As anyone who has bought or sold a property could recount, there are plenty of forms to sign. And today there are more than ever. As the world has changed and there have been reactions to failures within any system, new protocol is set up to try to control all that.
When we go out with a buyer one of the first things we do is to discuss agency. There is a form which I believe was new about two years ago which must be signed by all potential buyers. When first introduced there was some discussion as to when this needed to happen and it got a bit sticky. What I understood from my continuing education person, who is terrific, is that provided you discuss it immediately, when in the continuum of working with someone that form is signed depends on when there is "substantive discussion" about a specific property that might become something they'd write a contract on.
There are different schools of thought. I know one Realtor who gets that form signed before clients are taken to a single property. This is because they have been burned by buyers who didn't take the process seriously. What the form outlines is the list of obligations that a Realtor has to their client. Also, in most cases the form selected and set out for signature states that Realtor is working exclusively for the buyer. That buyer is represented. That buyer has someone in their corner to help them through every step of the process. This is real, contractual responsibility as important as the listing agreement is between Realtor and seller.
With the form you can select a duration of just the one day that the new buyers are agreeing to work with you. It doesn't have to be for a week, a month or a year. That way at the end of the day purchasers can evaluate their experience and see if they would be pleased to continue working with that individual. I tend to have the conversation, but not push for a signed piece of paper. Generally if someone doesn't want to work with me after a day of looking at real estate, then probably I'm better off without them. Thus far I've not had that experience. If someone didn't want to work with me it is because they determined that the Northern Neck wasn't the area for them to pursue. Ususally that doesn't happen either because I have enough passion for living here that I think some of it rubs off. Some of the hurdles don't seem so high. There really is a gentleness to life here, but establishing your connections and your patterns makes a difference.
Let's keep going on the buyer side. So a buyer signs the form, sooner or later. And finds a property and wants to write an offer. That writing an offer includes a bunch of forms. There is the contract itself which outlines the who (seller and buyer), the what (the tax map number, physical address, deed book/deed page that describes the property), the when (what is the expected close date) and the where (who will close it, be it an attorney, a title company, or to be determined). Obviously there are other items such as how it will be paid for, cash or financing or even owner financing. A down payment, any special considerations that may have come up. It could be contingent on a number of things, not just financing. It all depends.
Move on from that form to the other forms. The Disclosure form which the seller has had to sign also needs to be signed by the buyer. What this form really says is that the seller doesn't know anything wrong with the property related to things like limitations from an Historic District, run-off water, power plants....lots of different things that mostly don't affect us here, but the form should be looked through. It says, buyer beware, you are in charge of finding out about the property. Granted there are a couple of protections in place. Almost everyone I've ever worked with signs the Home Inspection form and a professional home inspector looks at the house at the buyers' expense. If items that one would expect would be kept up at the house are not up to snuff, then those are requested as repairs within the context of getting to closing. There is often negotiation of there seems to be excessive requests, etc. So the home inspection form protects the buyer. There is also a clause in the contract that states that the property will be conveyed by general warranty deed which means that it will be protected and guaranteed to the highest level. This is confirmed through the title search that is done when a property is going to closing. So yes, there are safeguards. But there is nothing like a bit of snooping to be helpful in all this. What if someone down the street is a real junker and is constantly moving stuff back and forth past your front door. No one is going to tell you this. You need to come back and visit your house a couple of times. Not that I'm suggesting paranoia, and generally this kind of issue seems to be more pertinent where people live closer together. And really, if you are concerned you should do this checking prior to writing a contract. (To tell you the truth practically none of my buyers over the last twenty years specifically did this sort of snooping. They just got to know the neighborhood a bit, probably talked to a neighbor or two and that was that. No complaints....it all worked out.)
There is also the Lead Based Paint form which is for homes built prior to 1979. Obviously if what you are selling or buying a property post-1979, then there is no need for the lead based paint form. This form is meant to draw the buyers attention to the fact that there might be that type of paint within a house and that exposure, especially for young children can be highly detrimental. Important stuff, but again, it probably relates more to city situations than here, but better that everyone be informed...and alerted to the possibilities.
In the actual contract (the "offer") there is normally a limitation at the end that states that it is valid until such and such day at such and such time. If it didn't then a seller and listing Realtor might go chasing after others who have been interested in the property and see what they can stir up. Even with that date on a contract (the "offer"), that still happens to a degree, but the amount of time that a seller has before a buyer moves on is limited by this clause and so....generally if a party hasn't acted on a property then getting a phone call saying we have a contract working isn't going to get them off the fence. People make choices and act on them....they aren't waiting to be pushed and that's kind of what this seems like. This sounds like an absolute, but it isn't because sometimes there is someone on the fence that when faced with losing a house will come out and get in the game and may well end up with the house. So as with a lot of this work...you just never know.