The time between the signing of a real estate contract to buy or sell a Florida home and when the transaction is legally complete can seem confusing to someone not familiar with the process. After all, most of us buy or sell our home only a few times in our entire lives.
Fortunately, the steps involved in a closing are relatively straightforward. And especially if you work with an experienced real estate attorney, the process should go smoothly for everyone involved, whether you are a home buyer, a seller, or someone who is refinancing their mortgage.
The real estate professionals at the Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A., have assisted South Florida residents with their real estate transactions for more than 25 years. Here, Coral Springs, Florida-based real estate lawyer Gary M. Landau describes the closing process, along with the legal issues that sometimes arise before a home’s closing.
Funding the Escrow Account
If you’re buying a home, the deposit you gave to the Realtor when you made your now-accepted offer will be placed in the attorney or closing agent’s escrow account. You may need to immediately add additional funds to this account if your signed contract calls for your deposit to total more than the initial deposit.
The attorney holds this money until after the sale closes, at which time it becomes part of the proceeds distributed to the seller.
If there is a dispute about the contract or the deal before closing, the escrow agent may not be able to disburse this money until the dispute is settled, such as by mediation or until a court makes a decision.
Diving into the Docs
If the property is a condominium, under Florida law the buyer has 3 days following receipt of the condominium’s Declaration and all amendments, by-laws, and other documents governing the association to review them.
This is a lot to read, but buyers should comb through these documents with extreme care. Condo docs may exclude pets, longtime visitors (especially those under a certain age for 55+ communities), the ability to have a home business, or more, and buying into the community means agreeing to be governed by these rules.
After reviewing the docs, the buyer can pull out of the deal during these 3 days if they desire.
Performing a Title Search
This is the job of your real estate attorney or closing agent, who will run a real estate title search on the property’s address to ensure that the title is clean–which means the seller has the legal right to convey title to the new buyer and that there are no liens (including from people who did prior work on the home).
If title problems are revealed during this time, the real estate lawyer will work to remedy the issues. Sometimes this can be done quickly, but other times (such as if a probate of one of the prior, now deceased, owners’ estate needs to occur) this can take time.
Getting a Professional Home Inspection, Mortgage, Condo/Homeowners Association Approval
The contract gives buyers certain rights and responsibilities that they must take action on soon after the deal is agreed to.
One is to hire a professional home inspector who can complete their work during the number of days allotted in the contract. This is crucial, because the inspector assess whether the home–including plumbing, electrical, foundation, and roofing–is safe, up to code, and doesn’t have hidden problems that may cost significant money down the road. Buyers are generally allowed to back out of a deal if the inspector turns up unexpected problems, but only during the “inspection period” spelled out in the contract.
If the buyer will be taking a mortgage, applying for a loan with a mortgage broker or bank in a timely manner is also important. Many contracts have a “financing clause” that allows the buyer to back out of a deal if they are unable to get a loan during a certain time period. Past that, the buyer can be obligated to purchase the home, even if that means coming up with the full sale amount in cash.
Timely applications must also be made to a condo or homeowner’s association if the property is governed by these, because approval is required before a closing can occur. Many associations charge a fee for this process.
Preparing and Reviewing All the Closing Documents
All of the financial information regarding the sale, including the price, mortgage, fees, taxes, Realtor commissions and the like are documented on a standard closing document known as an ALTA statement.
Buyers and sellers receive copies of the ALTA prior to a closing. It’s crucial that everyone review the document closely.
Having a Final Walkthrough
Buyers should schedule a final walkthrough on the day of the closing to ensure that the property is in the same state it was when the contract was signed.
If the terms of the deal included repairs the seller needed to make before closing, this should be scrutinized during the walkthrough as well.
Finally, the Closing
The official closing can be done in person or it can be done in advance by mail.
Buyers and/or sellers are asked to sign a number of (often lengthy) documents, which may include:
- The mortgage loan estimate
- The initial escrow statement
- The mortgage note
- The closing disclosure from the lender (CD)
- The deed of trust or mortgage document
- The certificate of occupancy (for new construction homes)
A real estate attorney reviews each document with their client so they understand what they are signing.
A person who is refinancing a home goes through a similar, if truncated, closing process to transfer the home under the new mortgage terms.
Once all the paperwork is signed and the appropriate monies have been received, the buyer is handed the keys and the seller their proceeds, and everyone is thrilled to move on to this new, exciting phase of their life.
How To Find an Experienced Real Estate Attorney in South Florida
You can search the internet for a “real estate lawyer near me,” but it’s best to ask friends or family for recommendations for an experienced South Florida real estate attorney.
At the Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A., we proudly offer buyers, sellers, and homeowners refinancing their homes the peace of mind of an experienced attorney who cares about their clients. The Law Office offers a contract review before it is signed, title insurance, legal representation, and the preparation of all closing documents for a home closing.
Contact Our Real Estate Attorneys at the Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A.
With more than 25 years of experience and countless satisfied clients, Gary M. Landau and his team are uniquely positioned to help you with your probate and real estate needs in South Florida. Whether you’re ready to probate a loved one’s estate or to write your own will, or if you are purchasing a home, have inherited a home, or want a closing agent to handle title insurance and all documents for your closing or refinancing, the Law Office of Gary M. Landau is ready to work with you.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction.