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What is a Land Contract?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 17, 2024
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A land contract is a contract between the buyer and a private seller of a property, wherein the seller holds the title or deed to the property until all agreed upon payments have been made in full. The laws governing such contracts can vary by jurisdiction, so it is important that the governing laws be consulted to understand the particular rules that control a specific scenario. The property at issue may be improved or unimproved, vacant, or a home or a commercial building. A down payment is usually made, and then equal monthly installments are paid until the property is paid for or until a balloon payment is required. A balloon payment is a lump sum of money that is due at a specified time, in this case at the end of the course of monthly payments.

It can be helpful to compare a land contract to renting or leasing with the option to buy, though they are not entirely one in the same. Such options are different in that the agreement is usually filed and is a legal arrangement, giving the renter or lessee the option to buy the property at a prearranged time during the loan. Rent payments then become equity in the property.

Although in many places it is legally required, a land contract may not always be recorded, making the legal recourse of the buyer tenuous should the agreement be flawed in some way. For example, if the seller still owes a mortgage on the property, the buyer assumes that the seller will use his monthly payments to pay the mortgage as well as any taxes or other liens, keeping the title free of encumbrances. If this occurs, the buyer owns the property free and clear at the end of the contract. If the seller does not keep up with payments owed, however, there could be trouble for the buyer. For this reason, getting the agreement in writing is important.

While this type of agreement can seem very attractive to a buyer who is unable to secure a conventional loan, there can be pitfalls to such an arrangement. Many sellers don't file or record the proper papers, sometimes because the seller's lender would not agree to a sublet agreement or contract. The lender may have stipulated that the borrower must have possession of the property. Making an end run around this provision by refusing to file the paperwork can cause problems if the lender becomes aware of the situation.

The lender can demand payment in full of the loan, forcing the buyer to procure a loan to pay off the mortgage if he does not want to give up the property. If they buyer can't come up with the money, he'll lose everything he has invested in the property and be forced to move out. This can be especially painful if the buyer has also spent money and energy improving the property.

Even if there is no mortgage on the property, there can be back taxes or other liens that the seller owes, which could cause the buyer to lose the property or force him to come up with extra money. If a person decides to take part in a land contract, he should make sure the title to the property is clear. It is also important that the buyer make sure the seller intends to file the proper papers. If a potential buyer is unsure about any aspect of the agreement, he should consult with a real estate lawyer.

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Discussion Comments

By anon982396 — On Dec 19, 2014

Thanks for the info! Do you know of a site with available land contracts or sellers who are looking to buy these kinds of deals?

By anon299867 — On Oct 26, 2012

I have a land contract on a home and left the property a day ago. I have not yet done a short sale back to the owner. They took money from a renter and have let them move in. Does this let me out of my contract and any money owed?

By anon285899 — On Aug 18, 2012

If you sell a piece of land on monthly payments of a land contract, do you have a lien upon the land until you sign something over?

By anon278126 — On Jul 04, 2012

My land contract is coming due soon, and I doubt the property will appraise out for the original sale, since the values have dropped. I will be financing with a v.a. loan and as you know, the v.a. will only loan out the appraised amount. What if I can't pay the difference? Can the sale price be renegotiated? Can I pay the difference to the seller via him financing the difference?

By anon243708 — On Jan 29, 2012

Can a seller under contract of sale, evict the buyer with a forged lease?

By anon239048 — On Jan 06, 2012

My father passed away and I inherited some land, but the man holding the mortgage refuses to correspond with me. He is in another state. What can I do?

By anon194125 — On Jul 06, 2011

i have a contract for deed that is coming due in two months. I do not qualify for a loan. My fiance would like to take out a loan and cover the CD, but the bank/underwriter is requiring that my name be on the loan.

Is there a way or a special loan that my fiance can take out to cover the CD? I'm thinking the bank is making this out to be way more complicated than it should be.

By kellyinlex — On Feb 03, 2011

I have no credit history and can not obtain traditional financing. In 2007 I purchased a home on a land contract. I have paid monthly mortgage payments, homeowners insurance and property taxes. I have remodeled, landscaped and painted inside and out. In short, I have invested over $30,000 in the property over the last four years.

The seller has now filed bankruptcy and has included the aforementioned property. Do I have any recourse which enable me to keep my home?

