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Right Of First Refusal (ROFR): What Is It?

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Published on November 3, 2021
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If you’re looking to buy a home, you may come across different clauses defining what you can and can’t do when buying (or selling) real property. It can really be an acronym soup! Today, we’re going to go over another acronym used in negotiating real estate offers, ROFR or right of first refusal.

What Is A Right Of First Refusal (ROFR) In Real Estate?

When discussing real estate, the term right of first refusal (ROFR), also called the first right of refusal, refers to the contractual right given to an interested party that allows them to be the first buyer to submit an offer on a specified property. If the ROFR holder no longer wants to submit a bid, then the seller can then accept other offers and someone else can buy the property.

If a home buyer knows they like a property, but it’s not currently for sale, a ROFR clause can allow them to have the first right to purchase a property if the seller does decide to put it on the market. Under this agreement, the seller has to contact the potential buyer and give them a chance to purchase it before they can accept another bona fide offer on the property.

How Does A Right Of First Refusal Work?

The right of first refusal is negotiated before homeowners bring a property to the market. That person usually has a time limit on how long they have to negotiate before the property owner can communicate with other potential buyers. There’s a date window on the notification, and once that time passes or the buyer declines, the seller is free to sell to another buyer.

There are a couple of ways that the right of first refusal often comes to pass. A real estate agent might see you have a property that’s highly desired by a particular client and ask if you would be open to a ROFR agreement if the property went up for sale. A landlord might also try to entice renters by agreeing to a right of first refusal clause for tenants, should they ever decide to sell.

How Do You Enter A Right Of First Refusal Agreement?

If you’re going to execute an agreement for a right of first refusal, it’s best for both sides to have lawyers involved. This is because there should be a time limit window where the agreement to ROFR applies.

Typically included in these contracts is an agreed-upon way to calculate what the future sale price of the property might be. In the absence of a specific purchase price agreement, the potential buyer may have the right to match an offer that the owner was going to accept from a member of the general public. If the buyer no longer wants the property, the seller simply accepts the other offer.

For example, the price might be a flat amount or a certain percentage above the current market value. The terms and rules of the agreement should be clear to all participants prior to anyone signing on the dotted line.

Pros And Cons Of Right Of First Refusal

ROFR agreements have benefits and drawbacks for each party to the transaction. Let’s run through both sides of it for both the buyer and seller.

Buyer

Here are the considerations a potential future buyer might have to think about before entering into a ROFR agreement.

Pros

The benefits for potential buyers are as follows:

  • No competition. Even if the seller puts the property on the market, they can’t accept any offers before allowing you to have a shot at the property based on the terms in your original contract. This could enable you to get a home you really value without having any anxiety about a bidding war.

  • Prices are often pre-negotiated. Because pricing terms are often included in the contract, you could be getting a property for less than it would earn if it hit the open market. It's worth noting that this only works out if you’re in a market where prices are rising steadily.

  • Time to work toward goals. For tenants, entering into a ROFR agreement allows them the time to work on their credit and save up for a down payment while potentially locking in a purchase price, so they’ll be ready to buy when the unit owner is ready to sell.

Cons

There are some drawbacks for the buyer as well:

  • Limited decision window. There’s a time limit built into the typical ROFR agreement, so when the seller does decide to put the property up for sale, the potential buyer needs to be ready to make a quick decision and know whether they can line up the financing. They should be ready to enter into a purchase agreement within a matter of days.

  • Prices are often pre-negotiated. This is both a pro and a con for both the buyer and seller. Essentially, if prices have gone down in your area, you could be overpaying by making a deal based on the terms of the original agreement. But if you let the property go to the open market, you take the risk that you won’t be able to get it.

Seller

The seller has their own incentives and downsides to weigh. Let’s do a quick rundown.

Pros

There are a few potential benefits to the seller:

  • No listing required. If you enter into a ROFR, there’s a chance you could sell your property without ever having to list it which can keep your costs down considerably.

  • You could make a windfall. If the buyer really wants it without the possibility of competition, you may be able to make out like a bandit and sell the property above market value (assuming the house appraises at that value if the buyer uses a mortgage).

  • Give preference to certain buyers. The right of first refusal may be given to family members or current tenants in the property first, and the seller may wish to have an opportunity to weigh their offers before the property hits the market. This can help families build generational wealth.

Cons

Just as there are drawbacks for buyers, there are drawbacks for sellers as well:

  • You end up limiting your market. Typically, the more buyers that have a chance to participate, the better chance a seller has to gain a higher price. By giving someone the first option, you could unintentionally be lowering your price.

  • A fixed contract price could hurt. If you have a specific price point laid out in the contract that ends up being lower than the current market value for the property, you could be leaving money on the table.

  • It could cause lending issues. Even if you’re not currently looking to sell your property, the existence of a right of first refusal could create issues if you’re thinking about refinancing an existing mortgage. Lenders and major mortgage investors generally prohibit you from getting a loan when these types of clauses exist because the property serves as collateral for the loan. If you default for any reason and the lender has to sell the property to recoup the investment, they won’t want any clause that prohibits them from making it available to the largest pool of interested buyers in order to get the most money.

What Is the Difference Between A Right Of First Offer (ROFO) And A Right Of First Refusal (ROFR)?

A right of first offer (ROFO) allows someone the opportunity to make the first move when a homeowner is looking to sell. Unlike a right of first refusal where an owner may be obligated to sell to the potential buyer under the original contract’s terms, the seller is still free to market the property for sale to others. The prospective buyer has a time limit to put together an offer, which the seller can accept or reject. The seller is also free to go back after initially rejecting the offer if they can’t get a more favorable deal from another interested party.

The Bottom Line: Carefully Consider Your Options Before Using A ROFR

Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a home, you should still consider all of your options in a real estate transaction before entering into a right of first refusal agreement. This clause is a useful negotiation tactic, but depending on the situation and current housing market, it may or may not be worth the risk.

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