The Homebuyer's Guide to Earnest Money

Posted by Pam Hill in HousingMarch 16, 2023(Last Updated March 16, 2023)5 min read
Key Takeaways
  • A homebuyer might pay earnest money is to show the seller that they're serious about purchasing the home.
  • In most real estate markets, the average good faith deposit is between 1% and 3% of the property's purchase price.
  • You can protect your earnest money through a reputable escrow agent and a water-tight purchase contract with contingencies.
Are you ready to make some real money moves?

When taking a plunge into the housing market, budget, down payment amount, and mortgage terms are top-of-mind considerations. However, another crucial aspect to consider is earnest money. Earnest money, also known as a good faith deposit, is an amount of money paid by the homebuyer to the seller as a deposit on a property when signing a purchase or sales contract. 


The earnest money accompanies the proverbial handshake between buyer and seller, and demonstrates the buyer's commitment to buy the home. Of course, there are pros and cons to putting down earnest money, so knowing both sides of the coin is crucial before determining whether it is the right choice for you.  




Image Credit: SAMDesigns /

Benefits of Making a Good-Faith Deposit 


A homebuyer might pay earnest money to the seller to show they're serious about purchasing the home. Earnest money is crucial in a competitive market. By putting down a significant earnest money deposit, you can convince the seller to accept your offer over others. In addition, a strong earnest money deposit could help you negotiate more favorable contract terms.


Another advantage of paying earnest money is that it acts as insurance for both the buyer and seller. For the buyer, it ensures that the seller is committed to the sale. For the seller, it helps secure the deal and confirms the buyer will not back out without a valid reason. If the sale falls through, the purchase contract will determine whether the buyer or seller is entitled to the earnest money. 


If you do receive the home, whether you are a first-time homebuyer or not, purchasing homeowner insurance is crucial to help prevent any sudden costs that may occur. Although the monthly payments towards your house will rise, the additional cost may be worth it if  


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Risks to Your Good-Faith Deposit


While earnest money is meant to protect both the buyer and seller in the event of a problem with the sale, there are several reasons why a buyer may lose their earnest money when buying a house. 


  1. If the sale falls through for any reason, the buyer may lose their earnest money. Common reasons for a sale to fall through include financing issues, property problems discovered during inspections, or a change in the buyer's circumstances.
  2. If the buyer breaches the contract, they may lose their earnest money. For example, if the buyer fails to obtain financing or meet any contingencies outlined in the agreement, this may constitute grounds for forfeiting the earnest money deposit.
  3. If the seller breaches the contract, the buyer may be entitled to their earnest money back. For example, if the seller fails to disclose a defect in the property or sell the property by an agreed date, the buyer may be entitled to cancel the contract and receive their earnest money.
  4. In some cases, there may be a dispute over the earnest money. These disputes can often be resolved through mediation or arbitration, but they may also result in the loss of earnest money for the buyer.


By understanding the potential risks involved with earnest money, buyers can take steps to protect themselves and their investments


Recommended Read: How to Invest in Real Estate for $1,000 or Less


How Much Earnest Money Should You Pay?


The earnest money you should pay will depend on the market and the house's condition. In most real estate markets, the average good faith deposit is between 1% and 3% of the property's purchase price, but it can be as high as 10% in expensive or highly competitive markets. 


The best way to determine a reasonable amount is to consult an experienced real estate agent who can assess the property and market-specific factors and quote a figure within the standard range.


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Image Credit: Gearstd /


Protecting Your Earnest Money


After making an earnest deposit on your dream home, you must ensure you don't lose it. Below are a few steps you can take to protect your earnest money when buying a house:


  • When you make an earnest money deposit, it is typically held in escrow by a third-party escrow agent until the sale is complete. Therefore, choosing a reputable escrow company to keep your deposit is essential. Make sure to research the company and ask for references before entrusting them with your money.
  • A written agreement, such as a purchase and sale agreement, can help protect your earnest money by outlining the terms of the sale, and specifying what will happen to the earnest money if the sale falls through. Make sure to review the agreement carefully and have an attorney review it.
  • Contingencies are conditions that must be met before the sale can be completed. Contingencies allow for the full return of your earnest money deposit. If your lender does not approve your financing due to a potentially low credit score, or the house does not pass the home inspection, these conditions can allow you to cancel your purchase commitment. Including these items as contingencies can help protect your earnest money if something goes wrong.
  • Some policies, such as title insurance or a lender's title policy, can protect your earnest money if something goes wrong with the sale. For example, if you're turning over a large sum of money to an escrow agent, consider purchasing one of these policies to provide extra protection for your investment.


Recommended Read: Why Homeownership is an Important Wealth-Building Factor


By following these steps, you can help protect your earnest money when buying a house and ensure that you don't lose out on a significant sum of money if something goes wrong.


The Money Wrap-Up


Earnest money represents the down payment on a relationship between a homebuyer and seller. The deposit is typically held in escrow until the transaction is complete, which is applied toward the estimated closing costs.


But what happens if you want to call it quits on the relationship? Well, that's where things get interesting. You might lose your earnest money if you back out of the deal. It's like breaking up with someone and having to pay them back for all the dinners and gifts you gave them; ouch! But, on the other hand, if the seller backs out, the seller will have to return the deposit in most cases.  


Earnest money serves as the glue to ensure that both parties are committed to following through. It's a small investment that can make a big difference in the success of a real estate transaction.

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