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I live in the UK, but am trying to purchase a property in Indio California. My realtor says that I need to submit a contract for the property with my offer price ASAP as there is another buyer interested.

The contract he has given me is the standard California Association of Realtors contract.

The house comes fully furnished but the seller will only give me an inventory of items once I enter escrow. I would like the contract to give me the option to cancel if the inventory doesn't match what I saw when I viewed the property. There are also a number of other changes I would like to make to the contract. For example, my mortgage provider says it may take up to 60 days to finalise the mortgage, but at the moment, the contract says that I can cancel if I haven't got a mortgage in 21 days.

When I ask my realtor about updating the contract, he says that there's no time. I should just sign now to get the house in Escrow and then we can negotiate these things during the due diligence period, as that's how it works in the USA. He also states that I can cancel (until the first contingencies are removed) and get a full refund. Is all of this right? Coming from the UK, that doesn't seem proper.

I don’t want to miss out on this deal. But at the same time, I don’t want to sign something that I later regret. I have tried contact several lawyers but none seem able to help me within the timeframe. I would appreciate any advice.

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    " He also states that I can cancel (until the first contingencies are removed) and get a full refund." - did he stated that in writing? Is it in the contract itself? Or is it by mouth and you will not have any proof if it'll go to court? – Mołot Jan 23 at 14:58
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    Your realtor just wants their commission before they lose it to someone else. If these terms are important to you, either tell the realtor to make those changes or find a different property (or realtor). – pboss3010 Jan 23 at 16:28
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    Like others, I'm skeptical that the realtor's interests here fully align with your own. You may want to edit / slightly alter the emphasis on the question you are asking here - I think the question you need answered is whether the realtor's claims that making alterations later is actually typical, or not. That is much more specific than the somewhat abstract notion of whether a contract could or could not be amended in principle. – DaveInCaz Jan 23 at 17:24
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    Ask yourself: would it be more upsetting to not buy this house or buy it and not be happy with it? I would bet you three dollars and twenty two cents that your agent most certainly DID NOT ask you this question and is praying that strangers on the internet do not tell you to ask yourself that question. – MonkeyZeus Jan 23 at 17:46
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    My rule of thumb when someone pressures me to hurry signing a document (because it's "just a formality, we can change it later"), is to become extra cautious and to take even longer time than usual. – vsz Jan 23 at 22:52
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Both answers so far have addressed the modifiability of the contract. If the other party does not accept your proposed changes to the contract, it cannot be changed. However, the other answers have not addressed one of the items you mentioned in your question: the due diligence period.

The due diligence period is standard in home purchase negotiations that I am aware of (in the U.S.). During this period, you may typically back out for any reason whatsoever and any earnest money you have paid will be refunded. The length of the due diligence period can vary depending on the contract, but in my experience, 1-2 weeks is typical (edit: apparently in California the default is 17 days. This amount of time is negotiable). Your real estate agent can likely explain the particulars to you.

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    I've bought 2 houses in California and I didn't hear this phrase used. Instead, you put contingencies in the contract like acceptable home inspection and mortgage, any work that you already know you want the owner to do. – mkennedy Jan 23 at 20:10
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You really, ideally need a lawyer. I am not a lawyer. It generally follows, however, that any contract can be amended once it's been signed so long as all parties or stakeholders involved agree on such changes. The changes need to be enforceable, and witnessed appropriately. Take a risk management approach: Do you trust that you'll be able to amend the signed contracts to your liking once they are signed? Do you also trust that you completely understand the contents of the contract? If you feel like you need a lawyer or an extended period of review, those gut instincts are putting a hard stop on this for you for a reason.

Purely anecdotal:

When I was purchasing a house (I'm in the U.S.), the sellers requested a 90-day close after we'd signed on a 30-day close, and since it worked out for both of us we had the language re-written, and the agreement re-signed through Docusign. Though, had anything fallen through on my end, the sellers would keep my escrow deposit, and vice versa I get the deposit back and can potentially sue if I was renting or something and relied on being moved in. The bottom line is ensure you understand everything that is going on, and the purpose of a lawyer review often times is to ensure that you do.

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    And for the record, if there's an inventory list of items that are essential to you owning the property, that should definitely be part of the contract - as should anything else that you absolutely cannot renegotiate on. Anything that would be 'inconvenient but negotiable' could potentially wait - but if it's something that determines whether you even want the property or not, you should push for it. – Zibbobz Jan 23 at 18:03
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    Besides a lawyer, I'd also say you need a different realtor... – Jasper Jan 24 at 11:18
  • @Jasper good luck with that... some are better than others, but the fact that they only get paid when the sale closes creates an inherent conflict of interest. – stannius Jan 29 at 17:19
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Once both parties sign the contract your ability to modify the contract is limited. If they don't agree with your changes the terms don't change.

The advice to not make changes now is because the realtor believes that another person is going to make a bid. If they made a bid without any modifications, then their bid will be better than yours with modifications. But if the deal/contract is unacceptable without your proposed changes, then your are taking a big risk by signing the contract without modifications.

The timing of the mortgage seems the most problematic. The seller always wants the deadline to be short, so that they can quickly relist the property if a buyer is having problems getting a mortgage. The fact that you are in the UK may make it impossible to get a quick approval.

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21 days is the standard time frame in California for completing due diligence items including financing. You could put a different time frame in your offer, but it could cause the seller to reject your offer. A lot depends on the market where you are buying. Is it a buyer's market or a seller's market? If it's a buyer's market (i.e. homes in that area have been moving slowly, the property has been on the market awhile, etc.), you will have more leverage to negotiate.

Your agent should work with you to include whatever items are important to you in the offer. If you feel your agent is rushing you, you should get a new agent. It is important for your offer to include the items you expect to come with the house, as well as things you want removed.

If the seller disagrees with your offer, he could make a counter-offer. You could go back and forth a few times with offers and counter-offers. But is is really important that you and the seller agree to everything before you sign a contract. One you sign the contract, it's a binding agreement. If you want to make changes, you'll have to negotiate them, and the seller might disagree. You can only back out of the agreement without losing your deposit based on the contingencies in the agreement. For example, a financing contingency lets you back out if you can't secure financing. An inspection contingency lets you back out if the house fails inspection. But otherwise, you can't cancel the agreement without losing your deposit. So you should not make an offer that you aren't happy with.

(As long as you don't waive the financing contingency, you would not lose your deposit if your mortgage doesn't come through during the contingency period. Your agent may be thinking that you can agree to 21 days and then negotiate an extension, which could be possible but it really depends on how desperate the seller is. If the seller doesn't agree, the contract will be canceled.)

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To supplement CKM's anecdote, I sold a house in California in 2005, without a realtor, using a contract provided by the title/escrow company that the buyer chose (not recommended). After signing, I learned that I had underpriced my house, but concluded there was nothing I could do about it. However, when the deadline in the contract approached and the buyer had not yet finalized their financing, I was able to negotiate a higher price in order to extend the deadline to close (accepting the risk of losing the sale), even though the contract had been more or less provided by the buyer to begin with.

It would therefore seem that these contracts are taken pretty seriously and that the parties can be held to them in the case of disagreement, even if in the typical case they are often amended. I know you said you can't get legal advice within the timeframe, but I urge you to see if you can nevertheless find a lawyer.

  • provided by the title/escrow company that the buyer chose (not recommended) Out of interest, why don't you recommend buyer chosen companies? Thanks! – fluffykittycute Jan 25 at 18:17

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