Earnest money has different meanings and uses in different areas. In many areas, earnest money is used prior to contract signing to lock up a property. Often this is called a Binder. In NY state Binders are non-binding. In NY State, earnest money is only considered binding when it accompanies a fully executed contract and is used as consideration towards the purchase of the property.
If an agent in NY State tells you that you need to put down a binder or earnest money prior to contract signing, you would do well to walk away from that agent. Get yourself a knowledgeable and respected buyer's agent as well as an attorney well versed in the transfer of the type of property you are purchasing (i.e. Co-op Condo, Townhome,etc...).
I hope this is helpful,
Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
WEICHERT, REALTORS - House & Home
(718) 432-5000 (Office)
(917) 974-2600 (Cell)
609 Kappock Street Suite 1A Bronx, NY 10463