Real Estate Options: What You Need to Know

When it comes to real estate transactions, buyers and sellers have more options than ever before. In some transactions, buyers may consider a real estate option contract - or an option to purchase real estate. But what is an option in real estate? Simply put, a real estate option is a contract that gives buyers exclusive rights to purchase a property.


At first glance, real estate options may seem like a complex concept, but in many regards, they’re actually an incredibly straightforward real estate transaction. Let’s look further into real estate options, including what they really are, their elements, how they differ from stock options, some of their benefits and an example of how one can work. 


What is a Real Estate Option

What is an option contract in real estate? How does it differ from other types of real estate transactions? Real estate options most commonly occur between landowners and property developers. They’re an agreement between two parties where the buyer agrees to purchase a property at a certain point and has exclusive rights to the listing during that period of time. 


A purchase agreement, which is the most common type of real estate transaction, is a signed contract to transfer ownership of a property.


Elements of Real Estate Options

Going beyond the option real estate definition, there are many different aspects of a real estate option contract. To fully understand what goes into a real estate option, it's crucial to understand all of its elements.

  • Optionee: An optionee in real estate is the prospective buyer of the property.
  • Optionor: An optionor is the seller of the property.
  • Real estate option: An option in real estate is a contract between a buyer and seller, which gives the buyer the option to buy real estate within a specific time period for a fixed price, regardless of market conditions.
  • Option consideration: Also known as earnest money, an option consideration is the payment a buyer provides to the seller in exchange for keeping the property off the market for a period of time.
  • Option period: An option period is a mutually agreed upon time period where the buyer has the option to terminate the contract without losing their earnest money. This typically lasts 7-10 days.
  • Exercise of option: A bilateral contract, where the seller is expected to sell the property at a fixed rate while the buyer is expected to purchase the property within a certain timeframe.

Real Estate Options vs. Stock Options

The concept of real estate options might not be as well known, and many people generally associate options with stocks. But are they the same thing? In order to understand the different types of options, it's important to ask the following: What does optioned mean in real estate? And how does it differ from stock options?


Options are just what they sound like: they give investors or buyers additional choices on a purchase. While stock options can get held until the option expiry, exercised early, or sometimes even sold, real estate options are a bit different. They give buyers flexibility and can sometimes even offer a better investment opportunity. 


Advantages of Real Estate Options

Real estate options are less common than purchase agreements, but there are many benefits for buyers and sellers who pursue this type of transaction. For buyers, they lock in the price of the property while giving more time to procure more funds for purchase. For sellers, they can sell to an investor, which is a lower-risk way to sell land for property development.


Examples of Real Estate Options

Common real estate options might include:


  • Listing option: Buyer might be able to benefit by listing the property and seeing a profit.
  • Holding period option: Buyer pays to have the option to purchase the property (but doesn’t have to). 
  • 1031 exchange option: Buyer pays to be able to hold the property, then can exchange it like for like property.

To better understand real estate options, it's important to note why they’re appealing to all parties. One of the most common reasons buyers and sellers pursue real estate options is for property development. 


For example, you own 200 acres of land you want to sell while a prospective buyer wants to develop a new subdivision. By pursuing a real estate option, the buyer has more time to secure the necessary funds while you can sell the property to a credible, low-risk buyer.


Final Thoughts

Knowing about and understanding the nuances of real estate options is important for real estate investors. Using options can provide alternate ways for you to invest and profit from real estate investments while reducing your risk. 


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