Understanding Earnest Money: A Guide for Home Buyers and Sellers

earnest money

Let’s talk about something that often comes up when buying or selling a home: earnest money. It sounds a bit fancy, but don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. We’re going to break it down and make it simple, so you know exactly what it is, why it’s important, and how it works.

Buying or selling a home is a big deal, and there’s a lot to keep track of. One thing that can feel a bit overwhelming is understanding earnest money. Did you know that 60% of home purchase transactions involve an earnest money deposit? It’s a way for the buyer to show they’re serious about buying the home.

“Earnest money is a crucial part of the home buying process. It provides a level of security to both parties involved in the transaction, ensuring that buyers are committed and sellers are reassured.”

David Childers, CEO of Keeping Current Matters

In this guide, we’ll explore what earnest money is, how much you should consider offering, and the implications for both buyers and sellers. Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned seller, understanding the role of earnest money can help you navigate the real estate process with confidence and clarity.


  • What is Earnest Money?
  • How Much Should You Offer?
  • Is Earnest Money Refundable?
  • Handling Earnest Money Disputes
  • The Role of Real Estate Agents
  • Practical Tips for Buyers and Sellers
  • Earnest Money in Different Scenarios
  • Importance of Timely Delivery

What is Earnest Money?

Alright, so let’s dive right in. Earnest money is a deposit made by the buyer to show they’re serious about purchasing the property. Think of it as a way to say, “Hey, I’m really interested in this house, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

Definition: Earnest money is usually between 1% and 3% of the purchase price. It’s a chunk of change that shows you’re committed to the deal.

Purpose: The main reason for earnest money is to reassure the seller that you’re not just window shopping. It shows that you’re ready to move forward and that you’re serious about buying the property.

Process: Once your offer is accepted, the earnest money is deposited into an escrow account. This is a neutral third party (like a title company or real estate attorney) that holds the funds until the deal is done. It’s like having a referee to make sure everything’s fair.

Application: If all goes well, the earnest money is applied to your down payment or closing costs. It’s not an extra fee – it’s part of the money you’re already planning to spend on the house.

Security for the Seller: For sellers, earnest money is a security blanket. It shows that the buyer is committed and has a vested interest in completing the purchase. If the buyer backs out without a good reason, the seller might get to keep the earnest money.

Buyer’s Commitment: For buyers, earnest money is a way to show you’re serious. It can also make your offer stand out, especially in a competitive market.

For more insights on the home buying process, check out our home buyer’s guide.

How Much Should You Offer?

So, how much should you put down as earnest money? It can vary, but generally, a higher deposit can show you’re really serious. Think about offering a substantial amount, like $20,000 instead of $1,000, especially in a hot market.

Is Earnest Money Refundable?

Here’s the big question: Can you get your earnest money back if things don’t go as planned? The answer is, it depends.

Contingencies: Whether or not you can get your earnest money back depends on the contingencies in your contract. These are conditions that must be met for the deal to go through, like financing, inspection, and appraisal contingencies. If these conditions aren’t met, you usually get your earnest money back.

Breaching the Contract: If you back out of the deal without a valid reason, the seller might get to keep the earnest money. It’s a way to compensate them for the time and effort they spent.

Importance of Working with a Quality Real Estate Broker: This is where having a top-notch real estate broker comes in handy. A good broker will keep you informed about crucial timelines and make sure you know when your earnest money might be at risk. They’ll help you navigate the contract and ensure you’re protected every step of the way.

For more tips on choosing a quality real estate broker, visit our real estate broker guide.

Handling Earnest Money Disputes

Sometimes, things don’t go smoothly, and there might be a dispute over who gets the earnest money. Here’s what you need to know:

Disputes: If there’s a disagreement, there’s a process to follow, which might include mediation or legal action.

Resolution Process: The dispute can be taken to a neutral third party, called an interpreter, who will decide the outcome. The winning party might also get their legal fees covered.

The Role of Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents are like your guide through the jungle of buying or selling a home.

Advising Clients: They help you understand how much earnest money to offer and what the potential consequences are.

Form Handling: They handle all the paperwork, including forms for purchase agreements and demanding the release of earnest money if needed.

Practical Tips for Buyers and Sellers


  • Understand all the contingencies in your contract.
  • Be ready to provide the earnest money quickly to avoid any issues.
  • Talk to your agent about how much earnest money to offer to show you’re serious.


  • Look at the earnest money deposit to gauge the buyer’s seriousness.
  • Know the procedures if a buyer defaults and how to claim the earnest money.
  • Be aware of the implications of accepting non-refundable deposits.

Earnest Money in Different Scenarios

Non-Refundable Deposits: Sometimes, buyers offer non-refundable deposits to make their offer more attractive. This means that part of the earnest money goes to the seller no matter what.

Bounced Checks or Late Deposits: If a buyer’s earnest money check bounces or is late, the seller can cancel the contract and keep the property on the market.

Importance of Timely Delivery

Timelines: Earnest money must be deposited within the timeframe specified in the contract, typically within two business days after mutual acceptance of the offer.

Proof of Delivery: It’s crucial to have proof that the earnest money was delivered on time to avoid any disputes later.


Earnest money is a key part of the home buying and selling process. It helps build trust and shows commitment from both sides. Understanding how it works, why it’s important, and the potential pitfalls can help you navigate your real estate journey with confidence. Always lean on your real estate agent to guide you and keep you informed.

For more detailed information on real estate transactions, you can visit the National Association of Realtors website or check out some legal advice on earnest money.

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home and need expert advice on earnest money and other aspects of the process, contact us today. Our team of experienced real estate professionals is here to help you make informed decisions and achieve your real estate goals. Let’s get started on your journey to finding the perfect home or closing the best deal!

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About the Author

Jason Fox

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"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." ~ Gandhi [ Recognized as a top 3.5% agent in the United States. ] [ Jason Fox was born in Everett, WA currently lives in the Meadowdale neighborhood in Lynnwood and has lived in different parts of the Puget Sound area in between. He has been in the real estate industry for 20 years in many different capacities. From General Manager of a real estate CRM engagement business, Founder of 2 real estate marketing agencies, nationally recognized blogger with the Jason Fox Real Estate Marketing Blog, Marketing Manager for a top title and escrow service. ] [ Jason is now an award winning residential real estate sales agent, Co-Founder of The Madrona Group, Co-Owner of John L. Scott Ballard and John L. Scott Westwood. ] [ Active in the community, Jason is a proud part of the Autism Speaks effort to raise awareness for autism. This project is very dear to him as he has an 8 year old son, Hudson, diagnosed ASD. Jason is also involved with Neighbor's in Need, the Forgotten Children's Fund, WELD Seattle and the Union Gospel Mission assisting the homeless population in the greater Seattle area. ] [ "My passion is being able to give back to the community that has given so much to me." ] [ When he is not assisting his friends and family with the services of home ownership he loves being a dad to his 4 children, Carter, Rowen, Tyler and Hudson and being a husband to his amazing wife Sarah. Hiking, working around the house, cheering for the Seahawk's, Mariners and Huskies and golfing. ]

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