Real estate contracts, like other legal agreements, require both offer and acceptance. The fact that a buyer has made an offer does not mean that a seller must accept it - unless a listing contract signed with a broker requires otherwise.
Sellers should look at all offers with two conflicting points in mind. First, an offer can be withdrawn at any time before acceptance. This means there is some pressure on the seller to accept quickly. Second, if the seller - or the seller's agent - wrote an offer that is ambiguous then the buyer will gain the benefit of any disputed language, terms or conditions.
Few sellers have the ability to quickly review a real estate contract. It can also be argued that self-reviewing is not a good idea since the seller is emotionally and financially tied to the sale.
Sellers should sign a real estate contract only in cases where an outside authority, such as a knowledgeable broker or attorney, has first examined the papers. It is important that the compensation paid for this review is related to the time spent examining the documents and not their acceptance.
The decision to accept an offer does not mean that a property has actually been sold. It is possible for the buyer to back out and lose the deposit or for a contingency, such as the ability to obtain certain financing, to fail. But a well-written agreement, supported with a strong deposit, at least represents the best possible assurance that the deal will go through.
Once the contracting process has been completed, sellers are likely to have several remaining obligations. These include:
Termite Inspection: Many contract forms require a termite inspection. This should be done quickly if the deal is contingent on the buyer's acceptance of the inspection.
Insurance: Do not cancel fire or liability insurance until the property has actually been transferred in local records. This transfer usually occurs several days after settlement.
Settlement: Sellers must meet all the contractual obligations set forth in the sales agreement. Seller must also assure that settlement itself is conducted within the terms of the contract. All settlement papers should be reviewed by the seller's attorney prior to signature.
Taxes: Sellers must figure out how much tax money is owed from the sale of their property.