What is an Assignment?
REtipster provides real estate guidance — not legal advice.
The information in this article can be impacted by regional legislation and other unique variables. For the real deal, always consult with a qualified legal professional before taking action.
What is an Assignment in Real Estate?
In real estate terms, an assignment of contract is a way to profit from a real estate transaction without ever 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 (i.e. – middleman) 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.
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How Does a Contract Assignment Work?
The process for assigning a contract follows some common steps.
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 be attractive to buyers and cover their assignment fee.
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 language that clearly allows the buyer to assign their rights in the agreement to a third party. Most standard purchase agreements do not include this language by default, so if the buyer plans to sell/assign the contract, they need to make sure this language is included (note: talk with an attorney to make sure the language included and explained correctly).
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
From the very beginning, it’s 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 at or before the time they sign the original purchase agreement.
Find an End Buyer
This is the other half of a wholesaler’s job – marketing to find buyers. Once a buyer has been found, the wholesaler can assign the contract to the new party and work with both the original seller and the end buyer to schedule a closing date.
The assignment is done through a simple “Assignment Agreement” and it allows the new buyer to step into the wholesaler’s shoes as the buyer in the original contract.
While this document technically replaces the wholesaler with the new end buyer, the wholesaler doesn’t get paid until the deal is closed.
Most assignment contracts include language for a nonrefundable deposit from the end buyer, which protects the wholesaler in case the buyer backs out. Although it’s possible to download assignment contract templates online, this is one situation where most experts recommend having your contracts reviewed by an attorney. The assignment wording has to be precise and in accordance with your state laws; having an attorney review your contract protects you against any issues down the road.
Close the Transaction, Assign the Contract & Collect the Assignment Fee
Wholesalers get paid once the end buyer closes the deal. The assignment fee can be a flat amount, a percentage of the purchase price or the difference between the original purchase price and the end buyer’s purchase price.
With an assignment transaction, the end buyer will see precisely how much the wholesaler is getting paid because the end buyer has to sign the closing statement (which states the purchase price from the seller) and the Assignment Agreement (which clearly states the assignment fee being paid to the wholesaler).
If the assignment fee is a reasonable amount relative to the purchase price, most serious investors won’t have any qualms about paying this. If, however, the assignment fee is very large relative to the original purchase price (e.g. – if the original seller agreed to sell their property for $10,000, the wholesaler is collecting an assignment fee of $20,000, and the property is worth $50,000), some end buyers may take issue with this.
In cases where the wholesaler has a substantially higher profit margin, a double closing or a traditional closing is a safer way to close a wholesale transaction. When there are two separate closings taking place, the seller and buyer are not able to see the numbers and overall profit margin being made by the wholesaler between the two transactions.
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.
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.
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