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by Lori
(Colorado Springs, CO)

My husband and I are in the process of buying a house for the first time and I’m not really sure how contingencies work. From what I understand, they act sort of like safety valves so the buyer can walk away if there’s a problem with the house or the mortgage.

For example, if the house inspector discovers a previously undisclosed termite problem, we can quit the deal with no penalties.

Can contingencies be used in other ways? To give one area of concern, the house we’re interested in is basically move in ready but has been vacant for almost six months.

The rooms have gotten dusty and the carpet, while appearing clean, probably hasn’t been vacuumed in some time. Also, the basement has piles of old carpeting and cans of paint. I don’t want to be the one to clean the house and get rid of hazardous materials like paint before we move in.

Can we have it written as a contingency that the house must be professionally cleaned, including the carpets, by the current owner and that the current owner must be responsible for removing the paint and other left behind rubbish?

Also, am I correct in my understanding of contingencies? What other contingencies are recommended? And can they be tied to monetary sums? For example, if the house isn’t cleaned, can we write into the contingency that the seller must pay for professional house cleaning that we set up? Any other information or advice about contingencies would be greatly appreciated.


Hi There Lori;

Thanks for coming to my site and asking your questions and concerns about your home purchase.

By sharing this in an open forum, you help others. Chances are somewhere people have the same questions as you do.

OK, let me address them here in order;

Contingencies or "Houdini Clause" I like to call them can be used just about any way you want.

In the case of your concerns about old paint cans, carpet rolls, dirt etc. you can certainly put contingencies into your purchase agreement to make the seller do the things you spoke of. And yes if they fail to perform you can have it withheld from the proceeds of the sale.

Most Realtors will have standard contingencies they suggest to be written in. Especially when it comes to home inspections, mold and mildew and so forth.

I've never seen one for cleaning, but nothing is impossible. Just be careful with them, if you have a seller who has an empty house, they may be in a desperate situation and not able to shell out any money. Perhaps that's why their not living there. However if the seller is a bank, well sock it to them!!!!

Most of the time, standard contingencies are written like;

"subject to satisfactory home inspection"
"subject to buyer being able to obtain financing"
"subject to well and septic inspection"

There are many others, but these are some of the ones used most.

When I was buying investment properties one of my favorite ones was;

"subject to approval of my accountant"

I used this as a way to back out of a deal when the person would accept my offer and I decided that I did not want to buy the property.

In my case, my "accountant" was my wife, I would just tell her we don't want this house, she then would say "we cannot afford this house", so it served as an escape for me, thus the "Houdini Clause", just like magic I was out of the deal!

Hope this helps.


Jeff Ragan

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Thanks for asking this question!
by: Mary Raider

I found this question and comments to be very helpful.

I'm going to bookmark this site and watch this page since it helped me so much.

My husband and I are hoping to buy a house before this tax credit expires April 30, 2010.

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