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Everything You Need to Know About Unilateral Contracts in Real Estate


A unilateral contract in real estate is an agreement where one party promises to perform a specific action if the other party chooses to comply with the terms. This type of contract can simplify and streamline certain real estate transactions, offering flexibility and clear conditions for both parties.

Quick Answer:
Unilateral contract real estate: One party makes a promise, and the other party completes any required actions to accept.

In the dynamic world of real estate, understanding the nuances of unilateral contracts can be crucial. Whether it’s the right of first refusal, an option contract, or an exclusive agency agreement, these contracts shape many significant transactions and investments.

By grasping how unilateral contracts function, you ensure your business dealings are both clear and legally binding. Dive into this guide to uncover the benefits, challenges, and intricacies of unilateral contracts in real estate.

Infographic summarizing key points of unilateral contracts in real estate - unilateral contract real estate infographic pillar-3-steps

Understanding Unilateral Contracts in Real Estate


A unilateral contract is a type of agreement where only one party makes a promise in exchange for a specific action by another party. In real estate, this often means the offeror (the person making the promise) will fulfill their promise only if the offeree (the person accepting the offer) performs a certain action.

For instance, a real estate developer might promise to pay a commission to any agent who can find a buyer for a challenging property. The developer is only obligated to pay once the agent successfully brings a buyer.

Legal Framework

Unilateral contracts in real estate are legally binding but come with unique rules. The key legal element is that the offeror is the only party initially bound by the contract. The offeree has no obligation to perform the action but will receive the promised reward if they choose to do so.

To create a valid unilateral contract, the offer must be clear and specific. The terms and conditions must be well-defined to avoid any misunderstandings. According to the Legal Information Institute, this clarity ensures that both parties understand their rights and obligations.

Offeror and Offeree Roles

In a unilateral contract, the roles of the offeror and offeree are distinct:

  • Offeror: This is the party that makes the promise. In real estate, the offeror could be a property owner, a real estate developer, or an agent. They set the terms of the contract and are legally bound to fulfill the promise if the specified action is completed.

  • Offeree: This is the party that has the option to accept the offer by performing the required action. The offeree is not obligated to act but will benefit from the contract if they do. For example, an agent who finds a buyer for a property under a unilateral contract will receive the promised commission.


Consider a common scenario: a property owner wants to sell a house that needs significant repairs. The owner might promise to pay a real estate agent a bonus if they can sell the house within a certain time frame. The agent is not obliged to sell the house but will receive the bonus if they do.

Real estate agent showing a property - unilateral contract real estate

This setup offers flexibility and can motivate action without binding the offeree to an obligation they might not want to undertake.

Understanding these roles and the legal framework helps both parties navigate the complexities of unilateral contract real estate transactions effectively. Next, we’ll explore some common examples of unilateral contracts in the real estate industry.

Examples of Unilateral Contracts in Real Estate

Unilateral contracts are quite common in the real estate world. Let’s dive into some typical examples you might encounter:

Listing Agreements

A listing agreement can sometimes be a unilateral contract. Imagine a property owner tells several real estate agents, “I’ll pay a commission to the agent who sells my house.” Here, the owner promises to pay, but only if an agent successfully sells the house. The agents are not obligated to sell, but if they do, they earn the commission.

Option Contracts

An option contract gives one party the right, but not the obligation, to buy a property at a set price within a specific period. For example, a developer might pay a landowner for the option to purchase a piece of land for $200,000 within the next year. The developer isn’t required to buy the land, but if they decide to, the landowner must sell at the agreed price.

Right of First Refusal

The right of first refusal (ROFR) is another unilateral contract. It allows a tenant or another interested party the first chance to buy a property before the owner sells it to someone else. For instance, if a commercial tenant has a ROFR clause in their lease, they get the first opportunity to purchase the property if the landlord decides to sell. They can either match the offer received from a third party or pass on the opportunity.

Exclusive Agency

An exclusive agency agreement can also be unilateral. In this setup, a property owner agrees to pay a commission to a specific agent if they sell the property. However, if the owner finds a buyer themselves, they owe nothing to the agent. This arrangement gives the agent the exclusive right to sell but doesn’t bind the owner to pay if they sell the property independently.

These examples highlight the flexibility and strategic advantages of unilateral contracts in real estate. They allow one party to set terms that the other can choose to meet, ensuring both flexibility and motivation.

Next, we’ll look at how unilateral contracts differ from bilateral contracts in real estate.

