Once a home seller and buyer agree to a closing date, it’s a relief for all parties involved — there’s a definitive end in sight that everyone can plan around. No wonder sellers may feel disappointed when they get a call from their real estate agent with the news that the buyer wants to push up or push back the close of the sale.
Take a deep breath. This happens more than any real estate agent would like to admit to their clients. Let's take a closer look at why buyers make this request, and explore the seller's options
The closing date of a home is when the buyer and seller meet to finalize any paperwork needed to complete the sale of the home. The closing date comes after the seller accepts a buyer's initial offer. It can take a month or two to close, as it takes time to arrange appraisals, home inspections, and title searches. The buyer also has to secure a mortgage during that time.
The buyer and seller will negotiate the ideal closing date and put it in the purchase contract. Even with the best intentions, it’s not always possible to close on the originally planned date, and both parties may need to be a bit flexible. More often than not, purchase contracts will state that the sale will close on or before a specific date unless both parties mutually agree to a change, but some contracts don’t allow the buyer or seller to change the closing date.
If either party decides they need to change the closing date, but the purchase contract doesn’t allow that to happen, they can consult their real estate agent about how to best proceed.
It’s common to shift a closing date by a few days to make things work for all parties. No one can predict what will happen in the weeks that lead up to closing day. For example, if an inspection reveals a major issue with the home, the buyer may negotiate with the seller to fix the repair or lower their asking price. These negotiations take time and can delay the closing date.
A title search can be a major source of delays if the title company’s investigation into the property uncovers liens or unpaid debts that the homeowner must pay before a sale can occur. The seller will have to pay the liens or fight them in court to sell the house, which can delay closing by weeks and even months.
The appraisal process can also cause delays, as there is a chance that the appraisal won’t end up as high as the buyer’s offer, which can send everyone back to the negotiation table. In a busy housing market, just the act of booking an inspector or appraiser leads to delays. It may take a few weeks to book these services and get the reports back.
In addition: Life, sometimes, gets in the way. Family emergencies, cash flow issues, a change in job, or logistical issues with a moving company can all affect what day both parties can close by. Of course, delays aren’t the only timeline shift that can happen. Some buyers or sellers may want to move up the closing date to accommodate their moving logistics or just to speed up the process. While a push forward can be inconvenient, it may give the seller some much needed peace of mind that the sale will close.
Both buyers and sellers can request new closing dates. So if for whatever reason you want to move the closing date (whether you’re a buyer or seller), how do you go about making that request?
You need to check in with the other parties involved in the sale, to start. Your real estate agent or real estate attorney can help you negotiate a change in closing date and manage the logistics of changing the date. If you know you need to change the closing date, it’s better to start this conversation sooner rather than later so everyone can get their logistical ducks in a row.
If you can change the closing date, the following people need to all be on the same page about the new date:
If the contract allows for unlimited closing date changes, the buyer can continuously ask for extensions on the closing date. If the seller needs to close by a certain date, they can add a “time of the essence” clause to the purchase contract. A time of the essence clause sets a hard closing date. If the buyer fails to be ready to close on this date, the seller can walk away from the sale.
It’s also helpful to set a realistic timeline from the get-go. Both parties should have an honest conversation about a practical closing date. Instruct your real estate agent to stay in communication with the buyer’s agent throughout the process so you can make adjustments as necessary. If the buyer can’t book an appraisal for five weeks, it’s best to know that right away so both parties can get on the same page about when it’s possible to close on the sale.
If one side needs more time, say after appraisal or inspection, be swift in your response. The more time you take to get back to your real estate agent with a counteroffer, the more likely you’ll need to push back your closing date.
If a buyer wants to change the closing date, does the seller have to agree to do so — or can they tell the buyer no?
Moving up the closing date may be a difficult request for a seller to accommodate if they have yet to move into their new home. On the flip side, if the seller already closed on a new home, they may not want to delay the closing date, as it would force them to balance two mortgages and other expenses associated with owning a home at the same time.
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Here are a few options that the seller has available if the buyer requests a new closing date.
If the buyer needs to move the closing date and the seller can accommodate this request with little inconvenience, then the best path forward is to grant the date change with no strings attached. The seller’s real estate agent will work with the buyer’s agent to negotiate a new closing date and update the contract accordingly.
In the event that the buyer requests an extension, the seller can agree under the conditions of the buyer paying a per diem penalty until they close on the sale. A per diem penalty is a fee that the buyer pays to cover the inconvenience of pushing the closing date back. This fee will help the seller cover the cost of the additional mortgage, insurance, and utility payments that they have to make due to pushing back the closing date.
Usually, a per diem penalty equals up to one-thirtieth of the seller’s monthly housing expenses.
It’s common to permit at least one closing date extension before backing out of a sale (again, check your contract for the fine print), but if a buyer fails to complete their contingencies by the final planned closing date, the seller can back out of the deal. If it’s the buyer's fault that the seller didn’t close on time, the seller may be entitled to the buyer's earnest money deposit as the buyer is the one who broke the terms of the contract.
Moments like this are when you'll be thrilled you hired an experienced real estate agent to help you navigate the sale of your home. If a buyer requests a new closing date, stay calm and ask your real estate agent to walk you through your best options for moving forward with as little stress as possible.
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