Selling your home is a complex and sometimes confusing process. From entertaining offers to dealing with inspectors and wondering just what documents you’ll need to find and collect, it’s no wonder many sellers look forward to the closing with such anticipated relief.
However, even though all the cleaning and repairs are behind you, the closing shouldn’t be dismissed quite so easily. It will require more than merely signing a few documents and handing over your set of keys to a new buyer.
If you want to avoid any last-minute hiccups or unforeseen obstacles, learn what to expect at every step along the way, both practically and legally speaking.
Generally, the buyer is the one with the biggest task list, but there’s still plenty for a seller to do in closing a house sale. So don’t wait until the last minute before you begin preparing for the closing. Remember to double-check this list with your broker or real estate attorney, since the process can be different from one state to the next—sometimes, significantly so.
Hiring a Real Estate Attorney
Consider hiring a real estate attorney to represent your interests at closing. While it’s true that most closings occur without this added step on the seller’s behalf, there’s no doubt having an experienced real estate lawyer in your corner will help ensure a smooth process for everyone.
A real estate agent can and will do quite a bit for you in protecting your own interests, but there are some things only a lawyer can do. For example, your attorney can review the listing agreement with your agent to ensure it’s in your best interests, or make sure the contract of sale protects you adequately in the event of unfortunate developments, such as the buyer’s inability to secure funding or who bears which costs.
It’s especially prudent to consult with an experienced real estate lawyer if your situation is unique or you’re facing additional stresses, such as impending bankruptcy or divorce.
Having your own real estate attorney isn’t necessarily critical to closing on the sale of your home (unless your state requires it, as some do), but it does provide an extra layer of security and added peace of mind to make sure the closing goes smoothly for all parties.
Getting Your Property Ready
Before closing on your house, you’ll want to perform a thorough walk-through of the property to make sure you’ve accounted for all your possessions that you’ll be taking with you when you move.
Try to locate and gather all the documentation for fixtures and appliances, such as manuals, warranty information, receipts, and maintenance reports. Place these in a single folder and leave it somewhere the new owner can easily find it.
You’ll also want to gather everyone’s keys and any garage door openers together and place them in an envelope to bring with you to the closing and hand to the new owner.
Arrange to have your home cleaned, or do it yourself before the closing takes place. After the cleaning, you’ll want to make sure all valves get turned off to avoid any accidental flooding. (Let the new owner know you’ve done this at the closing and give them a list of where those valves are located.)
Services, Insurance, and Mail
Shortly before the closing, call each of your home’s service providers and let them know you’ll be selling the house. Cancel any service calls past the date of closing so you won’t be financially responsible for them.
Use the U.S. Post Office website to file a change of address for each member of your household who will be moving with you to a new location. This service will cover your mail forwarding needs for a year. However, it’s also a good idea to contact people and businesses that frequently send you mail to change your address directly with them as well. You’ll also want to include creditors, magazines, and newspapers in this outreach program. Simplify the job by getting postcards printed in bulk to announce your move, then just drop them in the mail a few weeks before your move.
Finally, you may want to gather any documents (or prepare one for yourself) that outline the steps to canceling utility accounts and your home insurance policy. Obviously, you’ll want to wait until after the title has officially changed hands. But, it’s smart to have a reference as to what to do when that occurs.
Getting Ready for the Closing
As soon as possible, begin the processing of gathering all the documents you’ll need or want to have with you at the closing. Also, review your copy of the HUD 1 Settlement Agreement for any mistakes or errors. If you find any, notify your real estate agent (and an attorney, if you have one) immediately.
Finally, make sure you understand the possible tax implications of the sale of your home. Depending on the price you paid for the property and the price at which it’s now being sold, you could wind up owing the federal government quite a few dollars in taxes. However, on the other hand, it’s entirely possible that other factors may reduce that potential tax liability, or possibly even eliminate it altogether. For example, capital improvements can minimize tax liability considerably.
What to Bring to the Closing
Every person whose name is on the current title to the property must bring with them a driver’s license or some other state-issued form of identification that bears a photograph of their face. In addition, if you own your home outright, you’ll want to bring your home’s deed. Also bring with you documentation that the improvements and repairs to the home that the buyer’s home inspector required have been made. Bring all entry keys and security codes, if any, as well as a few pens.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll sail effortlessly through the closing process!