A difficult problem for most home buyers -- even those who have bought property in the past -- is that they're generally unfamiliar with real estate contracts.

If a buyer's offer is accepted, it usually evolves into a contract -- typically on a form supplied by the seller or broker. It is not surprising that these forms tend to reflect the best interests of the seller. The situation is further complicated by the fact that many buyers are under pressure to make their offers quickly and do not have adequate time to review the sales forms.

To protect their interests, buyers should become familiar with contract forms used in their jurisdictions. Get blank forms from brokers, builders or stationary stores. Contact brokers who belong to your local multiple listing service, because their offer forms will be widely used. There are several questions to ask.

Does the form list the property in general terms or does it specifically include such features as refrigerators, built-in appliances, curtain rods, awnings, shutters, storm doors and other items? A specific list can help avoid problems at settlement.

Is there a contingency clause for financing? This clause will protect you if you cannot get financing to purchase the property after a good-faith effort. Without a contingency for financing you could lose your deposit.

Who will select the settlement provider -- usually an attorney or title company -- and who will pay for these services? Buyers normally do here, but this is negotiable. Perhaps you can get the seller to pay half the settlement expenses.

Will there be termite inspection? Insist on an inspection that shows the house is free and clear of termites.