By anon146848 — On Jan 27, 2011

We have a son who is on land contract with us and he has lived there over a couple years now and is not complying with the contract, which was drawn up by an attorney. now we want to evict him. what do we do?

By kappman — On Jan 26, 2011

I am the current holder of a land contract. the house i am in the contract with i purchased at 59,000 and the contract was for 64,000 -- a net gain of 5,000. Both parties are in agreement for a balloon payment this year.

When the payment occurs the money will go straight to the mortgage company. will I have to pay any taxes on that? I got talked into this as a good idea by a realtor, but now i regret it and am ready to move on.

By eohern — On Jan 24, 2011

how can i get a loan for my house that is on a land contract without good credit?

By michael1942 — On Nov 29, 2010

I have been in a land contract for eight years and i recently became disabled and took the contract to the PVA office to get the Tax Exempt Status and i was notified that the owner that i bought the land from did not file the contract and without him filling out the "Prepared by" statement on the back, i would not be allowed the exemption.

I asked him to complete this, but he said no. what can i do? i need that exemption status and i have paid too long on the land to give it up.

By anon127724 — On Nov 17, 2010

can the buyer claim a homestead exemption if a land contract is done?

By anon126478 — On Nov 12, 2010

I will try to answer all these questions 1-69, but it may take awhile, and I am sure you probably won't listen because you are thinking I don't want to spend any money but anyway, here goes: Go see a a good lawyer.

Ask a couple of real estate agents in town who a good lawyer is and they will probably keep mentioning one or two people. Schedule some time and sit down with them and present your problem. Don't look to the internet to solve this kind of problem. Every state and situation is different.

By curiousmom — On Oct 26, 2010

I've been in a land contract since 11/08 and the seller agreed to report my payments to the credit bureaus, and also claimed that all major appliances (including furnace and sump pump) were in working order before I signed the contract. He told me the house had been inspected and everything was okay.

To be brief the sump pump and furnace died within six months. House payments have not been reported to the credit bureaus, and when I make the tax payments, the seller asks me to modify the receipts to show his name instead of my own, so he can provide the copies to the mortgage company. He also shows up unannounced at my house. He’s been meddling in my other personal business and it makes me uncomfortable.

It all seems shady, and I want out. However, this land contract was recorded. What can I do? How can I get out of it?

By anon118158 — On Oct 13, 2010

I am paying tax on my home and land that was given to me by my grandmother. A lawyer did all of the paper work surveyed the land and etc. We have paid tax on the land which comes in my husband and my name for seventeen years and a mortgage with land included done by layers. My aunt recently informed me that the property is in her name and she will not transfer it to me. What can I do? we have done everything legal.

By anon114324 — On Sep 28, 2010

I see I'm not the only one. I gave way over $10,000 to pay off a second mortgage and paid it directly. I thought later they really weren't allowed to sell it that way but I trusted him. In the meantime, I have no contract now and someone wants to buy it but I'm only going to get what i put in it, I'm told. I didn't get the tax rebate and if i was considered a renter, where's my rent rebates?

By anon113393 — On Sep 24, 2010

I purchased a home under a land contract with my boyfriend, who had agreed to make half of the payments, as well as utilities etc. He has since ceased to make those appropriate payments, so I am forced to pay the full monthly amount in order not to lose the home. I want him to move out, but unfortunately his name is also on the land contract, and he refuses to leave. What an I do?

By anon110195 — On Sep 11, 2010

What happens if after I purchased and financed through the seller a piece of property and six months later I find out that it will be rezoned as agricultural property. Am I still bound to the financial obligations or do I have probable recourse?

By anon105513 — On Aug 21, 2010

@krdina53: My first answer is no, and there are many reasons why it would be impossible.

It really depends on what your contract says. Basically, most land contracts give you 'equitable title' and the seller holds legal title until the contract is satisfied. The major problem would be the home improvement lender wanting a lien against the home to secure the debt and you can not do that unless your contract gives you that right.

Dana --Retired Arkansas Broker

By anon105511 — On Aug 21, 2010

@100158: It is not fraud unless it was specified in the contract that the seller was to file the contract at the courthouse. Do you have a signed copy of your contract and receipts or canceled checks for your payments? If so, you should be fine.

