase contract with a lawyer and obtain legal advice to determine your rights under the contract. California purchase contracts, for example, clearly state your earnest money deposit is at stake if you default on the contract. How much did you put up? $1,000? $5,000? $10,000? If you can live with losing that amount by taking a gamble that your home will sell, it might be worth it to you. Otherwise, try to keep the contingency in place.

Evidence of Funds to Close

When a contingency is removed, sellers often ask for evidence of funds to close. This requirement prevents buyers from arbitrarily removing a contingency without an actual intention to close (not that you were thinking that). If a relative has the funds, typically, a gift letter from the relative and a copy of bank statements or stock account is enough to satisfy your lender and the seller.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources

  1. South Dakota Real Estate Commission. "Buying and Selling a Home in South Dakota A Consumer Guide," Page 17. Accessed Dec. 16, 2019. 

  2. Century 21. "The 72-Hour Clause." Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  3. The Goodhart Group. "The Home Sale Contingency Explained." Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  4. North Carolina Real Estate Commission. "Questions and Answers on: Offer and Acceptance." Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  5. California Association of Realtors. "California Residential Purchase Agreement and Joint Escrow Instructions," Page 11. Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  6. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Letter to Tenant - Right of First Refusal." Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  7. Experian. "What Is a Bridge Loan?" Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  8. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "The Federal Reserve Board: What you should know about Home Equity Lines of Credit," Page 7. Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.

  9. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "What Kind of Down Payment Do I Need? How Does the Amount of Down Payment I Make Affect the Terms of My Mortgage Loan?" Accessed Dec. 16, 2019.