It’s been six weeks since my wife and I officially closed on the sale of our former home. Anytime we share this piece of information with people, especially people in the real estate industry, they respond with astonishment, if not mild shock. They quickly recover to point out how fortunate we are to sell a house in this market, and we agree. That we sold for a figure above our 2008 purchase price is incredible—and by their reaction, almost scandalous.
And yet, as incredible as this is, the truly surprising aspect of our home-selling story—the one that we really want to share with people—is not that we sold it against the odds; it’s that what should have been the most simple and enjoyable part of the process—the closing—was anything but.
So, in an effort to prevent future closing experiences like ours, here is a list of simple things that title professionals could do to make the closing process a smooth one for sellers and buyers alike.
- Assume less; educate more. Even though we had gone through the closing process before, on the buy side, we didn’t really know what we needed to do to prepare for closing this time around. The closing agency must have assumed we did know, though, because we were simply forwarded and asked to sign documents (like the Affiliated Business Arrangement Disclosure Statement describing the relationship between them and our buyers’ real estate agency) with no explanation as to what they meant.
We also didn’t receive our settlement statement (or HUD statement) until two days before the closing date. Again with no explanation. It would have been helpful to see how all of the fees were going to break down and who was getting paid what further in advance of closing.
The closing transaction itself is just part of the process for sellers who may also be trying to find a new place to live, packing, arranging movers, transferring utilities, forwarding mail—you get the picture. An educated and informed seller (who becomes informed through guidance from the experts) can be prepared to set these details aside and attend to the important paperwork to make their sale final without confusion.
- Quickness is not always king; focus on the details: Our buyers moved the closing date up by a week late in the game, so the title agency had to process things more quickly than I’m sure is typical. We appreciated their expediency, but in the rush to complete everything, the title company misspelled my wife’s name on all of the documents, which needed to be changed at the last minute. They also failed to pass on our new forwarding address to the bank that held our mortgage (as promised), which resulted in our escrow check being sent to our former house and thus delayed by several weeks.
- Choose your notaries wisely: One of the ways in which most title agencies try to make the process convenient is to offer to send a notary to the seller’s house to sign all of the paperwork instead of making them travel to the agency’s office. The notary who arrived at our house for this closing was very nice and professional. The notary sent to our apartment when we bought the house was, on the other hand, a rather sketchy figure. He showed up reeking of cigarette smoke and asking for a large glass of water, which he slugged down like it was the last he’d ever drink. He flew through the papers and was visibly frustrated if we stopped to actually read something. All of this is to say that when conducting a transaction this important, it makes a difference who you choose to carry it out. Most people want to walk away from the closing absolutely certain that all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed.
Now, I realize that our experience may not be representative of the majority and that there are undoubtedly many title agencies that get the process right. To those agencies, I applaud you. To all the others, I urge you to seize the opportunity to distinguish the title profession as the rare bright spot in an otherwise blighted and beleaguered industry.