By anon100660 — On Jul 31, 2010

I consider you all lucky as hell for finding a place to call home! We are in search of a home to do on a land contract in Southern Ohio and let me tell you folks, it's not as easy as you all make it sound.

I was sitting here, reading your notes and crying, wishing I was one of you lucky ones instead of me desperately looking for a home.

Ours was washed away in a recent flood back in May of 2010. We have searched for rentals and came away with a leaky roof over our heads and broken out windows and a landlord who really didn't give a crap. I have called everyone I can think of, went to every door i could knock on, even a few i was told not to knock on, and still told no, I would rather that house sit empty than sell it, rent it or do a land contract on it.

Frankly, dear lady, the government just might pay me more than you, so I'm going to let it rot. But thanks for stopping in. You have a great day, now.

So you all sit right back, enjoy your sore muscles, your achy bones, your new gray hairs hairs from worry. you earned them all, but remember this: you have a home and some of us don't! -- still looking in ohio

By anon100158 — On Jul 28, 2010

Michigan: The seller was supposed to file deed with the register in April 2008. We just found out "seller" never did so. The seller is now trying to get us out of the house even though we've made all payments.

1. Is the "seller" responsible for filing?

2. Is it fraud if the seller does/did not file?

By anon85837 — On May 22, 2010

I am thinking about selling some commercial property on a land contract/ what are the do's and don't's?

By anon83043 — On May 09, 2010

we have our house in india which is being made by my father but the land belonged to my uncle and the registry is also in his name, so can we own that property legally

By anon74557 — On Apr 02, 2010

We have a lot that was once leased by American Indians. The state of California has taken the Indians to court because they claim they do not own the land to lease it and that it belongs to the state of California.

We no longer pay the Indians until the courts tell us to again but we still pay the state of California a secured property tax to use the land. This property tax is in our name.

Now, the trailer that sits on the land has been sold to another person by our family but he will not remove the trailer. Can we evict him?

By anon73393 — On Mar 27, 2010

I purchased a house in may of 2009 on land contract. We gave the seller $7,000 down,and moved in immediately. Within a month we found out the whole floor downstairs has to be replaced,and the septic drains up out of the ground. The seller said he would make everything right. Then changed his mind and will only replace the floor. Because he wouldn't put any repairs in writing, I didn't sign contract. Can I get my $7,000 back?

By chycna — On Mar 15, 2010

i need help on this question. What are the implications of this clause in a deed of sale? clause= "Possession and vacant occupation of the property shall be given to the purchaser against registration of the property in the name of the purchaser, from the date the property shall be at the sole risk, loss or profit of the purchaser."

By anon68693 — On Mar 03, 2010

I have been buying a home on a land contract for the last 6 1/2 yrs the contract was drawn up and filed with an attorney and filed through the county recorders office.I learned in November the mortgage holder has not paid any payments since April 2009.

I have all the canceled checks proving I have made the payments to them but my credit score is not high enough to attain a loan on my own what options do I have? How can I get help? I already have an attorney but I'm afraid and don't want to lose my home.

By anon56079 — On Dec 11, 2009

Need some help, I am buying a home on a land contract in P.A. The seller lives in N.Y. where he took out the loan for the house. Yhe seller recently filed for bankruptcy, and we are also unrecorded (I new nothing about being recorded and have learned my lesson).

We had a contract but I cannot find it and the seller will not give us a copy. He did admit that he was selling it on a land contract in his bankruptcy papers, so I am wondering what kind of rights I have we have been in the house for six years and would like to stay?

By anon52735 — On Nov 16, 2009

I am the seller of the property which was sold under the terms of a land contract in N.Y. State. What is my liability exposure in the event of some unforeseen eventuality on the property?

We have a contract for deed, but the deed remains in my name until a balloon payment is made three years from now. --jack

By anon50694 — On Oct 30, 2009

I sold a house on a land contract on a 60 month to be a balloon payment at the end. the buyer had no intention of paying the balloon payment and forged or signatures using our sin at the tax office to put himself on the deed, claim chapter 13 and i can't get him out. sellers beware. land contract are very bad period.

