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What Can You Expect at the Closing Table?

February 24, 2010

What happens at closing ?
At the closing, ownership of the newly purchased home is officially transferred from the seller to you. It may involve you, the seller, the real estate agent, your attorney, the lender’s attorney, representatives from the title or escrow firm, and a variety of clerks, secretaries, and other staff. It is possible to have an attorney act on your behalf if you cannot attend the meeting (for example, if the house is in another state). Closing can take as little time as an hour to sign all the forms and transfer ownership or it can take several hours, depending on the contingency clauses in the purchase offer (and any escrow accounts that may need to be set up).

Much of the paperwork involved in closing (or settlement) is done by attorneys and real estate professionals. You may be involved in some of the closing activities and not in others, depending on local customs and on the professionals with whom you are working.

Before you close on the house, you should have a final inspection, or walk-through, to make sure any repairs you requested have been made and that items which were to remain with the house (drapes, light fixtures) are still there.

In most states, settlement is done by a title or escrow firm to which you forward all the materials and information along with the appropriate cashiers’ checks, and the firm will make the necessary disbursements. The real estate agent or another representative of the title company will deliver the check to the seller and the house keys to you.

Statutory Costs

Statutory costs are expenses you would have to pay to state and local agencies even if you paid cash for the house and did not need to take out a mortgage. They include the following:

Transfer taxes are required by some localities to transfer the title and deed from the seller to you.

Recording fees for deed pay for the county clerk to record the deed and mortgage and change the property tax billing.

Pro-rated taxes such as school taxes and municipal taxes may have to be split between you and the seller because they are due at different times of the year. For example, if taxes are due in October and you close in August, you would owe taxes for 2 months while the seller would owe taxes for the other 10 months. Prorated taxes usually are paid based on the number of days (not months) of ownership. Some lenders may require you to set up an escrow account to cover these bills. If your lender does not require an escrow account, you may want to set up a special account on your own to make sure you have money set aside for these important, and large, bills.

Other state and local fees can include mortgage taxes levied by states as well as other local fees.

Third-Party Costs

Third-party costs are expenses paid to others such as inspectors or insurance firms. You would have to pay many of these expenses even if you paid cash for the house. Examples of third-party costs are as follows:

Attorney fees: You will probably want to work with an attorney when buying a home. Attorneys usually charge a percentage of the selling price (three-fourths or 1 percent), but some may work for a flat fee or on an hourly basis.

Title search costs: Usually your attorney will do or arrange for the title search to make sure there are no obstacles (liens, lawsuits) to your owning the home. In some cases, you may work with a title company to verify a clear title to the property.

Homeowner’s insurance: Most lenders require that you prepay the first year’s premium for homeowner’s insurance (sometimes called hazard insurance) and bring proof of payment to the closing. This insures that their investment will be secured, even if the house is destroyed.

Real estate agent’s sales commission: The seller pays the commission to the real estate agent. If one agent lists the property and another sells it, the commission usually is split between the two. It’s important to keep in mind that even the commission is negotiable between the seller and the agent.

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