The process of buying a home can be stressful, particularly when last minute problems crop up that threaten to delay closing, or disrupt the sale. Here are a few steps that buyers can take before closing to smooth the process, and protect their interests over the long term.
1. Get All Recommended Inspections
Buyers should have any property they intend to buy inspected by knowledgeable professionals well in advance of closing. A full home inspection can reveal issues that may affect the value of the property, the price, and the terms of the final contract. Additional, more specific, inspections may also be necessary. Pest control inspections are a good idea and you may also want to do air quality tests if there are any concerns about mold or other contaminants. If the house has a septic system, you may consider having that inspected as well. In Western North Carolina, radon inspections are highly recommended. Due diligence takes time and money, but can often pay off in the long run.
2. Get a Survey
Getting a survey is very important step that too few buyers take when purchasing residential real estate. Surveys are valuable because they can reveal issues that may not necessarily be found in the title work. Because surveyors walk the property on foot they will find any existing encroachments and other issues that are not listed on paper. For example, a surveyor can tell if another owner's driveway is encroaching on your property or if your driveway is on someone else's property. Most importantly, if you don't get a survey, then your title insurance policy will list an exception on your policy for any matter that would have been revealed by a survey. As a result, a wide scope of things that could be excluded from title insurance coverage if you don't get a survey.
3. Gather all Information for Lien Waivers
If any construction or repairs have been performed on the property or materials provided to the property in the 120 days prior to the closing, lien waivers will need to be acquired from the contractors who did the work. A lien waiver is legal document in which a contractor states that they have been paid in full for the work that they did and that they waive any future rights to place a lien against the property.
At least a week before closing, sellers will need to compile a list of any work that have been done on the property in the previous 120 days, and the amount that the work cost. They will need to send that list to the closing attorney so that the attorney can determine which of the contractors they will need to get lien waivers from. For instance if the buyer insists that the seller install a new roof before closing, then the seller will have to pay for the roof and get a lien waiver from the contractor that installed it.
4. Make advance arrangements to get your purchase funds to the attorney
Wire transfers are the only method of payment accepted by many of real estate attorneys today. Most likely, you will not be able to pay for your real estate transaction with certified checks, or cash, or any payment method other than a wire. Wire transfers require the buyer go to the bank during business hours. It can take several hours for the bank to actually wire the money to the closing attorney. Because of this, it is a good idea to go to your bank a day or even two days before your scheduled closing to arrange for the wire.
Making payment arrangements in advance of the closing can reduce stress on all parties. Remember the sale cannot be recorded with the register of deeds until the funds are in the attorney's account. The funds cannot be dispersed until the transaction has been recorded. If the funds are in place, no one will have to nervously wait for the money to hit the account before the attorney can go record the transaction with the register of deeds.
5. Make Arrangements for the Key Exchange
It is less common today to have a formal sit down closing where everyone meets at once for a real estate closing. Most of the time when we represent sellers, we obtain the seller's closing documents directly from the seller, and then courier it over to the buyer's attorney whenever the buyer is ready to record. The question of how the keys will be exchanged should be answered before the day of closing.
In most cases the realtors will take care of transferring keys from the previous owners to the new owners but, as online real estate databases grow in popularity, we are seeing more and more real estate transactions that do not involve agents. In this case, the buyers and sellers will need to consider the question of how they coordinate tasks that real estate agents normally handle for them.
Michael Thompson is a principal with The Van Winkle Law Firm, where he focuses his practice on commercial and residential real estate transactions in Henderson, Buncombe, Polk and Transylvania counties. Since joining the firm in 1989, he has represented local, regional and national developers in the procurement, planning and implementation of commercial and high-end residential projects.