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
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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.

Find out how these contingent offers work so you're prepared.

Key Takeaways

  • A contingent offer is when a buyer makes an offer on a home contingent upon selling their existing home.
  • By accepting a contingent offer for a particular period, the seller is granting the buyer the first right of refusal.
  • It’s best to line up financing options, such as a bridge loan, before receiving the notice to perform.
  • Before you remove a sale contingency, review your purchase contract with a lawyer to determine whether you will forfeit any earnest money.

Basic Types of Contingent Sale Offers

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

  1. The 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. The 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.

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 on 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 preapproved for a bridge loan before receiving the 72-hour notice to perform. A bridge loan is a short-term loan that helps you finance a new home before you've sold your current one. It's best to plan ahead for a bridge loan so you won't be scrambling around trying to line up 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. The best approach is to set up a home equity line of credit before you put your home on the market, and then transfer funds or write a check for the new home.

You may also want to look into changing your mortgage to a higher loan-to-value option. If you were planning on putting down 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.

The Risk in Removing a 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. If a relative has the funds, typically a gift letter from the relative and a copy of their financial statements are 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.