A First-Timer’s Guide to Closing a Real Estate Deal
Hopefully, you did everything right from the beginning: You were pre-approved by your financial institution for an affordable home loan; you researched your area extensively to find the perfect property for you; you hired a real estate agent you could trust to gain access to property details and help you navigate the complex seas of paperwork. Now, it’s time to close.
Whether you are buying your first family home or a commercial property for your business, closing is convoluted and seemingly interminable. Even with the help of an experienced real estate agent, you should learn about the closing process before you attempt to survive your first real estate deal. This guide will walk you through the most important steps of closing your deal, so you come through excited to finally own your own property.
Obtain Title Insurance
Though it might seem unnecessary, performing a quick title search and obtaining title insurance will safeguard your investment from conflicts down the road. It’s possible that a previous owner of your soon-to-be home left the house in a will to a long-lost relative or failed to pay debts taken against the house. If anyone shows up trying to claim ownership over your home, your title insurance should reimburse you, so you won’t take a significant loss due to the state’s poor record-keeping.
“I’m in escrow!” is an exciting statement to shout, but before you do, you should know what “escrow” means. Escrow is an account held by a neutral third party to prevent you or the home’s seller from being scammed. Until both parties in the transaction finish the necessary paperwork, all the money involved will be stuck in escrow.
Negotiate Closing Costs
Escrow isn’t free, but odds are you aren’t sure how much it should actually cost. Most escrow companies will try to take advantage of your ignorance and inflate their fees unnecessarily. By displaying your knowledge of the system (and using a few smart negotiating tactics), you can lower your closing costs and save some money. So-called junk fees to watch out for include:
- Administrative fees
- Application review fees
- Appraisal review fees
- Ancillary fees
- Email fees
- Processing fees
- Settlement fees
Complete a Home Inspection
Do you know the difference between a wall crack caused by foundation settling and one caused by water damage? Can you tell just by looking how old the pipes are in the master bathroom? Can you recognize black mold? Most likely, the answer to all these questions ― and any questions about home repair or construction ― is “no.” That’s why you need to hire a home inspector to survey your desired property before you close the sale: You should know exactly what you’re in for before laying down cash.
You should also consider hiring a pest inspector to look for signs of damage due to wood-eating insects. If an infestation is discovered, most mortgage companies require the seller to resolve the issue before closing.
Based on what your home and pest inspectors find, you might be able to lower the price you previously agreed to. Because you will likely need to complete some amount of repairs, you should ask that the seller to lower the cost by at least as much as the cost of the repairs ― or else request they complete the repairs themselves.
Set Your Rates
If you didn’t seek pre-approval ― which you should have, by the way ― it is time to lock down your interest rate. The best lenders will watch the market for a dip in rates, but you should avoid becoming too obsessed with obtaining the lowest possible number. Interest rates fluctuate several times every day, so your goal should be to obtain a reasonable rate that you can afford.
Finally, you can enter escrow. When you signed your purchase agreement, you likely deposited some earnest money into your escrow account to convince the seller that you do intend to buy the house. By now, both parties are certain about each other’s intentions, and it is time for you to move a more significant amount of money into your escrow account. You should deposit the full amount of your down payment (less the earnest money) and closing costs.
Sign the Papers
The last step of closing on your deal is signing the paperwork. In total, there should be about 100 pages worth of material, detailing the agreements of the sale, and you should read absolutely all of it. Because a home purchase will impact your finances for decades, you must know for certain that the contract says what it is supposed to. You don’t want any surprises in the way of rising interest rates or unknown fees down the road.