When Do I Not Get My Earnest Money Deposit Back When Buying A Home?

earnest money deposit

Buying a house is one of the most significant financial decisions in a person's life. It often involves putting down a deposit as a show of good faith to the seller in a home sale that you are serious about purchasing the property. While most real estate transactions go smoothly, there are instances where buyers may not get their deposit back. In this blog post, we will explore the circumstances under which a buyer might lose their deposit and provide valuable tips on how to protect your investment. When is the earnest money refundable if at all? Is a good faith deposit or good faith money the same as earnest money? Without earnest money a buyer can back out of a deal, you have to show the seller you're serious to take their home off the market. 

Failure to Meet Contingencies When Buying A House 

Contingencies are essential clauses in a real estate contract that protect the buyer's interests. These may include a home inspection contingency, financing contingency, or an appraisal contingency. If the buyer fails to meet any of these contingencies within the specified time frame, the seller could  have the right to get the earnest money. For instance, if the home inspection reveals significant issues, and the buyer decides to back out, the seller may keep the deposit as compensation for taking the property off the market during the transaction. If the deal falls through a buyer may lose their earnest money deposit unless it can be proven that the seller was aware of the issues. In which case they might get their earnest money back.

As A Buyer You Cause A Breach of Contract And Forfeit Your Earnest Money

A breach of contract in the context of buying a house refers to a situation where one party fails to fulfill their obligations as specified in the purchase agreement. In a real estate transaction, the purchase agreement, also known as the sales contract, outlines the terms and conditions of the sale, including the responsibilities and rights of both the buyer and the seller.


When a buyer breaches the contract, it typically involves one of the following scenarios:

a. Failure to Secure Financing: Many home purchases are contingent upon the buyer obtaining a mortgage loan to finance the property. If the buyer cannot secure the necessary financing within the agreed-upon escrow timeline and decides to back out of the deal, it could be considered a breach of contract. In such cases, the seller could have the right to retain the deposit as compensation for the time and opportunity cost of having the property off the market.

b. Refusal to Complete the Transaction: Once the purchase agreement is signed, both parties are legally bound to complete the transaction according to the terms laid out in the contract. If the buyer decides to back out without a valid reason, it can be seen as a breach of contract. For instance, if the buyer simply changes their mind, is unhappy about the purchase price or finds another property they prefer, the seller would  keep the deposit as a form of liquidated damages.

c. Failure to Meet Contingencies: As mentioned in the previous point, contingencies are an essential part of the purchase agreement, allowing the buyer to back out of the contract  under specific conditions. However, if the buyer fails to meet the contingencies within the specified timeframe, such as conducting a home inspection or obtaining necessary approvals, the seller could consider it a breach of contract and retain the deposit.

d. Violation of Specific Contract Terms: The purchase agreement may contain other specific terms and conditions that both parties must adhere to. If the buyer violates any of these terms, such as making unauthorized changes to the property before closing or attempting to transfer the contract to another party without consent, it could result in a breach of contract and the forfeiture of the deposit.

How to Protect Yourself from Breach of Contract Issues:

To safeguard yourself from potential breach of contract issues and the loss of your deposit, here are some essential tips:

  1. Understand the Contract: Thoroughly read and understand all the terms and conditions of the purchase agreement before signing. If needed, seek the advice of a real estate attorney to ensure you comprehend your rights and responsibilities. It is becoming increasingly difficult get your earnest money back as a refund. Understand what the contract states about what happens to your earnest money if you back out of the agreement.

  2. Communicate Clearly: Maintain open and transparent communication with the seller and any relevant parties throughout the transaction process. If you encounter difficulties or unexpected challenges, inform the seller promptly and explore potential solutions together. If need be bring in the attorney or title company who holds the escrow account.

  3. Meet Deadlines: Adhere to all specified timelines, including those related to contingencies and closing. Promptly fulfill your responsibilities as outlined in the contract to avoid potential breach issues.

  4. Include Contingencies: Whenever possible, include essential contingencies in the purchase agreement to provide you with an exit strategy if unforeseen problems arise.

  5. Obtain Pre-Approval: Obtain a mortgage pre-approval before making an offer on a house. This way, you have a better understanding of your financing options and are less likely to face unexpected obstacles during the transaction.

