Whether purchasing a property, refinancing, getting a HELOC, or conveying realty in a private transaction, the decision whether or not to be represented by Counsel is a weighty one. Real estate involves a great deal of paperwork, much of it beyond the understanding of laypeople, especially amid the bustle of a hurried closing. Some basic points help set the stage.
Purchase and Sale Period
Even before folks sit down to close there are considerations for pro se participants. First make sure offers to purchase contain definite terms as to property ID, price, method of payment, time frame, and the like. Also be sure that flexibility is there as to closing date, as unexpected delays can occur. Where you are asked to present or review a purchase and sale agreement, be aware that these are often standardized "boilerplate" and might contain terms that don't apply. If you are a buyer, pay close attention to "Buyers Warranties," and as a seller to "Seller's Warranties." If you would feel uncomfortable agreeing with any terms in the warranties, ask that they be revised. Look at the other side's warranties to assure you are satisfied.
Special care is required when reviewing Purchase and Sale, (P&S) agreements for condominiums, as standard P&S language is often used, with terms applying more to stand-alone homes. Warranties having to do with septic, easements, access to roads, and the like may be inapplicable to a condo transaction, yet still present in P&S boilerplate. Review warranties carefully and don't warrant items over which you have no control. (pertaining to common areas of condos)
The Bank's/Buyer's Lawyer is not your Lawyer.
Every closing has a "closing attorney," who leads and coordinates the transaction. In a refinance, the bank's attorney, or escrow company attorney handles the transaction. Whether you are buyer, seller, or refinancing, the other attorney is not your Attorney. That being said, these lawyers should take the time to explain the process, and are not necessarily adverse to your position. However, where transactions are complicated, and you want to be protected, you should consider hiring your own lawyer.
Plodding through the Paperwork-Where to Focus?
It's useful to identify and discuss some of the paperwork you might encounter in a closing, and what to look for. First would be the HUD statement, Closing Disclosures and/or ALTA statement. These forms outline the financial ins and outs of the transaction. Review them carefully to confirm that you will be paid or charged as expected, and verify closing costs. If applicable note that your interest rate is as expected , and monthly payment amount is correct. You should request a copy of these statements a day before closing to review the terms with care, comparing key terms to those presented on closing day. Also review deeds with utmost care, verifying names, addresses, property details etc.
What to Ignore
Documents like the mortgage and note are standardized, so don't bother sifting through a 15 page mortgage. So long as your name, address, personal data is accurate you are good to go. One exception lies where you are asked to sign a "Rider" to your mortgage or note. In those cases review the Rider terms as best you can.
This discussion is by no means comprehensive, but offers some tips and areas of focus to consider. When in doubt seek legal advice, as substantial rights are at stake.
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