When buying - home with equity will offer the potential to ask for the Seller to cover the Buyer's closing costs.
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If you retain an attorney to assist with the transaction, fees can range from a a few hundred to several thousand.
Real estate agents work for real estate brokers. Brokers determine commission rates and determine what level of authority the individual agents shall have in that firm in negotiating individual commission rates or fee structures for representation. If an agent tells you they have no authority to reduce a fee, and it is established by their firm, that may very well be correct.
Title fees in many states are regulated.
Lender fees are probably one of the most overlooked opportunities for cost savings in a purchase of real estate. Application fees, appraisal fees, etc. are all possibilities for negotiated savings. The loan officer may sometimes have the authority to waive these fees for a client, or reduce them, or absorb them by route of a discount in their commission earnings.
I am unfamiliar w/ programs that reduce recordation fees or title transfer taxes. Every HUD (settlement statement) I have ever seen follows the same formulas for these fees. That doesn't mean it does not exist for you. Passing on my experiences (over a decade) with closings.
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-Real estate agent fees
-Fees for Title Insurance
-City/Jurisdiction recordation and title transfer taxes
-Prepaid fees (fees the lender required you to pay in advance for insurance, condo fees, real estate taxes etc...)
By category, here are some strategies to reduce fees:
Real estate agents: Buyers and sellers can both negotiate with their agents for reduced commissions. Every rela estate agent has the power to reduce his or her commissions, but some agents do it as standard business practice. In addition, buyers - be wary of administrative fees that your agent charges YOU. Many of the bigger brokers slip in a $200 fee at clsoing that is charged to the buyer, even though the agent is already getting paid from the commission. Many buyers don't even notice this fee because they are so overwhelmed at closing.
Lender fees: Lender fees are mostly administrative fees for a couple hundred dollars a pop that add up. They are negotiable, especially if you can show another lender who is giving you a comparable interest rate, but is not charging fees. Bank of America recently introduced a no-fee mortgage that you can use to induce other lenders to waive fees. Points on your loan will also show up as lender fees. If you don't want to pay points, your interest rate may be a little higher thought.
Fees from Title Insurance: The cost of title insurance is unregulated in many states. There are no guidelines, so shop around with a few companies. You are paying for 2 things: the insurance itself, and the administrative fees involved in doing the title search. Genreally, if the fees are really low, they will probably charge you for the insurance, and vice versa. Make sure you ask your title insurance company if a "re-issue" rate is availabe. If a title search has been done on the property in the past couple of years, you may be entitled to a discount. Note that there are two types of insurance "Limited" and "standard". Standard is more expensive and of course, is what will be offered you by default. Do your research and see if "limited" is sufficient for you.
City/Jurisdiction recordation and title transfer taxes: Concur with other posters, that you should check out city programs that help with these fees. If you are in Washington, D.C., I can help you with some great programs.
Prepaid items: Always close at the end of the month. That way, you owe less at closing in prepaid interest.
Good questions. When buying a home the answer is a little easier to answer. If you purchase a new home or an existing home in the middle to lower price range there is a good chance you can negotiate some if not all of your closing cost especially if your market is saturated with homes in your price range.
When selling your home that takes a little more effort. You will probably be hiring a number of professionals during your listing period so ask for a competetative price. You will have many people suggest asking your Realtor for a commision reduction but I do not recommend this. When you reduce the commision you usally reduce the compensation to the buyers agent at the same time. In a difficult market agents sales go down and they try to find new ways of earning more. The most natural way is to see what properties you will show first and what the compensation is to the selling agent. I have found that many homes in today's market are losing value the longer they are on the market. The attempt to save a couple of thousand on your Realtor's commision could cost a great deal more when your home has not sold after 4-6 months.