The Appraisal Contingency in Today’s New York Real Estate Contract.

In today’s real estate market of short sales, mortgages underwater, depressed prices and a buyer’s market, where financing can be a tricky and arduous journey there is one contingency that may protect the buyer– the appraisal contingency, often negotiated by attorneys for real estate buyers.

Stated simply, the appraisal contingency is designed to give a buyer the right to cancel the contract if the home does not appraise for the price the buyer agreed to pay. Take the case of a Florida couple who contracted to buy a house from for $620,000. The purchase and sale contract provided that the sale was “contingent upon this property appraising for no less than $620,000.” The purchasers commissioned an appraisal which apparently came in at $560,000, and refused to close.

In response, the Sellers secured an appraisal which valued the real estate at $635,000. The sellers sued for breach of contract, arguing that any appraisal of $620,000 or more obligated the purchasers to buy the house. The purchasers argued that since it appraised for less (by their appraiser) they could terminate. The Florida appellate court favored the buyers, ruling: “In our view, ‘appraising for no less than $620,000’ means that no appraisal may be less than $620,000,” the court ruled.

The Bottom Line– contingencies should be written in full sentences. For example, this is a common contingency in a New York Residential Real Estate purchase:

Purchaser’s obligations hereunder are contingent upon the appraisal of the premises conducted on the behalf of the Purchaser, being in an amount equal to or greater than the purchase price set forth herein. In the event the appraised value is lower than the said purchase price, purchaser shall have the option of canceling this contract on written notice to seller’s attorney.