For many home buyers, first-timers especially, closing can be the most tedious and harrowing part of the process. Tedious because it often puts buyers in the cross hairs of both the legal system and the real estate paperwork tangle that's required to complete the purchase.
The harrowing part is a separate issue entirely. Many of the deadlines associated with closing real estate seem ridiculously arbitrary, and missing one or forgetting a crucial piece of paperwork can delay or hinder the purchase in ways that seem impossible to anticipate.
But it doesn't have to be that way. What follows is a set of broad guidelines about what to expect during and before a home closing, including an outline of the process, some information about the timeline and some of the requirements for different parts of the purchase.
It's important to note that the nomenclature and procedures described here can vary slightly from state to state, so you need to know which minor variations matter most.
Before the Home Closing
One of the best ways to prepare for a closing is to thoroughly understand what it's about. The overall goal is to transfer the title of the home from the seller to the buyer, and some critical paperwork must be exchanged or verified for that to happen. The actual time required for the closing can be anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
But much of the process takes place before the actual date of the closing. It starts when you sign the contract for the house. After that there are several important pieces that come into play.
One is the verification of the loan
. Before most closings, the lender has three days to provide the buyer with an estimate of the closing costs, along with a booklet describing the process. (This booklet is also called a settlement in some parts of the country.)
In addition, the bank must do an appraisal of the property
, which is normally paid for by the buyer. If the appraisal is lower than the agreed-on price, the difference must be accounted for in the financing plans in case the bank ends up foreclosing on the home.
Another important element is the title investigation
, which also starts once you sign the contract. This investigation, which is normally conducted by a company or agent specializing in doing this, verifies that the title is in fact free and clear and the previous owner owes no taxes or liens on the property or the home itself.
Homeowners must also get title insurance, which helps protect both you and the bank from any undiscovered liens or taxes associated with the home and the property.
And then there are the inspections. These include a general inspection of the home, a pest inspection, environmental inspection for issues such as asbestos and mold, flood reports, and boundary verification for some rural properties.
Finally, the seller's disclosures must also be approved. Notification of these disclosures is required in advance, and this helps the buyer become aware of any problems with the property or the home that weren't outlined in the original listing.
At the Closing
Paying for the house itself is a separate process that's usually verified at the closing. The previous mortgage must be paid off
if that's part of the process, and that payment must be verified. The money you're paying will be put into an escrow account, which is verified and monitored by an escrow company, which becomes a neutral third party in this part of the transaction.
The most important piece of paperwork in the closing is the HUD-1 form, which verifies the terms of the loan and the closing costs. This is compared to the initial estimate, and should be checked for any discrepancies in fee amounts as well as mistakes.
A final walk through of the property
is usually part of the closing. This includes a review of appliances or fixtures, and buyers and sellers may pressure each other to back out of an agreement if there are problems with this part of the process.
is an important element of the transaction as well. Buyers must have homeowners insurance and hazard insurance, and these are normally verified during the closing as well.
This rundown describes most of the basics. It's important to have an array of qualified professionals helping you, from the real estate agent to your lawyer, title agent, etc. With all of this in place, its much easier to anticipate any curveballs and make the process much smoother and less stressful.