Waiving the Contingencies Seller Could Keep The Earnest Money Deposit

In some competitive real estate markets, buyers may decide to waive certain contingencies to make their offer more appealing to the seller. While this tactic can strengthen your bid, it also increases the risk of losing your deposit. By waiving essential contingencies like the home inspection or financing approval, the buyer is essentially accepting the property as-is, leaving little recourse to back out of the deal if problems arise later. You have to be serious about buying the house as you will not get your money back and the seller will get to keep the earnest money. 

Fraudulent or Misleading Information Could Lose Your Earnest Money

In the process of buying a house, the seller is obligated to provide accurate and truthful information about the property. This includes disclosing any known defects, issues, or material facts that could affect the buyer's decision-making process. However, in some cases, sellers intentionally or unintentionally provide fraudulent or misleading information, leading the buyer to make a purchase based on false premises.


Instances of fraudulent or misleading information can include:

a. Concealing Property Defects: If the seller knows about significant defects in the property, such as structural issues, water damage, or termite infestations, but deliberately withholds this information from the buyer, it can be considered fraudulent. As a result, the buyer could end up facing unexpected repair or closing costs or safety hazards after purchasing the property. A buyer should get earnest money back 

b. Misrepresenting Property Features: If the seller provides false information about the property's features, such as the size, condition, or amenities, the buyer could be misled into believing they are getting more than what is actually offered.

c. Hiding Past Property Damage: Failure to disclose past incidents, such as floods, fires, or other damages that may impact the property's value or safety, can be deceptive.

d. Falsifying Documentation: In some cases, sellers could forge documents related to the property, such as title deeds, inspection reports, or property records, to create a false impression of the property's condition or ownership.

Impact on the Buyer's Deposit:

If the buyer discovers fraudulent or misleading information after signing the purchase agreement but before closing the deal, they might have valid reasons to back out of the transaction. In such cases, the buyer can potentially request the return of their deposit.

However, the process of proving fraudulent intent or misleading information can be challenging, and it often involves legal complexities. Buyers must be diligent in conducting their due diligence before entering into the contract and consider taking the following steps to protect themselves:

  1. Hire a Home Inspector: Engage a reputable and licensed home inspector to conduct a thorough inspection of the property. This can help identify any hidden issues or defects that the seller might not have disclosed.

  2. Review Property History: Obtain a property history report that includes any past incidents, damages, or insurance claims filed for the property.

  3. Request Seller Disclosures: In many jurisdictions, sellers are required to provide specific disclosures about the property's condition and any known defects. Request these disclosures in writing and ensure they are comprehensive and accurate.

  4. Work with a Real Estate Agent: A competent real estate agent can guide you through the buying process and help identify any red flags or inconsistencies in the information provided by the seller.

  5. Consult with Legal Counsel: If you suspect fraudulent or misleading information, consult with a real estate attorney who can review the documents and advise you on the best course of action.

Missed Timelines...No Earnest Money Back 

Real estate contracts often have strict timelines for various stages of the transaction. If the buyer fails to meet these deadlines without proper cause, the seller may have grounds to keep the deposit. It is crucial for buyers to stay organized, communicate effectively with all parties involved, and meet their responsibilities promptly to avoid such situations. In some cases the seller is entitled to keep your earnest money if the buyer is unable to close on time. 


Buying a house involves a significant financial commitment, and the deposit serves as a security measure for both the buyer and the seller. While losing the deposit can be a frustrating and costly experience, buyers can protect themselves by being diligent during the purchasing process. It is crucial to understand the terms of the contract, adhere to specified timelines, and conduct all necessary inspections and due diligence before finalizing the deal. The seller needs to know the buyer is serious about buying their home and earnest money becomes crucial to the deal. Earnest money is refundable in certain cases but refund of the earnest money if you back out of the contract is not common. As a buyer you would receive the earnest money deposit back if the seller causes the deal to fall through.

Before making any real estate purchase, it is advisable to consult with a qualified real estate attorney or agent to ensure that your interests are protected throughout the transaction. By being well-informed and cautious, buyers can increase the likelihood of a successful and smooth home buying experience while safeguarding their hard-earned money. Ask whether the earnest money is a deposit that as long as the buyer abides by the terms in the contract you get the earnest money back. 

This post was written by David O'Doherty, a licensed real estate agent since 2007 helping buyers and sellers in Clayton, NC and the Greater Triangle Area of North Carolina. He is committed to providing his clients with exceptional service and personalized attention throughout every step of the real estate process. If you're looking to buy or sell a property in Clayton, NC, or the surrounding areas or have any questions about the local real estate market, don't hesitate to contact David O'Doherty today. Call or Text (919) 601-2268 or email [email protected]

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