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What Is a Contract for Deed? A Complete Guide

What Is a Contract for Deed? A Complete Guide

A contract for deed is a financing option that involves a buyer entering into an agreement with a seller. The buyer makes payments over a period of time. This pays off the purchase of a home or vehicle. Once the amount is paid in full, the seller transfers the deed or title to the Buyer.

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You may also hear a contract for deed referred to as a bond for deed, an installment land contract, or a land contract. In a contract for deed, the seller is considered the vendor, and the buyer is considered the vendee. 

A contract for deed is similar but not the same thing as “rent to own.” When a buyer enters into a contract for deed, they temporarily take over the responsibility of the mortgagor, or the person holding the mortgage.

They become responsible for things like insuring and paying taxes on the property, whereas rent to own arrangements treat the buyer as a renter until the purchase price is paid in full.

A contract for deed arrangements treats the buyer as the owner unless they stop making payments or break the contract. But there are some things to consider. Read on to learn everything you need to know.

When Is a Contract for Deed Used?

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A contract for deed is relatively uncommon compared to more traditional lending and financing options. They are typically used in one of the following scenarios:

  • The Buyer has trouble getting approved for other loan options
  • The Buyer and seller know each other
  • The Buyer wants to pay off the purchase quickly

Other reasons a seller might agree to a contract for deed include keeping ownership of the property until it is paid off in full, reducing the amount of paperwork and red tape, and decreasing the cost of foreclosure and seizure if the buyer defaults.

Sometimes, nonprofit and charitable organizations use this option to help low-income families purchase a home. 

Potential Problems with a Contract for Deed

While a contract for deed can be an agreeable arrangement for both buyers and sellers in the right circumstance, there are times when unique problems can arise. 

Limited Buyer Protection

One potential problem with a contract for deed is limited buyer rights and legal protections, coupled with their full responsibility for property maintenance, insurance, and payments. Through the course of the contract period, the seller keeps the deed and title.

Those documents are only transferred once the contract’s terms have been met (the full purchase price paid). This can put the Buyer in a uniquely problematic position. Another potential problem is the possibility of the cancellation of the contract if the Buyer fails to make payments as agreed upon.

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Contract Can Be Cancelled

With a traditional mortgage, the length of time or number of missed payments may be more flexible. In a contract for deed, the seller determines the length of time payment can be missed or the number of missed payments before they cancel the contract.

This could be as little as one missed payment or a payment that is more than one week late in some states. In terms of contract cancellation, there is the issue of the “equity” the Buyer has been building through the course of the contract by making monthly payments.

Potential to Lose Payments

If the buyer defaults by not meeting the requirements of the contract and the seller cancels the contract for deed, the buyer will not receive the amount of money they’ve paid into the property so far. They are not refunded their insurance, property maintenance, or property tax payments.

How to Create a Contract for Deed

You can create your own legally binding contract for deeds without help from an attorney. Your contract for deed should contain the following points:

  • Buyer and seller names
  • Date of contract start
  • The overall purchase price
  • Any down payment required
  • The interest rate
  • The total number of monthly installments/end date
  • Buyer responsibilities (property taxes, repairs, insurance, etc.)
  • Seller responsibilities
  • Rules about the transfer of contract
  • Legal solutions and process if the buyer defaults

Contract for Deed Example

A contract for deed may look like the example below.  Please note that this is for informational purposes only. This is not to be used as a legal document. Please consult an attorney if you don’t fully understand the topic.

Contract for Deed Example


________ (Buyer) and _________ (Seller) hereby enter into this agreement on __________ (Today’s date) as follows:

  1. Real Property. The Seller agrees to apply this agreement to the property located at _____________ (Address). 
  2. Purchase Price. Once the Buyer has made monthly installments that equal the full purchase price of $___________ under the agreed-upon payment terms, Seller will transfer the title and deed to the Buyer.
  3. Payment Terms. 
    1. Buyer agrees to pay monthly installments in the amount of $______ for ___ months, at maximum. 
    2. Buyer agrees to pay one annual payment to constitute interest in the amount of $_______ per year. 
    3. Payments are due on the ___ of each month. If Late Payments are received, Seller is owed a $30.00 late fee. 
    4. If Buyer fails to make more than two monthly payments, they are in default, the contract is void, and they forfeit the previous monthly payments made thus far. 
    5. When the Buyer pays the final monthly installment, Seller will transfer the deed and title to the Buyer thereafter, as listed under Deed Conveyance. 
  4. Buyer Duties. The Buyer hereby agrees to take over the duties surrounding the property and its maintenance through the length of this contract:
    1. Property and lawn maintenance. Buyer will ensure the lawn, property interior, plumbing, septic system, electrical systems, HVAC systems, swimming pool, and property exterior are maintained and in order. 
    2. Property taxes. Buyer will pay the property taxes on the property located at _________ (address) for the duration of the contract, acting as Owner. 
    3. Home insurance. The Buyer will obtain a home insurance policy on the home for the duration of the contract. 
    4. Property use. The Buyer agrees that the property is to be used only as a single-family residence. No driveways or easements may be added. 
  5. Deed Conveyance. When the Seller receives the final monthly installment in the amount of $______ within the agreed-upon ___ month time period, AND all annual interest payments have been made in the amount of $____, the Seller will have the title and deed transferred to the Buyer. The deed and title will be given to the Buyer on the first business day after the final payment is made. 

Signed _________________ (Buyer) Date:_____ __________________ (Seller) Date: ____

Contract for Deed Summary

  • A contract for deed is a legally binding agreement signed by a buyer and seller who agree to terms that are drafted by the seller. These terms describe the property, expectations, payment terms, contract period, and legal ramifications if the Buyer defaults on the agreement.
  • Contracts for deed are a bit different from rent to own as the Buyer has the same responsibilities as an owner would for the duration of the contract. A renter in a rent-to-own arrangement does not have ownership responsibilities until they own the property. 
  • There are several benefits to using a contract for deed for both the seller and Buyer. These include things like significantly shortened time to “close,” increased ability to secure housing for low-income or those who have trouble getting approved for a mortgage.
  • It also covers less expense and time required of the seller in the case of foreclosure, and the seller’s ability to hold the actual title and deed until the property is paid in full by the Buyer. There are some possible problems with this arrangement, though.
  • Those include limited buyer rights, the potential for unfair terms, limited transparency (some contracts for deed are never reported to local or state agencies), and the possibility of losing all equity paid into the property if the Buyer misses one or more payments. 
  • The contract for deed is seldom used today, but it still accounts for about 5% of the homes purchased in the United States. Some see this option as a great way to enable someone to move quickly into a home or avoid a traditional mortgage.

Some see the contract for deed as an outdated relic that allows sellers to take advantage of buyers who cannot get approved for a mortgage or loan.

What do you think? Would you be willing to use a contract for a deed for a purchase as important as a home?