Ask Will: What Happens to My Earnest Money Deposit?

Ask Will banner

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A  column is written by Will Wiard, Arlington-based real estate broker, voted one of Washington’s Best Realtors of 2015 by Washingtonian. Please submit your questions via email.

Q: If a buyer can’t close on a property what happens to the buyer’s earnest money deposit?

A: An earnest money deposit (EMD) is an amount collected from the buyer as a show of good faith when submitting an offer. Often representing one to three percent of the agreed sale price, the amount is normally the buyer’s own cash (not a loan) and must be deposited within five business days after a contract is ratified — unless all parties agree in writing otherwise. Normally, a third party, such as an attorney, title company or real estate company will hold the deposit until the sale moves to closing. At closing, the EMD is given back to the buyer in the form of a credit applied toward the sale or closing cost.

Typically, if the buyer walks away from the deal or can’t close, the seller can go after the EMD. However, it is not guaranteed and not automatically released to the seller. The EMD can only be released to either the buyer or seller if all parties agree in writing or through a court order. In many cases, the buyer and seller will try to work through the issue so the transaction can still close.

Experienced buyer agents will also include addendums or contingencies in the contract that allow the buyer to void the contract in certain situations, without forgoing the EMD. In Virginia, these addendums often allow the buyer to walk away if the property does not appraise at or above the sale price, and/or if something of concern is found during the inspection. Additionally, almost all title attorneys can answer any legal questions you might have regarding the risks of losing the EMD prior to submitting an offer.

Thank you for this week’s question. Please keep them coming to [email protected] This is also a great place to reach me for anyone looking to buy or sell a home in the Arlington area.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Recent Stories

A Clarendon-based pilot has launched Aviate, a health-foods company that sells flour, flakes and dry mixes made with the lupini, a protein-packed, high-fiber and zero-sugar legume.

An affordable housing complex along Route 50 in the Buckingham neighborhood will officially open tomorrow. The grand opening of The Cadence (4333 Arlington Blvd) on Tuesday, Dec. 6 caps off…

The Ballston Silver Diner is finally opening this month, which means the Clarendon location is closing after 26 years. The new Silver Diner at N. Glebe Road and Wilson Blvd,…

Two people were rescued from a precarious situation in Glencarlyn Park on Friday. The driver of an SUV reportedly mistook the gas for the brake in the parking lot of…

Hello Everyone — You are invited to the final meeting of NAACP Arlington Branch NAACP for 2022
When: Dec 12, 2022, 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: 2022 General Membership Meeting — NAACP Arlington Branch
Register in advance for this webinar

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

7:00 pm Meeting Opens.
7:30 pm Installation
8:00 pm Presentation/Q&A; by Dave Schutz on Ranked Choice Voting
8:30 pm Final Remarks and Comments by Newly Elected Members
9:00 pm Meeting Adjourns

Installation Official Robert N. Barnette, Jr. President, Virginia State Conference NAACP The President of the Virginia State Conference NAACP will serve as the Installation Official and provide remarks for our newly elected officers at the general membership.

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Join us December 10 & 11 for our Annual Handmade Holiday Workshop Series. We have a myriad of fun and festive programs from linoleum block wrapping paper printing and buttonhole book making workshops led by Eliza Clifford to a meditative grid workshop and Calligraphy Card Making with Anjelika Deogirikar. Join these wonderful artists and get creative this holiday season!

Submit your own Announcement here.

Light Up Arlington – Clarendon Menorah Lighting

Join us as we celebrate the holiday of Chanukah! Enjoy delicious Latkes, hot cocoa, donuts and more!

Clarendon Menorah Lighting and Community Celebration

Experience the festival of lights!!

*Lighting of a giant 9 foot Menorah

Read More

National Chamber Ensemble – Holiday Cheer!

NCE’s Holiday Concert will bring the finest classical masterpieces and holiday favorites together for the whole family. The festivities begin with Leroy Anderson’s classic “Sleigh Ride” and “Chanukkah Festival”, music from the Nutcracker and by J.S. Bach.

Outstanding Young Artist


Subscribe to our mailing list