By anon47706 — On Oct 06, 2009

I cannot believe some of the questions I'm reading on this site. My heart truly breaks at the level of ignorance (no offense at all intended). It's my hope that those who've posted these questions will not give up on their search for answers.

By anon46872 — On Sep 29, 2009

i'm the buyer. i paid $7000 down and $500 per month for three years. i pay the taxes and insurance. i have never been late. but now the seller will not take my payment. She says she is going bankrupt. i only have one more year to pay. will i lose it? i live in michigan.

By anon46440 — On Sep 25, 2009

There are multiple questions posted, when will they be answered? If there is no one to answer them then the best thing would be to remove comments as people are asking personal questions rather than comments regarding the article or some other information.

By anon44783 — On Sep 10, 2009

I want my son to purchase a home I own and he lives in, unfortunately, he has bad credit and won't be able to get a loan through a bank. if I sell him the property through a land contract I will still have to collect payments, etc. I want to get out of the ownership entirely. Is there an agency I could go through to help me with this, or am I stuck?

By anon42657 — On Aug 22, 2009

All of these posts are great questions. However, none (only one) has been answered. So how is this website to help if the questions go unanswered. --Puzzled.

By anon41315 — On Aug 14, 2009

If I sell a home to my daughter and her husband (first time buyers) on a Land Contract, are they eligible for the $8000.00 rebate from the government?

By krdina53 — On Aug 08, 2009

Can i get a home improvement loan on a land contract? Kathy

By anon37588 — On Jul 20, 2009

I sold a house on land contract to an unmarried couple. During the 2 1/2 course of the land contract they got married and now are separated but they both signed the land contract agreement. If one party signs a breach of contract agreement and the other does not, do I still have to honor the land contract since the income has been cut in more than half and the party staying doesn't have sufficient income to cover payment, even tho they say they will pay every month. I want to void the land contract and take my house back...can I do this?

By anon37525 — On Jul 20, 2009

my son sold his home on land contract.The buyers are unable to get a loan which is due in January 2010. They want out of the land contract but they want to take the 10,000 down and put towards a lease option to buy. They don't have 20% into the property. Also my son has been paying the taxes and insurance on the house. I should add it was a 24 month land contract with a balloon payment at the end. My question is do the buyers have any right to the money that was from the land contract being put towards the lease option to buy? Original sale of the land contract was 135,000.

Thanks, anon

By anon37261 — On Jul 18, 2009

I am looking into purchasing a land contract home. I would like 24 months to come up with the balloon payment, however seller wants to give me 12 months. I thought a land contract meant you didn't have to deal with the banks. My friend bought one on land contract and only paid balloon when she sold it.

By tlittle — On Jul 05, 2009

Is it possible for someone who owns the home to give it as a gift and get a land contract with me to own the home. I do a reverse mortgage and give the equity to the owner who I did a land contract with? Are there any pitfalls involved with this as far as back taxes?

By Keb370 — On Jun 23, 2009

My husband and I are in the process of completing a land contract. Everything has been listed; payments, schedule, taxes, insurance and loan percent (7.2%) but the only thing I didn't see was if the seller has a mortgage still out on the home and the financial institution it is with. I am wondering should we make our payments to the financial institution and not directly to the seller? That way the payments are logged and nothing goes unpaid. Please respond back with any other info or advice. Thanks.

By anon34336 — On Jun 21, 2009

What if the owner knowingly sells a land contract with back taxes due to be sold in Oct, probably has liens on the title to his brother who is mentally disabled and doesn't know to ask? Isn't that some kind of fraud? I just found out about it as it was done in secret, of course.

Thanks.. concerned in Ohio

By prissygirl — On Jun 18, 2009

my husband and i are in a land contract- and we are currently going through bankruptcy -we wanted to be upfront with the people who we did the land contract with, and it did not go well- they told us that our land contract was non valid as we never renewed it 2 and half years ago - shouldn't they have contacted us? also they said with us filing bk that this causes conflict of interest and they can termiate the contract anyway?

also since we are renting the land -why did we pay taxes on it this year? then they also said when we did the contract that i signed a quick claim thing? should we throw up our hands and go while we can, and realize this was a scam?

By vmiko — On May 05, 2009

Does a seller have any additional benefits by selling a commercial property to a church (tax exempt non-profit) instead of a private party? Thank you.