How Unilateral Contracts Differ from Bilateral Contracts

Understanding the differences between unilateral contracts and bilateral contracts is crucial for anyone involved in real estate. These two types of contracts serve different purposes and have unique characteristics.

Promise for Performance

In a unilateral contract, one party (the offeror) makes a promise in exchange for the performance of a specific act by another party (the offeree). The contract is only accepted when the offeree performs the required action. For example, a real estate agent might offer a commission to anyone who finds a buyer for a difficult-to-sell property. The agent is only obligated to pay once the property is sold.

In contrast, a bilateral contract involves mutual promises. Both parties agree to fulfill certain obligations. For instance, in a typical real estate purchase agreement, the buyer promises to pay a specific amount, and the seller promises to transfer the property. Each party is legally bound from the moment the contract is signed.

Exchange of Promises

A key feature of bilateral contracts is the exchange of promises. Both parties are immediately bound by their commitments. This mutual obligation provides a sense of security and predictability. For example, in a lease agreement, the landlord promises to provide a habitable property, and the tenant promises to pay rent. This mutual exchange creates a binding agreement right away.

On the other hand, unilateral contracts do not require an immediate exchange of promises. The offeror makes a promise, but the offeree is not obligated to act. The contract becomes binding only when the offeree completes the specified action. This can provide flexibility but also introduces uncertainty, as the offeror cannot be sure when or if the offeree will act.

Legal Obligations

Legal obligations in these contracts also differ significantly. In a unilateral contract, only the offeror is legally bound to fulfill their promise once the offeree completes the action. For example, if a homeowner offers a reward for finding a lost pet, they are obligated to pay the reward only when someone returns the pet.

In a bilateral contract, both parties are legally bound from the start. Failure to fulfill any part of the agreement can lead to legal consequences for either party. This mutual obligation ensures that both sides have a vested interest in fulfilling their commitments, making the agreement more stable and predictable.


Understanding these differences helps clarify the responsibilities and expectations associated with each type of contract in real estate transactions. Whether you are a buyer, seller, or agent, knowing when to use a unilateral contract versus a bilateral contract can help you navigate real estate deals more effectively.

Next, we’ll explore how to create and enforce unilateral contracts in real estate.

Creating and Enforcing Unilateral Contracts

Offer Clarity

To create a unilateral contract in real estate, it’s crucial to make an unambiguous offer. The offer should clearly state what the offeror (the party making the offer) will provide and what action the offeree (the party accepting the offer) must perform to accept it. For example, if a seller offers to pay a commission to any agent who finds a buyer for a property, the terms should specify the commission amount and the conditions for earning it.

Written Agreements

Always put the contract in writing. A written agreement helps prevent misunderstandings and provides a clear record of the terms. This is essential for avoiding disputes later on. Written contracts are easier to enforce because they provide tangible evidence of what was agreed upon.

Signature Importance

Both parties should sign the contract. While a unilateral contract requires only the offeror to make a promise, having both parties sign can offer additional legal protection. This shows that both sides understand and agree to the terms, reducing the likelihood of future conflicts.

Legal Remedies for Breach

If the offeree completes the specified action and the offeror fails to fulfill their promise, legal remedies are available. Here are some common options:

  • Damages: The non-breaching party can seek monetary compensation for losses incurred.

  • Specific Performance: A court order requiring the breaching party to fulfill their obligations under the contract. For instance, if a seller promises a commission to an agent who finds a buyer, the agent can seek specific performance to compel the seller to pay the commission once the buyer is found.

  • Termination: If the breach is severe, the non-breaching party may choose to terminate the contract and seek compensation for any losses.

By understanding these key elements, you can create and enforce unilateral contracts effectively, ensuring that all parties are clear on their obligations and legal protections.

Next, we’ll discuss the advantages and challenges of using unilateral contracts in real estate.

Advantages and Challenges of Unilateral Contracts in Real Estate


Unilateral contracts offer a lot of flexibility for both parties. For example, a seller might offer a lower price if the buyer waives certain contingencies, like the loan contingency. This can make the deal more attractive and speed up the transaction.

Custom terms are another benefit. You can tailor the contract to fit the specific needs of both parties. This can be especially useful in complex transactions, like selling a property that needs significant repairs.

Custom Terms

Unilateral contracts are great for establishing custom terms. You can set unique conditions that must be met for the contract to be fulfilled. For example, a buyer might agree to purchase a property only if the seller makes certain repairs first.

