Complicated flow chart of a real estate transaction

At the time of this writing, a search for “transaction management” in the real estate books section of Amazon showed 265 results, with only one book on the first results page having anything to do with managing real estate transactions. A search for “sales” in the same section produced over 10,000 results, most of which were actually about real estate sales.

Most agents spend fortunes on advertising and years perfecting their sales pitches to overcome objections and win listings. However, many of those same agents often invest little time or resources in perfecting how they manage transactions.

Why Transaction Management Is Important

In a recent national survey by the National Association of REALTORS®, out of all offers accepted, 7% came apart, while 23% had delayed closings. However, with a well-managed transaction, your deal is less likely to come apart and more likely to close on time.

Percent of home sales that terminated or closed late

Transactions can get very complicated depending on the provisions and contingencies included. Each party may be responsible for completing specific tasks by their respective deadlines. Often, a particular deadline is not known at the start because it’s triggered when something else is (or isn’t) completed. In addition, how one party responds to a deadline can determine who needs to do what and by when.

Anatomy Of A Contingency

Take a home inspection contingency, for example. Below is a flowchart of the many ways that process can happen. Notice the process can follow six paths to keep the deal together and three to kill the deal.

Home inspection flowchart

Most transactions include more contingencies than just a home inspection. Some of the milestones that may need to be managed in a transaction include but are not limited to:

  1. earnest money
  2. condition report
  3. proof of funds
  4. pre-approval
  5. home inspection
  6. abandoned well
  7. well inspection
  8. water test
  9. septic inspection
  10. hazmat testing
  11. radon test
  12. fuel tank removal
  13. surveying
  14. allowed use permit
  15. shoreland zoning
  16. shared driveway agreement
  17. shared well agreement
  18. appraisal
  19. repairs by lender
  20. financing
  21. buyer’s home sale
  22. secondary offers
  23. FIRPTA
  24. home insurance
  25. flood insurance
  26. title insurance

Imagine how stressful it would be for you to scramble at the last minute every time something was due because your agent didn’t give you advance notice it was due or instructions on how to do it. Imagine how disappointed you would be if your deal went south because your agent didn’t make sure you knew what your next step was and when it was due. Imagine if you got sued by the other party or lost your earnest money because you defaulted on your contract.

Transaction Management Systems

Flawlessly managing all the details of a transaction, let alone several transactions at once, requires systems to track every aspect of every deal and to communicate effectively with all the parties involved. Some agents will keep a whiteboard in their office that acts as a giant spreadsheet listing every deal in the first column and tracking some of the transaction milestones in the subsequent columns.

Real estate transaction management whiteboard

While better than nothing, whiteboards leave too many things untracked. For one thing, it’s not possible to fit 26 columns on a white to track just the items listed above. Secondly, as the home inspection diagram above illustrates, there isn’t enough room in the little boxes under each column to track all the details within each milestone.

Transaction management is one of the essential services we provide, and we are constantly improving our systems. While we use several tools, one we’ve found especially helpful is checklists.

Never discount the power of checklists! While not high-tech or sexy, checklists are the backbone of many of humankind’s greatest achievements. Pilots use them, the military uses them, and they’ve helped NASA deliver astronauts to the moon and back.

We have checklists for all kinds of things. When a client accepts an offer, or their offer gets accepted, our New Offer Checklist goes into that client’s file.

New offer checklist for transaction management

The checklist tracks the major tasks, milestones, and deadlines of each deal.  And, unlike whiteboards, they go with us so we can refer to them at any time and show them to our clients as proof we are attending to all the details of their transactions.

Most tasks on our checklists include numbers that correspond to prewritten email templates in our customer relationship management system. While the email templates can be customized, they are living documents that get revised and improved over time.  Whenever something is unclear to a client, it’s an opportunity to improve by adding a task or refining an email template.


Transaction management is more critical than many sellers and buyers realize, and many agents don’t use robust transaction management systems. Choose an agent with the systems and attention to detail needed to manage your transaction flawlessly. It will help keep your deal together, your closing on time, your stress levels down, and more money in your wallet.

REALTORS® Confidence Index, NAR