By anon29252 — On Mar 30, 2009

I have a land contract and due to unforeseen circumstances have fallen behind in unsecured debt. Creditors are threatening to place judgments against me and arbitration.

I live in Pennsylvania. Can the creditors place liens against the residence where I have the land contract?

By catapult43 — On Mar 17, 2009

The rules about eviction vs foreclosure might be somewhat different in different states, so it is important to know in advance what the law and the contract stipulates.

For instance in Ohio the buyer can be evicted from the property if he fails to make payments and has paid less than 20 percent of the total amount, or has been making payments for less than five years.

If however the buyer has paid more than 20 percent or has been making regular payments for five years or more and only than fails to make a payment, the buyer has to be foreclosed on.

By rhodawn — On Feb 05, 2009

I am paying mortgages for a land in Texas and one in Carolina, from the developers (separately), I feel so tight right now and i want to stop paying. I still have my primary home, vacation home and another rental home, can they put a lien on my other properties? I am willing to lose every penny I put on those lands, I just can't afford it anymore, can they sue me. If they go after me, would cost them(seller/lender) a lot of money? Would this affect my credit? They are private lenders, and the loans were not even on my credit report when I checked it.

By anon25752 — On Feb 03, 2009

A land contract is not the same and should not be considered similar as compared to a lease option. The main reason is that a person in a home on a land contract can be evicted as a tenant. This is not true in almost all cases. If the buyer stops performing, they have to be foreclosed on, not evicted.

In a land contract it is true they don’t have title but in almost all cases they have some equitable title and must be foreclosed upon, not evicted. This matters to me as an investor because if they are on a lease option and I evict them, it takes a month or so max. If they are in a home on a land contract, I have to foreclose, which obviously costs more money and a lot more time. I wish they were treated the same so I could evict someone on a land contract but at this time you can’t.

Also, the risk of a loan being called because of the due on sale clause is almost zero, especially these days. There are potential pitfalls as you describe. But a bank or servicer is not going to call a performing loan due in this environment. And I would record a land contract to protect myself. I would happily tell the original lien holder I am managing the home for the original owner.

By anon24201 — On Jan 08, 2009

My husband & I sold a duplex to 4 buyers.. it was not recorded & now the two buyers have stopped everything that has to do with the duplex.. because the other two buyers are our friends it gives us legal right to be on the property.. he says he is going to sue us for damages,related hardships, & a lot of money.. & to take our name & the two other partners name through the mud.. All I want to do is warn people that IF they ever have a non-recordable Article of Agreement & it is only done at a notary to just leave,,, this has been a pain & lots of money lawyer wise.. so make sure that its recorded at the courthouse..

By anon22140 — On Nov 28, 2008

If a real estate LLC purchases a house, rehabs it and sells it land contract at a $15,000 profit, when does the LLC have to claim the profit for taxes, at the time of the signing of the land contract or when the buyer gets his mortgage and pays the balloon payment and actually completes the deal?

By Tsparton — On Nov 11, 2008

my fiancee and i got into a land contract last year just because we were in hurry to own our own home. we didn't really look around, now we keep seeing homes around that we would prefer over the one we're in. if we move with or without talking to the deedholder would we be facing any legal recourse from the deedholder?

By gaburger — On Sep 03, 2008

me and my husband are thinking about buying a house with a land contact. how do we find out if everything is clear with the title and that the owner has filled all the right paper work and if his lender is letting him do the land contract? please get back to me!

By melpom — On Jul 22, 2008

I have a land contract. I just found out that back taxes from 2004-05 have not been paid by seller. I found out that the city will take over the house at the end of Dec. The seller says I am responsible for back taxes. I did not sign the land contract until May 2006. What can i do? I a legally responsible for the back taxes?

By anon15565 — On Jul 15, 2008

My father had a land contract and has passed away. can i change it now-- I have power of attorney over all his business?

By anon15450 — On Jul 11, 2008

My late husband did a land contract 17 years. ago. I have recently applied for a ohio grant loan. I was denied because my credit report said my name is still on the mortgage of this house which he still has along with the deed to the house as well. I know very little about this whole thing!! Desperate!! Please advise accordingly.

