By Stephen L. Fussell, Chief CPO
In an effort to gain a competitive advantage, some prospective buyers may ask their agents to include escalation clauses in their offers. An escalation clause is one in which a prospective buyer expresses their willingness to pay a specific amount more than the highest competing buyer. The escalation clause may or may not indicate a maximum amount that the prospective buyer is willing to pay.
The Commission discourages the use of escalation clauses, but does not prohibit them. Commission Rule A .0115 reads as follows: “A broker shall not disclose the price or other material terms contained in a party’s offer to purchase, sell, lease, rent, or to option real property to a competing party without the express authority of the offering party.” Therefore, in the unlikely event that a buyer consents to allow a broker to share the price and terms specified in their offer with another prospective buyer, then and only then may the broker do so.
Pitfalls of escalation clauses:
A seller’s best response in a multiple offer situation where one or more of the buyers is using an escalation clause will likely be to invite all buyers to make their highest and best offers. That way, each buyer is given an opportunity to buy the property at the price and terms he or she is willing to pay and the seller will receive the best offer from each buyer rather than an incremental offer from a buyer who wants to offer slightly more than a competing buyer.
Escalation clauses tend to focus on price. Listing agents should exercise care to advise seller-clients to consider more than the sales price in an offer. An offer from a well-qualified buyer who offers a lesser amount may be a wiser choice than a higher offer from a less-qualified buyer. Similarly, an offer from a buyer who has visited the property may be preferred over one who offers a high price sight unseen.
Brokers who choose to use escalation clauses should proceed with extreme caution. Real estate transactions are complex even without such clauses. Real estate transactions in busy markets with low inventory can be even more frantic. The use of such clauses may introduce confusion, anxiety, frustration and fraud. For these reasons, the Commission discourages their usage and the disclosure of the terms of competing offers even when authorized by buyers.