The Truth About Arbitration in Real Estate

If you ever made an offer on a property in California, you have read an Arbitration Clause. This clause only becomes a part of the contract if both buyer and seller agree to it, meaning they both initial the clause in the contract. And more than likely your agent told you to agree to it because “everyone does” or “it’s better than court” or for no reason at all. Well, agreeing to Arbitration may not be the right decision for you. Let me break it down for you.

Before You Get to Arbitration There’s Mediation

If a dispute arises in a real estate transaction over more than $10,000, buyers and sellers in California are required to go to mediation. Mediation is designed for both parties to find a compromise. You may find yourself in a situation where you don’t believe you should compromise. It doesn’t matter — you have to go to mediation. However, as long as you show up to mediation, you have met your contractual obligation. You aren’t required to come to a meeting of the minds. (If the value in question is less than $10,000, you would go to small claims court which is a lot cheaper and expedient.)

Next Step Arbitration

Assuming you have tried Mediation or you showed up for Mediation and promptly left, then your next step is Arbitration if you have agreed to it. Arbitration is voluntary but the decision is binding.

Advantages of Arbitration over Court

1. Your case will be heard faster.
2. The case will be resolved more quickly.
3. It will cost less.

Disadvantages of Arbitration

1. You don’t get a jury trial. If you go to court, your case will be heard by a jury of your peers.
2. There is no appeal process; the decision is binding.
3. Although it’s cheaper than court, you have to pay for it in a shorter amount of time while court & lawyer fees are spread out over
a longer period of time.

When I explain this to my clients, they typically don’t sign the Arbitration clauses. They understand that it’s still an option later on. But if a seller is dead set on it, then it can be agreed to in a counter offer. I will say that I’ve never had an client who’s an attorney that was willing to sign an Arbitration clause. And for that matter, the E&O insurance companies typically don’t want Brokers to sign these clauses in listing agreements, because they want to leave their options open.

It’s always a good idea to ask legal counsel if you are unsure of what to do.

Real Estate Advice: The Arbitration Clause in the RPA

Buyers signing an arbitration clause in a real estate contract

Signing the residential purchase contract.

To Sign or Not to Sign the Arbitration Clause in the Residential Purchase Contract

The Arbitration Clause in the Residential Purchase Contract (RPA) in Southern California is the only section of the contract that may not be agreed upon by buyer and seller and yet you still have a fully executed contract. Most buyers’ agents tell their clients to sign this clause without fully understanding it, and without fully explaining it.

The Arbitration Clause comes into effect if buyer and seller have a dispute, and mediation does not work. Mediation is compulsory, but not binding. This mean that if there’s a dispute between buyer and seller, they must go to Mediation. However if they don’t like the result, they don’t have to adhere to it. Arbitration, on the other hand, is voluntary but the decision is binding. There is no jury in an Arbitration, and you can’t appeal a decision. The upsides are that it’s much faster and much less expensive than going to court.

What a lot of agents don’t tell their clients is that you don’t have to agree to Arbitration at the time you sign the offer. Both parties can always decide to go to Arbitration at a later date even if the clause is not signed. In fact, my broker, RE/MAX Estate Properties has been instructed by our E&O insurance company not to sign the Arbitration Clause in a listing agreement for this very reason. The E&O company wants the flexibility to decide at a later date if there’s a dispute between the Broker and a seller.

Many agents go on auto-pilot when it comes time to sign the contract. They see a blank line for a signature and they assume it needs a signature. Make sure to ask your agent more questions. Ultimately the decision is up to you, but your agent should be giving you the information to help you make these decisions.