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Option contract: overview

Option contract

Real Estate option contracts offer potential buyers the opportunity to purchase a property at a predetermined price within a set period of time. Such agreements provide the buyer, typically an investor, the luxury of time to decide on the purchase. It does so without the risk of someone else buying the property while these considerations are being made. Hence, real estate option contracts act as a safety net for investors allowing them to secure a potential deal.

The structure of an option contract consists of an agreement between the seller and the investor whereby, for a fee, the investor reserves the right to purchase a property within a specified period. This contract does not obligate the investor to make the purchase but simply provides the ‘option’ to do so at the agreed-upon sales price. If the investor decides to exercise this option within that period of time, they are able to buy the property for the previously determined purchase price. On the other hand, if the investor decides not to exercise the option, the risk they face is solely the loss of the initial fee paid to obtain the option.

What is option contract in real estate?

In the complex field of real estate transactions, option contracts have emerged as a versatile tool that both developers and potential buyers can benefit from. Essentially, an option contract in real estate is an agreement where a potential buyer pays a certain amount for the exclusive right to purchase a given property at a predetermined price within a certain timeline or “option period”. The essence of an option contract is in the potential buyer having the option but not the obligation to buy.

For instance, consider a developer interested in building long term rental property on a certain piece of land. Through a real estate option agreement, he can secure the right to purchase the property in the future, giving him time to carry out necessary due diligence, secure financing, or even check zoning laws. If everything checks out, the developer could go ahead with the purchase. However, if the plans fall through, he could forfeit the option payment and walk away, thereby limiting his risks. So, the option periods specified in option contracts provide flexibility and risk mitigation elements in real estate transactions.

How does an option contract work? 

An option contract in real estate begins when a property owner enters into an agreement with a potential buyer. This contract grants the buyer what is known as a “lease option,” a set period during which they have the exclusive rights to purchase the specified real property. The deal commonly requires the payment of an “option fee,” a certain amount paid upfront for the exclusive right to buy. The contract will clearly stipulate an agreed-upon time frame during which the buyer needs to decide whether they will exercise their option to buy.

Involvement of legal professionals like an attorney or lawyer is highly recommended during the drafting and execution of an option contract. This is because the complexity of real estate laws could lead to a misunderstanding that might put the rights of either party at risk. All agreement specifics like rights, obligations, option fee, lease term, purchase price, and the agreed-upon time frame, among other essential details, should be clarified and clearly documented under the guidance of these legal professionals. Miscommunication or ignorance might turn into potential losses or legal disputes, especially when the property owner is dealing with sophisticated real estate.

What happens in an option contract? 

In the course of an option contract, several critical activities take place. Firstly, the agreed upon sale price, also known as the ‘strike price’, is locked in at the start of the contract. This is advantageous in a real estate investment scenario, as it provides the buyer with the choice, but not the obligation, to purchase the property at the solidified price even if the market value inflates. An Option Consideration (typically a percentage of the property’s value), is also paid to the seller. This is generally non-refundable and serves as compensation for the seller agreeing to this contract.

Secondly, the buyer regularly pays a rental payment to the seller for the duration of the option agreement. This guarantees the buyer’s right to buy the property according to the terms of the agreement. Parties also take the assistance of agents to facilitate these operations smoothly. Additionally, the purchase contract is drafted detailing the terms and conditions mutually agreed upon. Through the entire process, documentation and adherence to the real estate contract is paramount to avoid potential disputes or misunderstandings.

What is the benefit of an option contract work?

Option contracts provide unique opportunities for both stock traders and real estate investors alike. For stock traders, one of the primary benefits of a stock option contract is the freedom it provides. Instead of purchasing the stock outright, traders can leverage their capital and hedge against risk by buying an option contract for a fraction of the price. Additionally, the specified time frame contained within option contracts allows investors to strategize according to their forecasts. In turn, this dilutes the risk tied to market volatility, allowing traders to potentially reap substantial gains despite the market’s directional outcome.

On the other hand, real estate investors can utilize option contracts for securing potential property deals without immediately committing to the purchase. This covers the prospective buyer by affording them the liberty to withdraw from the deal without any severe repercussions. The option submitted by the buyer is typically a small amount, providing less risk compared to a traditional mortgage. Real estate developers, accompanied by a real estate lawyer and a real estate agent, can evaluate the property during the option contract period and decide whether the deal fulfills their investment criteria. These benefits make option contracts a favored tool for companies eyeing to diversify and solidify their investment strategies.

What are the disadvantages of an option contract agreement? 