This customizability helps in negotiating problematic sales. If a property has issues that might scare away potential buyers, a unilateral contract can provide the assurances needed to close the deal.

Risk Factors

However, unilateral contracts come with risks. One major risk is non-compliance. Since only one party is obligated to perform, the other party may not follow through, leaving you in a difficult position.

Another risk is market changes. Real estate markets can fluctuate, affecting property values and the feasibility of contract terms. For example, if a buyer waives their mortgage contingency but then can’t secure financing, they could lose their deposit.

Regulatory Considerations

Unilateral contracts are also subject to different rules and regulations compared to traditional real estate contracts. This means there’s more room for error. For instance, if a seller agrees to terms that violate state or local laws, they could face legal issues.

It’s always a good idea to consult with a real estate attorney before entering into a unilateral contract. This ensures that the contract is legally binding and compliant with all relevant laws.

In summary, while unilateral contracts offer flexibility and the ability to set custom terms, they also come with risks and regulatory challenges. Always seek legal advice to navigate these complexities effectively.

Next, we’ll tackle some frequently asked questions about unilateral contracts in real estate.

Frequently Asked Questions about Unilateral Contracts in Real Estate

What is a unilateral option contract?

A unilateral option contract is a type of unilateral contract in real estate that grants one party (the optionee) the right, but not the obligation, to purchase a property at a predetermined price within a specified period. The other party (the optionor) is obligated to sell if the optionee decides to exercise the option.

Imagine a developer wants to buy a piece of land but needs time to secure financing. They might enter into an option contract with the landowner, paying a fee for the exclusive right to buy the land at a set price within six months. If the developer decides to purchase, the landowner must sell at the agreed price.

How does a unilateral contract become enforceable?

A unilateral contract becomes enforceable when the offeree begins performing the specified action required by the contract. The contract is only binding once the offeree starts the task.

Consider a real estate broker who offers a $5,000 commission to any agent who finds a buyer for a difficult-to-sell property. The contract becomes enforceable when an agent brings a qualified buyer. Until then, the broker is not obligated to pay the commission.

Can a unilateral contract be revoked?

A unilateral contract can generally be revoked by the offeror at any time before the offeree begins performance. However, once the offeree starts fulfilling the contract terms, the offeror cannot revoke the contract without breaching it.

If you promise to pay someone $1,000 to find a buyer for your property, you can revoke this offer anytime before they start looking for buyers. But once they begin their efforts, you are bound to pay if they succeed.

Understanding these FAQs can help clarify the nuances of unilateral contracts in real estate. Next, we’ll explore the advantages and challenges of these unique agreements.


Navigating real estate contracts can be complex, but Greiner Law Corp is here to simplify it for you. Whether you’re dealing with a unilateral contract or any other type of real estate agreement, our expertise ensures you have the support you need.

Greiner Law Corp

At Greiner Law Corp, we specialize in creating, reviewing, and enforcing real estate contracts. Our team understands the intricacies of real estate law and is committed to protecting your interests. We take pride in our ability to offer clear and comprehensive legal guidance tailored to your specific needs.

Client-Focused Approach

Our primary goal is to understand and prioritize our clients’ unique objectives. Whether you’re buying or selling property, our tailored approach ensures that your transaction aligns with your goals. We believe in a seamless experience, providing peace of mind throughout the entire process.

Risk Management in Real Estate Contracts

Real estate transactions come with inherent risks, from legal pitfalls to unexpected property issues. At Greiner Law Corp, we excel in identifying and mitigating these risks before they become problems. Our proactive approach involves scrutinizing every detail—from contract clauses to zoning laws—ensuring a smoother journey for you.

By partnering with Greiner Law Corp, you gain a team dedicated to your success. We combine legal expertise with a deep understanding of your goals to offer personalized, effective guidance. With us by your side, you can navigate the complexities of real estate with confidence, knowing your interests are in good hands.

For more information on how we can assist with your real estate needs, visit our Real Estate Law page.

Navigating real estate, with its intricate details and legal complexities, can feel like an overwhelming journey. It’s a path filled with significant decisions and potential pitfalls, where every step counts and the stakes are high. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to walk this path alone. The importance of professional guidance in this journey cannot be overstated.

Real estate transactions are more than just buying or selling property; they’re about making informed decisions that align with your long-term goals and protect your interests. This is where the expertise of a dedicated legal team becomes invaluable. At Greiner Law Corp, we understand the nuances of real estate law and bring a wealth of experience to the table. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge and support you need to navigate your real estate transactions with confidence.


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