You’ve Been Warned

Here it is, the single most common reason for a contract to fall through: not adhering to timelines in a contract. If you don't follow the timeline that you both agreed to, you'll be in breach of contract and will risk losing your earnest money deposit. 

Timelines, timelines, timelines. Trying to pin down a closing date on a house up front is like trying to hold a fish (slippery little bugger). There are so many moving parts, and people are only human; they're forgetful, and there are lots of steps in the transaction with various professionals having different jobs to do that affect the closing calendar in a variety of ways.

It's one of the reasons that the actual closing date and time aren't set until most contingencies have been cleared, so the many possible delays to closing mean the title company waits until the end of the transaction to put something concrete on the calendar.

Example: A Shifting Timeline

While an offer generally lists a settlement date, it is usually tentative. If it takes the seller a few days to respond to the offer, and then both parties negotiate over a few more days, the closing date will already need to be pushed back—and you haven't even signed the contract yet! 

Toss in multiple contingencies, each with their own number of days allotted for the buyer to terminate the contract, along with a slew of professionals, and you end up with a giant mess of a timeline very quickly.

Turn in Your (Literal) Home Work

Missed due dates are not limited to homework assignments in primary school—adults do it, too. Unfortunately, failure to do what you've legally committed to can have significant ramifications. Something as simple as not applying for financing by the date specified in the contract is a justifiable reason for the seller to keep your earnest money deposit. Being aware of the contract’s timelines will keep you on track to close.

A Timeline for Each Step

Fun Fact

While timelines are technically hard deadlines, if you and the seller are both amenable to changes, there's no reason you can't adjust dates that suit you both. Sometimes collaboration and cooperation is what it takes to get to the closing table, even if that means modifying originally scheduled dates. However, you shouldn't rely on the seller's goodwill–get everything in writing. If you don't abide by the deadlines and you don't get an amendment in writing by the seller, you will legally be in default.

What are my options if the seller isn't ready to move out yet but wants to close on the house?

You could rent back the house to the seller for a specified period of time, such as two weeks, to give them enough time to move the rest of their belongings out of the house. This type of agreement is called a post-occupancy agreement and is just a rental agreement for a short period of time after closing. You'll want to make sure you protect yourself and agree in advance on the terms of the seller's occupancy. Get everything in writing.

What are my options if I need to close on the house because of an inflexible move-in date but my closing gets pushed?

If the seller is amenable to it, you can sign a pre-occupancy agreement that provides some flexibility with regard to moving in and closing. Typically these are not for long periods of time, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. If you’ve already been approved for the loan and you're willing to transfer your down payment to the title company in advance, the seller may agree to an early move-in date.


Putting aside the actions required to legally transfer a property from one person to another, coordinating the seller's move out and the buyer's move in can further complicate matters. This timing can be further complicated by delays in closing caused by the lender, issues with evicting a tenant, or a buyer's sale of another property experiencing delays, which affects their ability to pay the down payment. If you're willing to get creative and both parties are committed to closing, these problems can often be resolved despite the temporary headaches.


“On the day of closing, we had difficulty reaching the lender, only to discover that the lender was not prepared to close that day. This was unwelcome news because we had arranged to have flooring contractors begin refinishing the hardwood floors on the day of closing. Luckily, the seller allowed the contractors in after being assured that the buyers would, in fact, close on the house as soon as their lender got it together. If we hadn't closed, the seller would have had their floors redone for free!”