The First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide To Earnest Money Deposits in Santa Cruz

The First-Time Home Buyer's Guide To Earnest Money Deposits

Congratulations on taking the exciting step towards purchasing your first home in Santa Cruz! As a first-time homebuyer, it’s crucial to understand the importance of having enough cash for an earnest money deposit (EMD). In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about EMDs in Santa Cruz, including their purpose, the basics, and essential considerations.

What is an Earnest Money Deposit (EMD)?

When you make an offer on a home in Santa Cruz, both you and the seller enter into an agreement that makes the sale contingent upon certain factors, such as appraisal and inspection. This agreement is stipulated in a contract, and the seller takes the property off the market while you perform due diligence on the home.

To demonstrate your sincerity and commitment to purchasing the home, you are required to provide an earnest money deposit. This deposit is a substantial amount of money included with your offer, serving as proof of your earnestness and seriousness as a buyer.

Understanding the Basics of an Earnest Money Deposit (EMD)

Key Points About EMDs

  • While an earnest money deposit is not always required, it is rare for sellers in Santa Cruz to entertain buyers who do not make a deposit in “good faith.”
  • An EMD offers peace of mind for the seller and provides benefits to the buyer. It helps fund your down payment and allows additional time for due diligence and financing organization.
  • The EMD is typically held by the seller’s broker in an escrow account. Once the deal is finalized, the deposit is applied towards a portion of your down payment.
  • In Santa Cruz, the EMD usually amounts to 1 to 2 percent of the asking price. However, in hot markets, buyers may need to offer a deposit equal to 5 or even 10 percent of the total sale price.
  • The timeline for providing the EMD varies from city to city but is typically immediate or within three days of the seller accepting your offer.

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Choosing the Right Amount for Your EMD

The specific amount required for an EMD can vary.  Keep in mind that a larger EMD is often more attractive to the seller and demonstrates a higher level of seriousness on your part as a buyer.  In Santa Cruz County, it is rare that the earnest money deposit be less than 1% of the purchase price, however it is also rare that it is more than 3% of the purchase price.  3% of the purchase price is the most that a seller can try to keep as liquidated damages in the event of a buyer default.

Refunding an Earnest Money Deposit

An earnest money deposit can be refunded if any of the contingencies stated in the California Residential Purchase Agreement are not met. While there may be a small cancellation fee, the remaining deposit can be returned as long as it falls within the terms of the agreement.

Pro Tip: Ensure that the purchase agreement clearly outlines how a refund will be handled if the deal falls through. It’s essential to have this provision in place to protect your investment.

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Important Considerations for EMDs in Santa Cruz

Offering a Competitive EMD in a Hot Market

Santa Cruz is known for its competitive real estate market, and sellers frequently receive multiple offers. To make your offer stand out, it’s crucial to offer a competitive earnest money deposit. While a higher EMD amount may seem intimidating, think of it as a way to pay a portion of your down payment upfront, as the deposit eventually becomes part of your down payment.

Pro Tip: In a hot market like Santa Cruz, offering a larger EMD can help your offer stand out among the competition and increase the chances of it being accepted.

Commitment to Your Home Purchase

When including a substantial EMD in your offer, it’s essential to be 100% certain about the home you’re trying to buy. Backing out of the deal without a justifiable reason, other than a change of heart, can result in the loss of your earnest money deposit. Therefore, it’s crucial to be absolutely serious about wanting the house before including a sizable EMD in your offer.

Safeguarding Your EMD with Contingencies

In a highly competitive market, buyers may feel pressured to remove contract contingencies. However, it’s crucial to have the necessary contingencies in place to protect your investment. Even if you have been pre-approved for a mortgage, removing the loan contingency can be risky. Lenders can revoke a pre-approval if the house appraises too low, and without a loan contingency, your earnest money deposit may be forfeited.

Pro Tip: Keep track of important timelines and ensure you have enough time to terminate the contract if any issues arise. Anticipate potential problems and include the necessary contingencies in your purchase contract to protect your earnest money deposit.

EMDs for Foreclosure Properties

If you’re considering purchasing a foreclosure property in Santa Cruz, it’s crucial to analyze the risks involved. Most foreclosed properties stipulate that the earnest money deposit is nonrefundable, and since you’re buying the property “as-is,” thorough research is necessary before making an offer with an EMD.

Pro Tip: Due diligence is especially crucial when buying foreclosure properties in Santa Cruz. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the property and understand the potential risks before including an earnest money deposit in your offer.


As a first-time homebuyer in Santa Cruz, understanding the importance and dynamics of earnest money deposits is crucial. By providing an earnest money deposit, you demonstrate your sincerity and commitment to purchasing the home. Remember to offer a competitive amount, be certain about your purchase, safeguard your investment with contingencies, and carefully consider the risks associated with foreclosure properties.

With this guide, you’re equipped with the knowledge to navigate the earnest money deposit process confidently. Happy house hunting in Santa Cruz!

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Seb Frey helps long-time Bay Area homeowners make their next move easily the next one yet. If you're looking for a minimum of hassle, maximum net cash on sale, and certain results, contact Seb today.