Real talk: The intricacies of lengthy real estate contracts

Real talk: The intricacies of lengthy real estate contracts
Realtor Ann Duff works on a real estate contract. (Courtesy Photo)

By Ann Duff

Every day is a new day in the world of real estate, so I decided to look back a bit.

Staying on top of new regulations and contract language is critical, of course. Each year, serious realtors take continuing education courses and every couple of years, we renew our licenses with testing on our grasp of new laws, enhanced ethics, plus equal housing and representation guidelines.

Can you imagine when real estate contracts were just two pages long? The written word, explanations and options have exploded.

Just 30 years ago, sales contracts for your most valuable asset — your home — were just two legal-size pages long with an occasional handwritten addendum to cover a home inspection or appraisal. Somehow, we transferred properties based upon a dozen paragraphs of tried-and-true terms, and the world didn’t fall apart.

But you know how the world works now. Someone in California decided they wanted their own advocate and buyer brokerage came into being in 1989; someone in the northeast wanted the sellers to admit, if they knew, to having lead-based paint in the home, so federal and state disclosures became the law; someone in Maryland decided that airport noise was an issue and a map of nearby airfields is now included in every Maryland contract; and recently, someone wanted a new take on home inspection responses, so now, rather than negotiate over a bit of wood rot or a fogged window, the buyers can take things as they are or simply void.

This adds and adds to the bulk of the contract verbiage, with Maryland now clocking in at approximately 65 pages when all is said and done. Imagine being licensed in the three distinct jurisdictions of Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, as I am, to match my buyers’ and sellers’ needs, and as many realtors are.

Because of this, I advocate for sit-down sessions with my clients to track the flow of requirements and protections afforded in this paperwork. Use a calendar to mark out the boundaries of the contingency deadlines in each contract. Make sure to meet those deadlines or your protections evaporate, and the remedies are different in each jurisdiction.

Use the quieter times of the market, maybe winter this year, to schedule times to sit down with your agent and talk through the wide world of multi-page contracts, and all of the variable strategies within. This will make you more confident in your course of action and prepared to be successful in your 2021 sale or purchase.

The writer is a realtor with McEnearney Associates, Inc. An Arlington native and Alexandria resident, Duff began her career in corporate public affairs before changing years ago to selling and leasing properties in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland.