After much due diligence and planning, you’re finally getting close to closing on your new home. At closing, you’ll pay for the property, the lender (assuming you have one) will fund your loan, and the seller will transfer title into your name. All of these tasks involve paperwork, which makes reviewing and signing documents the most time-consuming part of the closing.
If you familiarize yourself with the closing documents in advance, the process will go faster and more smoothly. Here are some tips about what to look for—or watch out for—in the paperwork you’ll see at closing.
Most of the documents related to transfer of ownership of the property must be signed by the seller and delivered to you, the buyer. It’s important to review these for accuracy and completeness. With many state and local variations, the main purchase documents in your home purchase are likely to include:
The loan documents are prepared by your lender or a servicing agent for your lender. How many documents you have to sign and what’s in them will depend on the lender and the type of home loan. The typical loan documents are:
Various other disclosures and agreements might be included in the loan package. For example, in the compliance agreement, you agree to cooperate if the lender needs to fix any mistakes in the loan documents. IRS forms W-9 and 4506 allow your lender to report your mortgage interest and obtain copies of your tax returns. Servicing disclosures tell you if the lender is going to use a servicer to collect your payments, or whether the lender intends to sell your loan to another lender or an investor, and where to send your payments. Tax and insurance escrow forms allow the lender to charge and hold fund to pay real property taxes and insurance premiums on your behalf.
The lender might also ask you to sign affidavits certifying that you are going to occupy the home as your primary residence, and confirming your legal name and any other name you may use on accounts and legal documents.
Just when you think you are finished reviewing and signing documents, the title company and escrowee will give you their documents.
The main title document is the title insurance commitment (the “Commitment”) showing the party in title (who owns the house), hopefully the seller. It will also show all of the liens or other clouds on title. Your attorney (if you’ve hired an attorney) will review the Commitment to make sure that title is in the condition promised in the contract and otherwise acceptable under local law and custom. If you are relying on an escrow company, it will review the Commitment to make sure title complies with the conditions stated in the escrow instructions created to satisfy the lender’s requirements. If title is not acceptable, the seller might have to pay off additional liens, or obtain additional signatures. Unexpected title issues could halt or delay your closing.
CAUTION: Some title issues can be very complex. If the seller does not have an attorney, or if local custom dictates, you might have to do more to ensure title will be good in time for the closing. In areas where it’s common for neither party to work with an attorney, the title company often is the closer, and you’ll likely have already been alerted if there is a problem with the title that could delay closing. Even when it’s not customary to work with an attorney, if you have any questions or concerns about closing or title, consider hiring a local real estate attorney to review the Commitment and other title documents.
The title company will ask you to sign its standard closing documents. This will include an ALTA statement, which is a one-page affidavit very similar to the seller’s affidavit of title; a judgment affidavit, where you list your recent judgments, divorces, or bankruptcies; a compliance agreement, in which you agree to cooperate with the title company to correct any closing mistakes; and a disbursement agreement, allowing the title company, as escrowee, to disburse the loan proceeds. There may be additional disclosures informing you that an attorney is involved in the transaction, or that the lender has an affiliated businesses arrangement with the title company, or that the loan title insurance policy will not cover your interest as the buyer.
Other documents buyers often review at closing include:
Conveniently, most closing agents provide digital copies of your entire closing packet. You’ll also want to keep the original documents in a safe place, as you might need to provide them when you later sell the house, have to make an insurance claim, or are in another situation where you need to prove ownership. The most important originals are the purchase agreement, deed, and deed of trust or mortgage. In the event originals are destroyed, you might be able to get certified copies of these documents from the lender or closing company, but you don’t want to rely on others’ recordkeeping systems unless you have to.