real estate

What to expect at the closing table

Mature couple female realtor © goodluz / Fotolia
Highlights
  • Make sure you're prepared for closing day -- and have patience.
  • Take all your paperwork to the closing table, including proof of insurance.
  • What can go wrong? Lots of things. So do your research first.

The home inspections are complete. You have your homeowners insurance. The day you've been waiting for has arrived -- closing day. If everything is in order, a closing process can run smoothly and ownership of the property will be transferred to you with no hitches.

Before the congratulations are given and house keys handed over, you, the homebuyer, are expected to come to the closing table actively engaged and prepared to seal the deal.

Closing day prep

The most important item a homebuyer can bring to the closing table? Patience, says Walter Walker Jr., director of education for Housing and Education Alliance, a housing counseling agency in Tampa, Fla.

Walker warns buyers not to close on their lunch hour. An hour might not be enough. Rather, he says, take off a day or half-day.

He also recommends scheduling the closing date around the 20th or 25th day of the month, rather than the last day of the month, to allow time to address any last-minute problems.

"If something goes wrong, (you) want to have a couple of days to attempt to resolve the problem that exists," he says. "Also, everybody wants to close on the last day of the month. What happens if, for some reason, there's a mechanical breakdown -- the office printer breaks down and it's 5 o'clock in the afternoon and your mortgage company is about to close?"

If a closing scheduled on the last day of the month is not completed that day, you will have increased closing costs, beginning at the start of the next month. That's because prepaid interest due at closing accumulates throughout the month, but can be avoided or reduced if the closing is near the end of the month.

Buyers are often allowed to do a final walk-through inspection 24 hours before closing to determine if any damage was done to the property between contract and closing, and to negotiate any necessary repairs with the seller, says Mary Beth Rapice, a real estate attorney for the Pullman & Comley law firm in Bridgeport, Conn.

It is important for you to bring to the closing table every document received throughout the homebuying process, Rapice says. These include the good faith estimate and proof of homeowners insurance.

"It's always good to bring a copy of your contract, a copy of your inspection reports and any documents that you had delivered to the bank so that they could approve you for the mortgage," Rapice says.

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The home inspections are complete. You have your homeowners insurance. The day you've been waiting for has finally arrived -- closing day.

When preparing for your closing day, don't try to close on your lunch break -- an hour may not be long enough. Instead, try scheduling the closing date around the 20th or 25th day of the month to allow time to address any last-minute problems. Homebuyers are often allowed to do a final walk-through inspection 24 hours before closing to determine if any damage was done to the property between contract and closing, and to negotiate any necessary repairs with the seller.

During the closing meeting, the seller signs certain documents transferring property ownership and the homebuyer receives and signs documents related to the mortgage agreement and ownership of the property, and pays any closing costs and escrow payments.

What happens on closing day?

While closing practices vary from state to state, even locality to locality, the following parties are generally present at the closing.

  • Home seller.
  • Seller's real estate agent.
  • Title company representative.
  • Attorney(s): The buyer and lender may have attorneys.
  • Closing agent: This person conducts the meeting and makes sure all documents are signed and fees and escrow payments paid.
  • Mortgagor (you).
  • Mortgagee (lender).

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During the closing meeting, the seller signs certain documents transferring property ownership. You receive and sign documents related to the mortgage agreement and ownership of the property, and pay any closing costs and escrow payments. These include:

  • The HUD-1 settlement statement detailing all of the costs related to the home sale.
  • Final Truth in Lending Act statement outlining the cost of the loan and annual percentage rate.
  • Mortgage note stating the buyer's promise to repay the loan.
  • Mortgage or deed of trust securing the mortgage note.

"It's very helpful for homebuyers to be able to review all of the closing documents before they get to the closing table," says David Adamo, CEO of Luxury Mortgage Corp., in Stamford, Conn. "This way, they are informed and prepared when it comes time to sign all of the closing documents."

What can go wrong?

Real estate attorney Neil Garfinkel offers a "closing nightmares" list: a lender pulling out at the last minute and not financing the property, a buyer not having enough money or a seller not clearing up property liens.

Failing to complete the final walk-through prior to closing is a significant issue as well. Garfinkel, a partner with Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson in New York, says buyers have neglected to do final walk-throughs, but have asked the sellers to set aside money for any repairs. "That's just a no-no; that's not happening."

Another action can cause problems at the closing table: when the buyer's financial circumstances change. Opening a new credit account, securing a new auto loan or charging up an existing credit card can delay or even cancel your mortgage closing.

To lessen the chances of problems arising at closing, Rapice advises potential homebuyers to research the entire homebuying process with an attorney or mortgage lender.

"Understand what the total cost of the transaction will be to you. It's not just the purchase price and attorney fees, there are a lot of other costs involved," she says. "It's more than what appears to the naked eye, it's not just going and finding a house that you are in love with and deciding to buy it and deciding to get a mortgage."

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