By billiejean — On Jun 05, 2008

I have been on a land contract for two years and the last year I have struggled to make payments on time. The seller could have taken the house back but has not made that attempt. My husband has taken a job out of state and I want to leave the land contract. I do understand I will lose what I already paid into it, I am OK with that. Legally is there anything that the seller can do to me?

By pianolady322 — On May 12, 2008

We have a beach property that is land leased. The lease expires in 15 years. The owner of the land has denied our requests to extend the lease. Our house was purchased by our parents in the '60's and our family has enjoyed the house for years. What can we do? What will become of our house? Please respond! We are desperate. Thank you.

By anon10535 — On Mar 28, 2008

I'm the buyer on a land contract. Can I deduct mortgage interest paid? Can I list the property for sale? With a Realtor?

By dudla — On Mar 08, 2008

Jeanette - First of all jurisdictions vary in how they deal with transfers of property interest. So the only sure fire way to know the laws that pertain to your situation is to consult an attorney well-versed in the topic. But generally, the transfer of property has two steps, (1) the contract, and (2) the deed.

Once the contract is signed, the buyer is said to own the land even if he/she doesn't have legal title which passes when the actual deed is delivered. If you've signed a valid land contract, then you are effectively the owner. If the contract is invalid (e.g., the seller lied about something material to the sale) then you could be free of responsibility. But barring any validity issues, you will likely be legally responsible for the contract you signed. If, after the buyer signs a contract, the property decreases in value or even if its destroyed through no fault of the seller, most jurisdictions hold that the contract is still valid...and that loss is on the seller. How these rules apply to all of the particulars of your case, if they even apply in your jurisdiction, really is a question for a qualified professional.

By Jeanette — On Mar 08, 2008

Hi, if my contract is coming due and my home's appraised value has dropped significantly since the land contract started 2 years ago, am I obligated to "buy" the property? Or can I walk without any legal judgements against me? We can't get financing because of this issue anyway. What are my options? We are OK with losing what we put in, and just leaving.

By shudz12 — On Dec 08, 2007

should i enter into a land contract if i have already been approved for a mortgage just to get a lower interest rate and avoid closing costs? My current landlord seems a little shady, he initially wanted me to obtain a mortgage and once i did, now he is trying to hold the mortgage. he is refusing to give the bank the info they need to begin processing the sale such as the sales agreement, refuses to do a title search and refuses to work with my lender because he doesn't like her, what should i do?

By anon5857 — On Dec 08, 2007

should i enter into a land contract if i have already been approved for a mortgage, just to get a lower interest rate?

By amyklein — On Oct 22, 2007

I have a land contract and the balloon is due in December. I have tried to obtain a loan for the property but the house is not appraising out for what I agreed to give him for the house. I do not have the difference in cash. I didn't put a clause in the land contract about the house keeping its value. My question is Can I get out of the land contract? Can he file a Judgment against me? Can this affect my credit? He still has a mortgage on the property for the amount I agreed to give him for the property. What can I do?

By anon4405 — On Oct 16, 2007

I have bought a house on contract and now I am getting a divorce and we neither want the landlord he is going to put the $120,000 on our credit, can he do that?

By anon3807 — On Sep 18, 2007

You can always apply for a loan, but you may or may not qualify. A lender may not feel it's a good risk with a "walk away" contract (one you can opt out of).

A contract is generally drawn up by the seller and agreed to by the buyer (or their representatives).

You can add clauses to a contract to protect yourself, but it is best to consult with an attorney before agreeing to a contract, to ensure that the language used provides sufficient protection.

It depends on who's actually paying the property taxes, but it can be worked out via contract. You should be able to deduct interest payments, but consult with a tax professional.

By anon3588 — On Sep 06, 2007

Question:Which party gets the tax deductions for paying property taxes and loan interest? As arranged by contract or always a certain way? Assume above board parties.

By mgoldsteinwv — On Jul 17, 2007

Where does one find a model for a land contract that protects the seller from hidden pitfalls?

By anon1674 — On Jun 11, 2007

What are the drawbacks to selling a home contract for deed?

By knesea — On May 06, 2007

I'm purchasing a home by way of land contract how do we complete a form and where do we go to get a form.

By issy1958 — On May 04, 2007

Can a person apply for home improvement loans while having a land contract?

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