What is a Binder in Real Estate?

Let’s face it, real estate transactions are complicated. If you have never bought or sold a home before, be prepared for jargon and strange financial terms that will have you breaking out your phone to find their definition.

The Storck Team believes important real estate transactions or paperwork should be understandable for everyone, so today we’ll tackle the importance of binders in real estate. We’ll answer overall questions like what is a binder in real estate, the different types of binders, and what they all mean when buying a home.

What is a Binder in Real Estate?

A reliable real estate agent will help you understand what you need to know to stay protected but learning some terms for yourself will help you make smart and informed decisions.

What is a Binder When Buying a House?

When buying a house, a binder refers to formal and informal agreements leading up to the closing of the property. Because they’re used in many contexts, binders can be confusing. Most often a binder in real estate refers to the real estate binder, also known as an escrow or mortgage binder.

A real estate binder refers to an informal agreement between buyer and seller to indicate strong interest in a property transaction. The mortgage binder often involves putting a down payment known as earnest money, though a down payment is not required on all real estate binders.

Despite its name a real estate binder is not legally binding. The binder keeps interest in a transaction and encourages open communication between buyer and seller but it’s an informal agreement and is eventually replaced by the formal (and legally binding) agreement of sale.

How mortgage binders work in your area don’t depend on local laws and ordinances but rather customs determined by real estate markets. For example, a hot market like the Denver, Colorado area will usually come with many types of binder requirements while a home sale in rural Iowa won’t be packed with as much “legalese.”

3 Terms to Know about Binders in Real Estate

  • Title Binder – Title binders are temporary insurance coverage meant to protect both buyer and seller during real estate transactions. They’re most often used when the buyer and seller’s home insurance coverage don’t overlap – leaving the home vulnerable to unrecoverable damage. A title insurance binder is different from a title insurance binder or property insurance binder.

  • Title Insurance Binder – A title insurance binder involves a title insurance company looking through all available records to make sure there are no outstanding defects or problems with the home’s title. Title insurance binders are normally the buyer’s decision but recommended to protect your investment.

  • Property Insurance Binder – A property insurance binder is a document provided by a home insurance provider to prove temporary coverage until a finalized policy is completed. Property insurance binders are important for buyers and will likely be asked for by the selling agent and lending mortgage company before the rest of the purchase can move forward.

Are Binders Required?

What binders are required depends on the full sales agreement and individual requests. Binders are normally only applicable when parties agree to them to continue forward to the sale.

Again, mortgage binders are not legally binding but rather acts of good faith to continue forward to the sale. Whether they’re required depends on the individual buyer and seller. Similarly, title insurance binders are often required by real estate agents to complete a transaction but are not legally or financially required.

The only big difference is property insurance binders. Unless you’re doing a handshake deal with a close friend or family member, property insurance binders are almost always required by the mortgage company approving the loan.

Can I Get My Binder Back?

If you handed over earnest money as part of your real estate binder and successfully close on the home, can you get your money back?

In most cases, yes – Any earnest money or real estate binder payment will be put towards the home purchase after closing. If the seller feels the buyer hasn’t acted in good faith or has renegotiated rates there’s a chance they could fight to keep the binder or only re-pay partial amounts, though this is rare. If the buyer backs out of the transaction after paying a mortgage binder or earnest money, they are unlikely to recoup that money.

Real Estate Binder vs. Contract for Sale

If you’re using a real estate or escrow binder as part of a sale or purchase, it’s importance to know the distinction between binders and the contract for sale.

A real estate binder is non-binding, carries no legal implications, and the home purchase can move forward without one. The Contract for Sale is a legally binding document to tie two parties to the purchase and sale of the home. Without a Contract for Sale – there would be no sale.

Note: A Contract for Sale often borrows terms and conditions from any signed binders so be sure to read both thoroughly if applicable.

Answering Real Estate Binder Questions

We admit that the terminology behind real estate contracts can almost seem intentionally confusing, but The Storck Team wants to help with understanding binders and all other real estate related questions. Call a member of The Storck team to talk binders, buying or selling questions, and get the answers you need to make the right home sale or purchase today.


Tatyana Sturm-Storck

Ranked #9 in Colorado by America’s Best Real Estate Agents Real Trends for most closed transactions by an individual.
Realtor®, GRI, CDPE, ABR