Contracts for Deed in Florida Real Estate: Legal Insights and Best Practices

Contracts for Deed in Florida Real Estate: Legal Insights and Best Practices

Contracts for Deed can offer a flexible financing option for real estate transactions in Florida.

March 25, 2024

Contracts for Deed, while offering a unique path to homeownership, come with a complex legal landscape that both buyers and sellers must navigate carefully. This article will provide valuable insights into how these agreements are treated under the law, highlighting the importance of understanding and adhering to legal requirements.

Contracts for Deed offer unique opportunities and challenges. However, before signing a document, it is crucial to understand the legalities, benefits, and critical considerations when it comes to drafting or reviewing Contracts for Deed, to ensure that you're fully informed.

What is a Contract for Deed and How Does It Work in Florida?

At its core, a Contract for Deed is a modified seller financing tool where the buyer makes payments directly to the seller for a period, but with the legal title of the property transferring only once the full price is paid. This is the key difference from ordinary seller financing – the deed to the property remains in the Seller’s name, and “closing” does not actually occur until ALL payments have already been received by the Seller. This differs from straight seller financing in that this arrangement can make homeownership accessible to buyers who might not qualify for traditional financing.

Navigating the Legal Landscape: Florida Statutes Governing Contracts for Deed

Florida's approach to Contracts for Deed is detailed in Chapter 697 of the Florida Statutes, emphasizing the need for written agreements and public recording. Understanding these legal requirements is crucial for both parties to protect their interests and ensure a smooth transaction. These laws mandate that all Contracts for Deed must be in writing, include the signatures of all parties involved, and be recorded in the county where the property is located. This ensures the agreement is legally binding and provides public notice of the buyer's equitable interest in the property. This also ensures that, in the event that the Seller tries to sell the property to someone else, the recorded contract will act as an encumbrance, or “cloud” on title.

Key Statutes:

  • Section 697.01: Requires written contracts for selling property, highlighting the importance of formal documentation.
  • Section 695.01: Stresses the necessity of recording the contract to protect both parties' interests and to provide public notice.

Advantages and Disadvantages for Sellers


  1. Increased Buyer Pool: ****Sellers can reach potential buyers who might not qualify for traditional bank loans due to strict lending criteria. This includes individuals with less-than-perfect credit scores or those who are self-employed, expanding the market for the property.
  2. Steady Income Stream: By offering financing to the buyer, sellers can secure a consistent monthly income over the term of the contract. This can be particularly advantageous for sellers not in immediate need of the full sale proceeds, providing a regular cash flow that may be invested or used as needed.
  3. Tax Benefits: Sellers might benefit from tax advantages associated with installment sales, as outlined in the Internal Revenue Code. By receiving payments over time, sellers may defer certain capital gains taxes, potentially reducing their overall tax liability.
  4. Control Over Terms: Sellers have the flexibility to negotiate the terms of the contract, including the interest rate, payment schedule, and down payment amount. This can allow for a customized agreement that meets the seller's financial needs and goals.


  1. Delayed Full Payment: Unlike traditional sales where sellers receive the full purchase price at closing, contracts for deed involve receiving payments over time. This delayed payment structure can be a drawback for sellers needing immediate liquidity.
  2. Foreclosure Process: If the buyer defaults on the contract, the seller may need to go through a foreclosure process to regain possession of the property. This process can be lengthy, costly, and more complicated than evicting a tenant, as the buyer holds an equitable interest in the property.
  3. Maintenance and Liability: Until the final payment is made and the deed is transferred, the seller remains the legal owner of the property and may be liable for certain issues, such as property taxes and homeowner's association fees, or even personal injury claims occurring on the property.
  4. Risk of Depreciation: If the property's value decreases over the term of the contract, the seller may end up selling the property for less than its current market value. This risk is compounded if the buyer defaults and the seller has to take back a property that has depreciated in value.

Ensuring Legal Enforceability

To ensure a Contract for Deed is legally enforceable and protects the interests of both parties, certain steps must be meticulously followed:

  1. Comprehensive Written Agreement: The contract must be detailed and clearly outline all terms of the agreement, including payment schedule, interest rate, responsibilities for property taxes, insurance, maintenance, and the conditions under which the title will be transferred. Clarity in the contract can prevent misunderstandings and disputes.
  2. Statutory Compliance: Adherence to Florida's legal requirements is crucial. This includes ensuring the contract meets all criteria set forth in relevant statutes, such as being in writing, including a sufficient property description, and having the necessary witness signatures. Familiarity with Sections 697.01 and 695.01 of the Florida Statutes is essential for compliance.
  3. Recording the Contract: Recording the contract with the county recorder’s office where the property is located is vital. This step provides public notice of the buyer's equitable interest in the property, protecting the buyer's rights and helping prevent the seller from selling the property to another party.
  4. Protecting Against Liens and Encumbrances: Sellers should ensure that the property is free from liens and encumbrances at the time of sale and maintain that status throughout the contract term. Buyers are advised to conduct thorough due diligence, including a title search, and consider obtaining title insurance to protect their interests.
  5. Escrow Account for Payments: Utilizing an escrow account for the buyer's payments can add a layer of security for both parties. This ensures that funds are appropriately allocated towards the purchase price, taxes, and insurance, and provides a clear record of payments made.
  6. Legal Review: Both parties should have the contract reviewed by a Florida real estate attorney before signing. An attorney can ensure the contract complies with all legal requirements, advise on potential risks, and suggest modifications to protect the client's interests.

Real-Life Scenarios and Case Studies

The legal landscape surrounding Contracts for Deed in Florida is complex, with several key cases providing valuable insights into their enforceability and the intricacies involved. These cases highlight the importance of adhering to statutory requirements, understanding the implications of homestead property in contracts, and recognizing the potential for legal doctrines such as estoppel to impact the agreement's enforceability.

Zimmerman v. Diedrich, 97 So. 2d 120 (Fla. 1957)

Overview: This case revolved around a dispute over the enforceability of a contract for the sale of real property due to the contract not being executed in accordance with the statutory requirements for witnessing.

Why It's Instructive: Zimmerman v. Diedrich is a pivotal case that underscores the critical importance of adhering to Florida's statutory requirements for the execution of contracts for deed. The Florida Supreme Court's decision highlighted that for a contract for the sale of realty to be enforceable, it must be executed with the formalities prescribed by law, including the requirement for two subscribing witnesses. This case serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of failing to comply with these requirements, as it can render a contract unenforceable and lead to significant legal disputes.

Scott v. Hotel Martinique, Inc., 48 So. 2d 160 (Fla. 1950)

Overview: In this case, the court addressed the specific performance of a contract involving homestead property, emphasizing the need for execution by both husband and wife in the presence of two witnesses.

Why It's Instructive: The significance of Scott v. Hotel Martinique, Inc. lies in its clarification of the legal formalities required for contracts involving homestead property. The case illustrates the heightened scrutiny and specific requirements that apply to homestead property transactions in Florida, including the necessity for both spouses to execute the contract. This case is particularly instructive for parties involved in contracts for deed concerning homestead property, as it delineates the additional legal considerations that must be taken into account to ensure the contract's enforceability.

Abercrombie v. Eidschun, 66 So. 2d 875 (Fla. 1953)

Overview: Abercrombie v. Eidschun further explored the execution requirements for contracts involving homestead property, focusing on the need for proper acknowledgment and witnessing.

Why It's Instructive: This case reinforces the legal principles established in Scott v. Hotel Martinique, Inc., providing additional clarity on the execution requirements for contracts involving homestead property. Abercrombie v. Eidschun serves as a cautionary tale for sellers and buyers alike, emphasizing the necessity of ensuring that all legal formalities are meticulously followed to avoid disputes over the contract's enforceability. It highlights the potential pitfalls of overlooking the specific requirements for homestead property transactions.

Cox v. La Pota, 76 So. 2d 662 (Fla. 1954)

Overview: Cox v. La Pota dealt with the doctrine of estoppel in the context of a contract to sell homestead property, where the sellers' actions led the buyers to materially change their position based on the contract's terms.

Why It's Instructive: The Cox v. La Pota case is instructive for its examination of the legal doctrine of estoppel and its application to contracts for deed. The case illustrates how the actions and representations of the parties can significantly impact the enforceability of the contract. It highlights the importance of clear communication and honesty in the execution and performance of contracts for deed, as well as the potential legal recourse available when one party's actions cause the other to detrimentally rely on those representations.

Best Practices for Contracts for Deed in Florida

  • Legal Review: Have the contract drafted or reviewed by a Florida real estate attorney to ensure compliance and protect interests.
  • Fair Terms: Ensure the contract terms are fair, clear, and understood by all parties.
  • Record the Contract: Recording is crucial for enforceability and protection.
  • Escrow Services: Consider using an escrow service for payment to add a layer of security.

Contracts for Deed can offer a flexible financing option for real estate transactions in Florida. However, they come with specific legal requirements and potential risks that must be carefully managed. Understanding the statutory framework, ensuring the contract's legal enforceability, and adhering to best practices are essential steps in navigating these agreements successfully. Consulting with a knowledgeable Florida real estate attorney is highly recommended to effectively manage the complexities of Contracts for Deed.

Further Reading

NOTE: This article provides a general overview of a very complex area of the law. You should not take any action in reliance on this article without first consulting legal counsel who can advise you on your unique legal situation.

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