With an active option contract, one potential disadvantage is the unilateral contract characteristics. From the perspective of the seller, an option contract is inherently one-sided. This means that while the buyer can decide whether or not to exercise the option at the agreed-upon price, the seller is bound by the agreement to sell at this price if the buyer so chooses. For the property seller who is not a real estate professional, this lack of flexibility can be a considerable drawback, especially when market conditions fluctuate positively and more profitable opportunities may arise.

Additional challenges of an option contract agreement include the initial non-refundable fee or option cost that is associated with the initial writing of this type of contract. Employee option contracts can also be disadvantageous to companies as they can result in liquidity problems or stock dilution over time. Furthermore, with an exclusive option in a real estate purchase agreement, it provides the buyer with the exclusive right to purchase the property. However, it does not obligate them to do so. This exclusivity can tie up the seller’s property, potentially causing them to miss out on other interested buyers and numerous selling opportunities.

Can you reject an option contract?

When discussing real estate options, it’s crucial to understand the rights of both the property buyer and the option sellers. An option contract in real estate grants the buyer the right to purchase property within a specified time period, but it doesn’t obligate them to do so. Hence, if a property buyer decides not to proceed with the purchase, they can let the option contract expire without exercise of the option. This is commonly referred to as option expiration or option expiry.

On the flip side, there’s the Listing option. This is a type of real estate option that grants the seller an exclusive right to sell the property. It limits the seller’s ability to hire more than one agent to help sell the property. If the seller rejects a sale during the contract period, they can potentially face legal consequences. However, one factor to consider is that the option real isn’t exactly the same as a regular buy-sell agreement, giving participants more flexibility to change their minds.

How long can an option contract last? 

In the realm of real estate, the lifespan of an option contract depends on several variables, including the stipulations agreed upon by involved parties and the specifics of the deal. It could last from a couple of months to several years. The duration is often influenced by factors such as property values and the potential for growth or decline. For instance, an investor may lock in an option contract on a single property investment for an extended period if they believe property values in the area will rise. Conversely, a shorter contract may be more appropriate for volatile markets.

The intricacies of option contracts underscore the importance of seeking expert advice from professionals like a real estate attorney. Companies like SoFi also provide resources and insights valuable for understanding these agreements. An option contract can become particularly complex in scenarios such as securing a promising plot of land for future development. A developer might want to seek developer-exclusive rights through an option contract, ensuring they hold the title and control over the property’s future despite not assuming immediate ownership. In such cases, the developer also negotiates the terms of the contract, including the duration, to factor in potential changes in property taxes, zoning laws, or development regulations.

What is a real estate lease option contract?

A real estate lease option contract, also known as a lease-to-own agreement, is considered a high-profit investment strategy in the financial services industry. It is a popular method used in high-end real estate deals and is prominent among various types of contracts available to investors. A lease option contract qualifies as a bilateral contract, which means that it entails obligations for both parties involved. Essentially, it gives the tenant or the potential buyer the option to purchase the property at a predetermined price, within a stipulated duration.

Real estate options contracts are often employed as a legal agreement that provides the investor an opportunity to control a property without the obligation of owning it. The investor has the right but is not strictly required to buy the property. Hence, the risk involved in this form of investment strategy is significantly lower compared to traditional property ownership, making it an appealing and profitable investment approach. It is noteworthy that the lease option contracts involve unique considerations and complex provisions, thus requiring a thorough understanding to maximize potential returns.

What consideration is involved in a real estate option contract?

Option contracts are a tool that many business owners utilize to secure a property for future use or acquisition. To enter into an option contract, one must provide some form of consideration. While consideration can take on many forms, such as a promissory note or other legal obligation, more often than not, it consists of a monetary sum paid to the property owner in return for the exclusive right to purchase the property within a specified time frame.

It is paramount to contemplate specific financial aspects when contemplating this type of transaction. Tax considerations can play a major role in the decision-making process, as the payment of the option fee may need to be declared as income by the seller. Likewise, potential closing costs at the end of the option period should be taken into consideration, along with any additional costs that may be incurred over the life of the contract. Yet, the biggest advantage of an option contract in real estate is the ability to control a property for a period of time without the obligation of traditional ownership and associated costs.


Madison, M. (2002). The Real Properties of Contract Law. Boston University Law Review. Available at:

Lutz-Christian Wolff. (2020). The relationship between contract law and property law. Sage Journals. Available at:

 Michael Madison. (2002). The Real Properties of Contract Law. Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History. Available at:

 Hubbard W. McDonald Jr.  (1969). Real Estate Broker’s Contract–Broker’s Rights to Compensation for a Sale by the Vendor under an Exclusive-Right-To-Sell Agreement. South Carolina Law Review. Available at:

James Penner. (2000). Property and Contract I: The Power to Sell and the Influence of Markets. Oxford University Press. Available at:

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