50 Shades of Grey and the Real Estate Purchase Contract

Our California residential purchase agreement is not an iron-clad purchase contract.

Sacramento real estate agents primarily use purchase contracts developed by C.A.R. as agreements to buy a home in Sacramento. It seems that with every new case law, generally originated by some disgruntled buyer, the contracts are revised. There are also obvious revisions because the language is often confusing. In an attempt to be clear and speak with a human voice, lawyers can sometimes royally mess up legal contracts because they lose sight of their audience and get all hung up on courts and judges.

For this reason, no purchase contract is typically not without a way to sue somebody over something. There is no black-and-white language in a purchase contract, regardless of what a person might be led to believe. A person can read one paragraph that defines a situation, seems to set the boundaries, and then a second paragraph can bring that first paragraph into question. By the time you reach paragraph 27, the 14th paragraph might appear ambiguous. It’s one of the reasons we have an 8-page California Residential Purchase Agreement and Joint Escrow Instructions (revised April 2013), coupled with its sister, the two-page Buyer’s Inspection Advisory (revised October 2002).

I look at that and I think what? C.A.R. could not come up with one single revision for the Buyer’s Inspection Advisory over the past 12 years? Here, C.A.R., have another glass of grappa. Also, when I started in real estate (you kids get offa my lawn), we had a choice between a one-page or a two-page contract. In fact, at one point, I created my own purchase contracts and professionally printed printed my brokerage’s purchase contracts in 3-part NCR — which at that time seemed like a brilliant move but was probably one of the dumber things I have done in my life. Hey, I was in my early 20s, so I had an excuse for my ignorance, not to mention, the 1970s was like one long LSD adventure.

I am astonished that buyers today sign this paperwork without engaging in a minor heart attack. It would almost be better in some ways if an agent just put blinders over a buyer’s eyes, stuck a pen in her hand and directed her to draw squiggles as her signature. Don’t read, just sign, would be the message. Yet, we encourage our buyers to read the real estate purchase contract and they don’t understand a darn thing in it.

Don’t even get me started on ZIPforms and why there is no field for the ZIP Code, of all things. I have brought this matter up to ZIPforms, but it has not been changed. Nobody else probably cares but I realize it’s a problem because of short sales. The bank negotiators do not like the fact there are no ZIP codes carried forth from page to page. Why don’t the C.A.R. lawyers spend time looking at this situation and fixing it? They should also fix the listing agreement fields so subsequent addendums match.

Bottom line, if a buyer or seller wants to challenge a portion of the purchase contract, a smart lawyer will find a way to do it. There is nothing black-and-white about our legal system. It’s more like 50 Shades of Grey . . . in more ways than one. But don’t ask your Sacramento real estate agent to define the real estate purchase contract because we don’t practice law.

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