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What is a Land Contract?

By:Robert Moore, Friday, September 22nd, 2023

Legal Groundwork

The term “Land Contract” is often used as a generic name for any land installment sale where the buyer makes payments to the seller over time.  However, a land contract has a specific meaning under the law and does not apply to all installment sales. A land contract is one type of land installment sale while seller-financed is another.  While the land contract and seller-financed option allow buyers to acquire property without traditional bank financing, they differ significantly in terms of legal implications and practical considerations.  In this article, we will discuss the difference between a land contract installment sale and a seller-financed installment sale.

Land Contracts: An Overview

A land contract is a legal agreement between a property seller and a buyer. In this arrangement, the buyer agrees to purchase the property over time by making regular payments to the seller, who retains legal title to the property until the contract is fully paid off. After the final payment is made, the seller signs the deed over to the buyer.  Land contracts are a popular choice for buyers who may not qualify for traditional financing due to credit issues or other reasons.

Key Characteristics of Land Contracts in Ohio:

Legal Title: In Ohio, the seller retains legal title to the property until the contract is satisfied, while the buyer obtains equitable title, allowing them to possess and use the property.

Payment Structure: Buyers make monthly or annual payments to the seller, including principal, interest, and sometimes taxes and insurance. The specific terms are negotiable and outlined in the contract.

Default Consequences: If the buyer defaults on payments and the contract has been in effect for less than five years or less than 20% of the payment has been made, the seller can terminate the contract and retake possession of the property.  If the contract is older than five years or more than 20% of the purchase price has been paid, the seller must foreclose and will be paid from the proceeds of a judicial sale.

Legal Requirements:  Ohio Revised Code Section 5313.02 requires sixteen specific requirements for a land contract.  If entering a land contract, be sure all requirements are met so that the land contract is enforceable for both buyer and seller.

Seller-Financed Land Sales: An Overview

Seller-financed land sales involve the property seller acting as the lender, providing financing to the buyer for the purchase. Legal title to the property is transferred to the buyer at the time of sale.  This method allows buyers to acquire the property without the need for a traditional bank loan.

Key Characteristics of Seller-Financed Land Sales in Ohio:

Title Transfer: Unlike land contracts, seller-financed land sales typically involve the immediate transfer of both legal and equitable title to the buyer upon the completion of the sale.

Payment Structure: Buyers make regular payments to the seller, which include principal and interest, similar to a traditional mortgage. These terms are negotiated between the parties and documented in a promissory note and mortgage.  The mortgage provides security to the seller in the event the buyer defaults.

Default Consequences: If the buyer defaults on payments, the seller can initiate a foreclosure proceeding, similar to traditional lenders, to ensure payment is made.

Legal Requirements:  There are no specific legal requirements for a seller-finance sale.  However, a promissory note should be provided to the seller that includes the amount owed, interest rate and payment schedule.  A mortgage should also be executed and recorded to provide security to the seller in the event of buyer’s default.

Key Considerations

Title Transfer: The most significant difference between land contracts and seller-financed land sales in Ohio is the timing of title transfer. In a land contract, the seller retains legal title until the contract is fully satisfied, while in seller-financed land sales, both legal and equitable title transfer to the buyer upon sale completion.

Negotiability: Both methods offer flexibility in negotiating terms, including interest rates, down payments, and property responsibilities. Buyers and sellers should carefully consider and document these terms to avoid future disputes.

Legal Assistance: Given the complexities of real estate transactions, it is advisable for both buyers and sellers to seek legal counsel to ensure that the chosen method aligns with their interests and complies with Ohio law.

Which is Better?

It depends.  For the seller, a land contract is often better because the deed is not transferred until the final payment is made.  This allows the seller to keep legal title and potentially have more protection if the buyer defaults.  For the buyer, the seller-financed option is usually better.  The seller will prefer to have the legal title throughout the transaction so that they have full control over the property.  Tax consequences are similar for both a land contract and seller-financed sale.


When it comes to land transactions in Ohio, understanding the difference between land contracts and seller-financed land sales is crucial. These methods provide alternatives to traditional financing, but they come with distinct legal and practical implications. Buyers and sellers should carefully evaluate their options, negotiate terms diligently, and consider consulting legal professionals to ensure a smooth and legally compliant transaction. Ultimately, a well-informed decision can lead to a successful and mutually beneficial real estate transaction.