No one likes to give money away, but a monetary credit from the seller to the buyer can solve a problem that might otherwise derail a home-sale transaction. Here’s a typical scenario where a seller credit could save the deal.

The buyers are stretching to buy their dream home. Tapped out financially, they panic when they discover during their home inspection that the roof needs replacing. The inspector impresses upon the buyers that the roof must be replaced immediately; it can’t wait. But the buyers don’t have enough extra cash to cover the cost of a new roof.

One option for the buyers is to back out of the deal, and find another less expensive house, or a house with a roof that’s in better condition. But this puts the buyers back in the market searching for a new house. And the sellers have no recourse but to put their house back on the market, and search for another buyer.

Another option is for the buyers to ask the sellers to credit them enough money to take care of replacing the roof. If the sellers are willing, the transaction stays together. The sellers will net less from the sale, but the sale will close. If more time on the market means less money for the seller, this could be an acceptable solution for both parties.

There are other benefits to be derived from this approach to repairing property defects. One is that it relieves the sellers of the burden of having to oversee work while they’re in the midst of moving out of the house. Another is that buyers often prefer to oversee the work themselves to make sure that it’s done properly. Also, there’s often not enough time to have repairs done before closing.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Before you ask the seller to credit you money at closing, check with your mortgage broker or loan agent to find out what restrictions your lender might have regarding seller credits. Usually, lenders will only allow a credit for up to 3 percent of the purchase price. Also, most lenders limit the amount of money they’ll allow a seller to credit to not more than the amount of the buyer’s nonrecurring closing costs.

Nonrecurring closing costs are one-time-only costs that a buyer pays at closing, such as loan origination fees or transfer taxes. Recurring closing costs are those costs paid at closing that are part of ongoing expenses a buyer will pay, such as homeowner’s insurance or mortgage interest.

Lenders don’t like money to pass from the seller to the buyer if it in some way lowers the amount of the buyer’s cash down payment. But they will usually allow a seller credit that offsets the buyer’s nonrecurring closing costs. This means that you won’t walk away from the closing with a check for the amount of the credit in your pocket. Instead, the seller credit will lower the amount of money you need to bring to the closing. The money you save can be applied toward repairing the property defect.

Seller credits can be useful when buyers are short of the cash required to make an offer. Let’s say you have enough saved for a 10 percent down payment. But you are shy the money needed for closing costs. Your purchase offer could include a provision for the seller to credit you an amount at closing to be applied toward your nonrecurring closing costs.

A credit lowers the seller’s net proceeds. So, you may need to increase your asking price to cover the amount of the credit if you’re in competition, or if the property is attractively priced.

THE CLOSING: Just make sure, before you do this, that the property is likely to appraise at the higher price.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.


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