In Florida, the real estate sector is a large part of the local economy with a substantial number of residential and commercial real estate closings occurring on a continual basis. Although Florida real estate attorneys fully understand the real estate closing process as they are involved in real estate closings every day, many of the other participants in Florida real estate transactions often experience some confusion as to everything that happens between the time the purchase and sale contract is signed to the date of closing. This brief article is written to explain the closing process and the basic steps that are customarily followed in every Florida real estate transaction so that buyers, sellers, real estate agents, lenders and other interested parties will have a better understanding of the many actions taken by Florida real estate attorneys to successfully close a real estate transaction. Below is a brief description of the steps which occur in every real estate transaction.
Submission of the Title Order
After a purchase and sale contract is signed between the buyer and the seller and the initial escrow deposit is made by the buyer, the buyer’s lender (if the transaction is being financed) or the buyer’s real estate agent (if the transaction is a cash transaction) will submit a request for title to the closing attorney chosen by the buyer to start the process. Typically, the buyer’s lender or real estate agent will complete and send a one or two page form to the closing attorney which contains all of the relevant information related to the transaction such a party names, property description, purchase price, lender information and exiting mortgages. Most real estate attorneys also have pages on their websites where the buyer’s lender or real estate agent can electronically complete and send in the request for title. The buyer’s realtor will also typically send a copy of the signed purchase and sale agreement to the closing attorney at this point.
Processing the File
The processing stage of the real estate transaction commences immediately after the closing attorney receives the request for title. As there are many third parties who must be coordinated with in order to obtain all of the necessary information and documentation in time for the closing date, an experienced Florida real estate attorney will commence the processing stage as soon as possible after the receipt of the request for title. The file processing stage includes ordering tax information that shows the status of current and prior years taxes, loan payoff statements, surveys, homeowner or condominium association estoppel letters showing maintenance fees and any assessments, inspection reports, and certificates evidencing hazard insurance. In addition, at this stage the Florida real estate attorney orders the title search report from the title insurance underwriter and the lien and judgment search report from the lien search company.
During the tile search phase of the transaction a through search is made of the public records in the county in Florida where the real property is located. Records searched and located include deeds, mortgages, lis pendens, judgments, easements, restrictive covenants, liens, divorce settlements and any other documents recorded in the public records which affect title to the property. After all of the documents which affect title to the property are located, the title insurance underwriter prepares a title search report which includes all such documents and sends same to the closing attorney.
After the closing attorney receives the title search report from the title insurance underwriter, the title examination phase commences. The closing attorney will first issue a title commitment to the buyer (and if applicable, the lender) based upon the information contained in the title search report. Next the closing attorney will examine all of the documents found during the title search that affect the title to the property in order to determine the current status of title and whether any title clouds exist which need to be cleared prior to closing. The closing attorney also verifies the record legal owner of the property and makes note of any debts owed against the property.
After any and all title clouds have been cleared and the parties are ready to close the transaction, the Florida closing attorney will proceed to prepare all of the documents in order to close the transaction, which includes the deed, bill of sale, affidavits, FIRPTA certificate, and closing statement. In connection with this, if the buyer is financing the purchase, the buyer’s lender will submit to the closing attorney its closing instructions so that the closing attorney can include all of the lender’s charges, fees and escrows on the settlement statement. An experienced Florida real estate attorney will distribute drafts of all of the closing documents to all interested parties in advance of closing so that same may be reviewed, commented on, revised, if necessary, and ultimately approved well in advance of closing.
Settlement/Closing the Transaction
Once all of the closing documents have been approved, a date and time to close the transaction is scheduled. At the closing the closing attorney oversees all aspects of the closing of the purchase and sale transaction and answers any questions the parties may have which relate to the transaction and/or the closing documents. The seller signs the deed and the other seller documents, the buyer signs the buyer’s documents and the loan documents (if the transaction is being financed), and both parties sign the HUD-1 settlement statement. After the closing has occurred the seller, real estate agents, the attorneys and other parties to the transaction are paid and certain documents are sent to be recorded in the county in which the property is located.