When your clients have a smooth home-buying experience, it’s as if the birds are chirping, the sky is a brilliant shade of blue, and all is right in the world. Sure, it might be a little stressful at times, but nothing compares to that feeling of knowing they’ll finally own a home. However, if they miss the deadline to deposit their earnest money, they might end up saying, “Sunny days, where have you gone?”
“When your Florida real estate contract is breached, it can be frustrating and difficult to resolve,” says a blog from Rabideau Klein, a law office with locations both in Palm Beach, Florida and in Ontario, Canada. Keep the clouds out of the Sunshine State by being there for your clients. Here’s everything you need to know about earnest money deposits in Florida, starting with a refresher course on what earnest money is and ending with details on payment methods for the earnest money deposit.
What is Earnest Money in Florida?
Benjamin Dona of Gulf Coast Associates advises buyers, “When you make an offer to purchase Florida real estate, you will include an earnest money deposit. This shows the seller that you’re serious about the offer to purchase their Florida property.” Bill Gassett, with 34 years of experience at RE/MAX Executive Realty, said it well. The earnest money deposit is “motivation to take the home off the market, because (sellers) lose out on any other offers that might come through.” He continued, “Even if the inspection and appraisal go well, the buyer’s mortgage commitment could fall through. The earnest payments are protection for the seller so that the buyer can’t walk away from a sale on a whim.”
How often are these earnest money deposits necessary? Brendan A. Sweeney of Sweeney Law in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says: “If you’re buying or selling real estate in Florida, the transaction almost always will require an earnest money deposit.” He goes on to explain earnest money in his own words, “This is an arranged amount of cash the buyer puts down to show that their interest is strong while working out the closing details.”
How Much Earnest Money in Florida?
You probably won’t like this answer: it depends. “The amount of earnest money varies based on the type of property being purchased and local market conditions,” Real estate agent Kim N. Bregman stated on her Optima Properties blog. She goes on to clarify, “A typical deposit might be 5-10% of the amount you offer in the purchase contract. The final amount is negotiable and will depend on how long it will take you to close and the number and types of contingencies included in the contract.” That said, it’s okay if your client is offering less than that. South Florida homes are notably some of the most expensive homes in Florida, so unless your client is looking for a South Florida home, chances are that they may want to make a lower earnest money deposit. According to American Family Insurance, earnest money deposits are “usually 1-2% of the purchase price.”
Who Holds Earnest Money in Florida?
“The sales contract will dictate who holds the earnest money. Usually, the seller’s agent will deposit the earnest money in a trust or escrow account until closing. At closing, the money is applied to the total purchase price including the closing costs. The trust or escrow account will be managed by an independent third party in most cases (a title company or real estate attorney who conducts closings),” said Benjamin Dona. “The escrow holder is negotiable between parties,” Michelle Seidel stated on the Legal Beagle blog regarding Florida Real Estate Laws.
What if the Sale Doesn’t Close?
“The sales contract spells out the conditions… Generally, if the seller meets all the terms of the contract, the seller will keep the earnest money. If the seller does not meet the terms of the contract, then the buyer (may) receive a total refund of the earnest money,” Benjamin Dona continued. He advises buyers to read their sales contracts thoroughly and get their questions answered before signing the contract. He tells buyers, “If you’re not satisfied with the explanation, seek professional legal counsel. A real estate purchase offer is legally binding and you and the seller are bound by its terms and conditions.”
When to Deliver the Earnest Money
“Earnest money is usually due within three days of a signed and accepted offer,” the American family insurance blog says. What if the deadline falls on a weekend or legal holiday when the title company or real estate attorney is unavailable? There may be a bit of wiggle room there, as in the case with Texas earnest money guidelines. That said, don’t assume that the title office or real estate attorney’s office will be closed. Some attorneys work weekends and some title companies work weekends as well, so it’s best to get a concrete answer from the escrow company to ensure that your client deposits the earnest money in a timely manner.
How to Pay the Earnest Money Deposit
The earnest money deposit is usually paid by personal check, certified check, or wire transfer. You’ll want to check with all parties involved to determine whether all of those options are accepted. In order to wire transfer the earnest money deposit, the buyer will need to account information, including the fees, account numbers, recipient’s name, bank name and address, and routing number. You should encourage your buyer to double and triple-check the information to avoid falling prey to wiring scams.
To pay by certified check, the buyer should visit their bank’s branch in person to have an employee verify that they own the account and have the funds available. Once they verify that the personal check that the buyer wrote is good, banks usually add a stamp and signature with the check. Certified checks are valid for 60-90 days.
Earnest money is a deposit that compensates a seller for taking their home off the market. It’s a show of good faith by the buyer, to prove that they intend to purchase the property. Earnest money deposits can be as high as 5-10% of the purchase price for high-demand properties, or as low as 1-2% of the purchase price. Third parties, such as escrow companies, title companies, and real estate attorneys, hold the earnest money until the transaction closes, at which point it goes to the seller. If the contract is breached by the seller, the buyer may receive their earnest money back. Earnest money is delivered within three days of a signed and accepted offer, and may be paid via personal check, certified check, or wire transfer.
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