What Is an Assignment?
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What is an Assignment in Real Estate?
An assignment or assignment of contract is a way to profit from a real estate transaction without becoming the owner of the property.
The assignment method is a standard tool in a real estate wholesaler’s kit and lowers the barrier to entry for a real estate investor because it does not require the wholesaler to use much (or any) of their own money to profit from a deal.
What Does it Mean to Assign a Contract in Real Estate?
Contract assignment is a common wholesaling strategy where the seller and the wholesaler (acting as a middleman in this case) sign an agreement giving the wholesaler the sole right to buy a property at a specified price, within a certain period of time.
The wholesaler then finds another buyer and assigns the contract to him or her. The wholesaler isn’t selling the property to the end buyer because the wholesaler never takes title to the property during the process. The wholesaler is simply selling the contract, which gives the end buyer the right to buy the property in accordance with the original purchase agreement.
In doing this, the wholesaler can earn an assignment fee for putting the deal together.
Some states require a real estate wholesaler to be a licensed real estate agent, and the assignment strategy can’t be used for HUD homes and REOs.
How Does a Contract Assignment Work?
The process for assigning a contract follows some common steps. In summary, it looks like this:
- Find the right property.
- Get a purchase agreement signed.
- Find an end buyer.
- Assign the contract.
- Close the transaction and collect your assignment fee.
We describe each step in the process below.
1. Find the Right Property
This is where the heavy lifting happens—investors use many different marketing tactics to find leads and identify properties that work with their investing strategy. Typically, for wholesaling to work, a wholesaler needs a motivated seller who wants to unload the property as soon as possible. That sense of urgency works to the wholesaler’s advantage in negotiating a price that will attract buyers and cover their assignment fee.
2. Get a Purchase Agreement Signed
Once a motivated seller has agreed to sell their property at a discounted price, they will sign a purchase agreement with the wholesaler. The purchase agreement needs to contain specific, clear language that allows the wholesaler (for example, you) to assign their rights in the agreement to a third party.
Note that most standard purchase agreements do not include this language by default. If you plan to assign this contract, make sure this language is included. You can consult an attorney to cover the correct verbiage in a way that the seller understands it.
This can’t be stressed enough: It’s extremely important for a wholesaler to communicate with their seller about their intent to assign the contract. Many sellers are not familiar with the assignment process, so if the role of the buyer is going to change along the way, the seller needs to be aware of this on or before they sign the original purchase agreement.
3. Find an End Buyer
This is the other half of a wholesaler’s job—marketing to find buyers. Once they find an end buyer, the wholesaler can assign the contract to the new party and work with the original seller and the end buyer to schedule a closing date.
4. Assign the Contract
Assigning the contract works through a simple assignment agreement. This agreement allows the end buyer to step into the wholesaler’s shoes as the buyer in the original contract.
In other words, this document “replaces” the wholesaler with the new end buyer.
Most assignment contracts include language for a nonrefundable deposit from the end buyer, which protects the wholesaler if the buyer backs out. While you can download assignment contract templates online, most experts recommend having an attorney review your contracts. The assignment wording has to be precise and comply with applicable local laws to protect you from issues down the road.
5. Close the Transaction and Collect the Assignment Fee
Finally, you will receive your assignment fee (or wholesale fee) when the end buyer closes the deal.
The assignment fee is often the difference between the original purchase price (the price that the seller agreed with the wholesaler) and the end buyer’s purchase price (the price the wholesaler agreed with the end buyer), but it can also be a percentage of it or even a flat amount.
According to UpCounsel, most contract assignments are done for about $5,000, although depending on the property and the market, it could be higher or lower.
IMPORTANT: the end buyer will see precisely how much the assignment fee is. This is because they must sign two documents that show the original price and the assignment fee: the closing statement and the assignment agreement, respectively, to close the transaction.
In many cases, if the assignment fee is a reasonable amount relative to the purchase price, most buyers won’t take any issue with the wholesaler taking their fee—after all, the wholesaler made the deal happen, and it’s compensation for their efforts. However, if the assignment fee is too big (such as the wholesaler taking $20,000 from an original purchase price of $10,000, while the end buyer buys it for $50,000), it may ruffle some feathers and lead to uncomfortable questions.
In these instances where the wholesaler has a substantially higher profit margin, a wholesaler can instead do a double closing. In a double closing, the wholesaler closes two separate deals (one with the seller and another with the buyer) on the same day, but the seller and buyer cannot see the numbers and overall profit margin the wholesaler makes between the two transactions. This makes a double closing a much safer way to conclude a transaction.
Pros and Cons of Assigning Contracts
Assigning contracts is a way to lower the barrier to entry for many new real estate investors; because they don’t need to put up their own money to buy a property or assume any risk in financing a deal.
The wholesaler isn’t part of the title chain, which streamlines the process and avoids the hassle of closing two times. Compared to the double-close strategy, assignment contracts require less paperwork and are usually less costly (because there is only one closing occurring, rather than two separate transactions).
On the downside, the wholesaler has to sell the property as-is, because they don’t own it at any point and they cannot make repairs or renovations to make the property look more attractive to a potential buyer. Financing may be much more difficult for the end buyer because many mortgage lenders won’t work with assigned contracts. Purchase Agreements also have expiration dates, which means the wholesaler has a limited window of time to find an end buyer and get the deal done.
Being successful with assignment contracts usually comes down to excellent marketing, networking, and communication between all parties involved. It’s all about developing strategies to find the right properties and having a solid network of investors you can assign them to quickly.
It’s also critical to be aware of any applicable laws in the jurisdiction where the wholesaler is working and holding any licenses required for these kinds of real estate transactions.