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Once you've signed a buyer’s purchase contract to sell your house, the preparation for settlement begins. Settlement, or closing escrow, is the process of transferring the title (ownership) of the home from seller to buyer. Some of the processes are different in various States.

Often, the real estate agents involved in the sale help take care of these arrangements. But the buyer and seller are ultimately responsible for attending to these details. Here are the basics:

    Buyer's Responsibilities

    Buyer gets a loan. The buyer must first secure the financing to buy the house. Usually this means taking out a mortgage loan. Most lenders require a complete financial picture, including income and expenses, and a credit check. In addition, most want an up-to-date appraisal of the home, a survey of the property and, often, some inspections (for pests, radon gas, flood plain, etc.). Some lenders specify which service providers they want the borrower to use. Once all the paperwork is in, the borrower should keep in touch with the lender until receiving a loan commitment. Obtain homeowner’s insurance.

    The buyer needs to purchase a hazard insurance policy in advance for the new home. The buyer is also required to purchase title insurance policy – usually at settlement – to protect the lender. If the buyer wishes to bring an attorney to settlement, arrangements should be made 30 to 60 days in advance. Receive Good Faith Estimate.

    A few days before settlement, the buyer should receive a Good Faith Estimate of settlement costs. In addition to the loan commitment letter, the buyer must bring a certified or cashier's check for the down payment and any other costs due at settlement. These costs include mortgage interest from the closing date to the first payment due, escrow for property taxes and insurance, and various taxes and recording fees.

    Seller's Responsibilities

    Select closing agent

    The seller typically designates the settlement agent, usually 30 to 60 days before closing. The seller and listing agent work together to provide disclosures and arrange inspections and appraisals and to provide needed paperwork such as a housing plat map, previous title insurance information and any prior inspections. Give loan payoff notice.

    The sellers also need to check with their lender to get up-to-date figures for the payoff of the mortgage, and to learn if any rebates are due for pre-paid taxes or insurance.

    Joint Responsibilities

    Stay on top of details.

    Both the buyer and seller need to give the settlement agent all pertinent information requested. And, since many long and detailed forms are usually signed at settlement, consider requesting copies of the basic settlement forms several days in advance to pre-read them if practical.

    The focus at the settlement table is on checking the exact figures to be sure they are accurate. Designate legal representative.
    If either the buyers or sellers cannot come to closing, they should notify the settlement agent well in advance so a Power of Attorney form can be prepared. The person named on the form can act as the signer’s legal representative.

    Once all the papers are signed and money paid, the keys are handed over to the buyer and the sale is complete.