The hallmark of a successful negotiation is the decision of a seller and buyer to create a written sale contract. This is one of the last major hurdles faced by self-sellers - and one of the most complex.

When a broker represents a seller the broker will do all the work associated with negotiating and preparing the contract. Self-sellers must choose among several alternatives when a broker is not directly involved.

From the agreed points of the negotiations, sellers can direct their attorneys to prepare completed contract forms. The attorney will tell you what specific information is required and this will usually include such factors as the price, terms, date of settlement and contingencies. A finished document can then be sent to each party for final approval.

The problem with this approach is that it is very time-consuming and, more significantly, the seller does not have an offer in hand until the attorney has completed the paperwork. The buyers have no obligation to accept the completed papers and can withdraw from the deal without penalty before the papers are signed.

A second alternative is to have a broker, prepare the papers. Many brokers will prepare the papers. Many brokers will prepare a sales contract at a flat rate of $100 to $200 for self-sellers. Brokers will usually prepare a contract form quickly often with both parties seated around a dining room table.

Some brokers will insist as a condition of providing this service that a seller display their "Sold" sign. I believe, however, that this practice is unethical where brokers have not actually secured buyers. In such cases, a "Sold" sign amounts to false and deceptive advertising.

The most common alternative and the most sensible, is for the seller to write up the sales agreement when the buyer is anxious to purchase. This approach assumes that the seller has offer forms on hand, a strong knowledge of how to complete the agreement and access to an attorney.

Contract forms are available from stationery stores, brokers, and lawyers. There are a variety of different forms, and sellers should select with care. Some forms are oriented toward the seller, others toward the buyer. If you use a form that is too unbalanced your buyer may reject both it and the entire deal. At the very least, a form should provide that a buyer's deposit will be returned in the event financing has not obtained after a good-faith effort.