February 29, 2024 | LandSupplier

Is earnest money required to make a purchase contract legal and binding in Florida?

This is a popular misconception for Florida real estate purchase contracts. According to the Florida Bar, "The formation of a contract is accomplished when there is an offer and acceptance between the contracting parties of the exchange of 'consideration.' This offer and acceptance are sometimes referred to as a 'meeting of the minds.' If the parties have not reached a meeting of the minds, then there is no agreement."

Most purchase contracts contain a section to indicate the amount of an escrow deposit and when it's due. Purchase contracts also usually contain a liquidated damages clause that entitles the seller to keep the deposit if the buyer defaults. Liquidated damages are common in real estate purchase contracts, even though the parties are agreeing what the remedy is for the other side in the event the buyer defaults.

And sellers of course, want something in escrow to assure the buyer is serious and prevent from backing out of the sale. Also, the seller is committing to removing the property from the market and not taking any other offers. It is general practice of course to receive some kind of earnest money deposit on the deal.

Some sellers look at a lack of deposit as unfair. Why, they ask, would they remove their house from the market if the buyer is not serious enough to put down a deposit? A seller certainly may insist on a deposit before agreeing to the contract; this is allowable if the buyer agrees. However, it is not legally required. In addition to a deposit, sellers will also sometimes ask for other requirements like proof of funds or a prequalification letter.

Transactions come in all shapes and sizes. Realtors do well to understand some components of contract law to assist them in working with buyers and sellers. All parties should review purchase contracts carefully, preferably with an attorney, to understand their rights under the agreement in the event the other party does not perform as promised.

When an escrow deposit is submitted for the purchase, I always put a clause in the contract as to what happens to the money if the buyer defaults and the time frame for returning the deposit. If there is no clause in the purchase contract, then the Title company or attorney handling the closing will have to keep the funds until it is resolved in court or arbitration.