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How does the closing process work?

Published: Oct 14, 2009

It would be great if closing a real estate transaction was like buying a new bike or TV, just cruise through the aisles, pick your favorite model and head for the register. But this just isn't the case. Real estate transactions are complex and involve as many as twenty different players including real estate brokers, buyers, sellers, attorneys, inspectors, appraisers, lenders, and often contractors. Because of this, even the simplest transaction today typically takes between 30 and 45 days to close.

The closing process begins with the acceptance of an offer which is prepared by the parties themselves, a real estate broker, or often an attorney. This process varies by state but often involves an initial offer or letter of intent from the buyer followed by a series of discussions and or negotiations with the seller. Once an agreement is hammered out the details are typically memorialized in a written form that all parties sign.

Once accepted the offer is typically placed with an escrow company. An escrow company is a depository for legal documents and often acts as a notary and closing agent to process signatures and monies for the parties involved in a transaction. It's important to note that they do not represent either party in the sale, and because of this they are often referred to as a neutral third party in the transaction. In some states an attorney may act as the closing agent and prepare the closing documents.

Prior to closing, all of the conditions of sale must be met. These conditions are often referred to as contingencies. The most common contingency is the buyer's ability to secure a new mortgage. Often this is the most time consuming aspect of closing a real estate transaction as the lender must conduct employment verifications, credit report reviews, financial statement reviews, and order an appraisal for the home itself. In addition many buyers and their lenders require an inspection of the home. These inspections can vary by state and local custom but often include pest and dry rot inspections, whole home inspections, or specialized inspections that are area specific like a radon gas inspection.

While the escrow is opened, a title company may be hired to conduct a preliminary title report. This report will provide a comprehensive review of all of the recorded documents which affect the deed to the property. Examples include easements, liens, tax assessments, covenants, conditions and restrictions, and homeowner association bylaws. The buyer and lender must approve of the preliminary title report prior to closing.

Once the conditions of sale have been met and the preliminary title report has been approved, all parties will agree to sign closing documents. In some states this will mean that all parties will meet together and sign documents at the same time, while in other areas it is customary to sign independently. Once the documents have been signed, notarized copies will be forwarded to the lender, funds will be released, and the sale will be recorded at the local recorder's office.

Lost? Not to worry, many escrow companies like First American Title Company are happy to provide a local guide of what to expect when closing a transaction in your area. In addition, an agent will be happy to explain the local customs for your specific market.

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