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How to Get from Accepting an Offer to Closing – To-Do List

Congratulations – you accepted an offer on your home! Now what?

Before you do anything, take a moment to savor that signed purchase agreement. It typically means all the energy you spent marketing your home has led to the right offer. It’s a major milestone – but it also means you have a new set of tasks ahead of you. If you’re selling your home on your own, use this for-sale-by-owner closing checklist to make sure you’re on the way to a successful sale!

1.      Hire an Attorney (If You Need One)

You may have heard that you should hire a real estate attorney when you sell your home. But do you really need one? Legally speaking, it depends on where you live. Some states (and in some cases, certain regions within states) require that an attorney prepare certain legal documents or oversee the closing of a home sale. You might need to do a little digging to find the requirements in your area.

Even if you don’t need to hire an attorney, it still might be a good idea. An attorney will make sure your paperwork is in order and that your rights are protected. Sometimes transactions get complicated – especially when there are questions of title, property distress, judgments or liens – so having an attorney to sort through all the red tape can be a lifesaver.

If you decide to hire an attorney, try to do so immediately after the purchase agreement has been signed. That way, your attorney can review the contract right away and negotiate any repairs or adjustments to the terms.

2.      Order Title and Arrange for Escrow

A home buyer and seller can negotiate who hires a title company and pays associated fees. In most cases, the home seller pays for the owner’s title insurance policy while the buyer pays for the lender’s policy. If you’re the one responsible for ordering title, be sure to have everything sorted out before closing day.

When it comes to escrow, you can typically use your title company as an escrow agent at no extra charge. Your escrow agent will order the title, property tax information, loan balances and other necessary paperwork.

The escrow agent will also serve as a third party who holds money in trust until a property sale closes. Say you received an earnest money deposit from the home buyer or have contracts that need safe keeping. Deposit these with your escrow agent, who will ensure smooth transfer of all money and documents after closing.

3.      Prepare for the Appraisal and Inspection

Two of the biggest steps to closing on a house are the appraisal and the inspection.

An appraisal is an estimate of the fair market value of home, typically ordered by a buyer’s lender during the mortgage loan process. This means a licensed professional will evaluate your home’s value based on things like age, condition, upgrades, location and the surrounding housing market. The purpose is to let a lender know the proper loan amount to provide. If an appraisal comes in below the sale price, a buyer and seller may be forced to renegotiate to cover the difference.

Similar to an appraisal, a home inspection is ordered by the home buyer to evaluate the structure and systems of a home, from the roof to the foundation. It covers things like the home’s heating system, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical systems, windows, doors, ceilings and floors. The main purpose is to find out if any major repairs are needed, in which case you may need to cover the cost.

So, how do you prepare for these home evaluations? Ensure that there’s easy access to all areas of your home and take care of the little things that could raise bigger questions. Replace burnt light bulbs, which could point to electrical problems. Eliminate slow drains with any of your sinks to remove doubts about the plumbing. Change your furnace air filters and be sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working. Basically, get your home in the best shape possible to pave the way for a smooth appraisal and inspection.

4.      Negotiate Repairs

If there’s an inspection contingency in your purchase agreement, that means the buyer can negotiate repairs based on the findings of their home inspector or cancel the contract.

The purpose of a home inspection is to identify major defects that would require a major investment of time or money – not to come up with a list of minor repairs for you take care of so the home is in flawless condition. Keep that in mind when the home buyer comes to you with their list of issues.

You’ll most likely need to do some haggling. Resist agreeing to fix all cosmetic issues like cracked tiles or loose doorknobs, as these are minor inconveniences that a buyer could have easily seen when touring the home. Major defects you should address include mold, electrical issues, lead paint or leaking roofs – the types of issues that will require major investments of time or money.

No matter the extent of the repairs you agree to address, it’s wise to provide inspection credits as opposed to taking care of the repairs yourself. The buyer will likely be far more critical about the work done than you will be. Providing cash value for repairs upfront will likely spare you and the buyer from tension down the road.

5.      Get Your Paperwork in Order

You’ve already filled out one of the most important forms to sell your home – the purchase agreement. As you move through the closing process, you’ll also need to produce additional paperwork to reach the finish line. Here are some of the most common documents you’ll need.

Title. This proves that you are entitled to transfer ownership of the home. You’ll also need to have the deed if you own the home outright.

Property taxes. Have your most recent tax statement ready, which will give the buyer an idea of what they’ll need to pay after purchasing your home.

Loan documents. Gather paperwork on your first mortgage – and second mortgage or home equity lines of credit if applicable.

Property survey. This is usually ordered by the buyer. It shows the boundaries of your property and where fences, driveways and other structures are located. You probably received this when you bought your home. If not, try checking with your lender or title company who may have a copy. If all else fails, you might need to contact a local engineering firm to produce a new one.

Plans and permits. If you’ve done any work on your home like additions or upgrades, you’ll probably need to show documentation that proves everything was above board.

Homeowner’s insurance information. Make sure you have the documents that detail your current policy for the home – and be sure not to cancel your policy until after closing.

For more on the documentation you’ll need to sell your home, check out our blog on The Paperwork Every FSBO Home Seller Needs to Organize.

6.      Close with Confidence

You’ve gathered the documents you need, and now you should receive one more. After the terms of your purchase agreement have been met and all the loan paperwork is ready, your escrow agent will fill out and deliver a HUD-1 settlement statement. This form details all transfers of money. It’s important for you and your buyer to review this statement before your closing day when you’ll sign all the final documents.

On the day of your for-sale-by-owner closing, gather up all your paperwork and make sure you have a photo ID and your checkbook on you. When you meet with the buyer (and their real estate agent, if they have one), you’ll sign all the paperwork required to transfer ownership of your home.

You’ll typically need to make a few payments, such as your mortgage balance, the buyer’s agent commission (if applicable), escrow or attorney fees, title fees and any pending property taxes or bills. If you’re making a profit after all expenses are paid off, you should receive a check for the balance. If not, you should have a cashier’s check ready to square your end of the bargain.

7.      Tie Up Loose Ends

After you get through the closing, you’re almost home free.

You might feel like you’ve been tying up loose ends for a month by now, but chances are there a few more to go. Here are some common to-dos to get through before you exit your home for the final time.

•  Start packing and hire a moving company if you need one

•  Submit a change of address form to the post office

•  Contact your mortgage company and make final payoff arrangements

•  Call your homeowner’s insurance agent, as you may receive a refund for any prepaid premiums

•  Close accounts for things like utilities and newspaper subscriptions

•  Gather the house keys, gate keys, remotes, etc. in a kitchen drawer

•  Stack up appliance manuals, receipts, warranties, security alarm codes, etc. on the counter

•  Close all the curtains and blinds, turn off all the lights and lock all the doors on your way out

Once you lock up and head out, your home closing checklist should be complete. And that means you’re ready to start the next chapter of your life – free and clear!

Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

Selling your home on your own is no easy feat. It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating, and chances are you saved yourself some money in the process. Plus, with all this experience under your belt, selling your next home should go even smoother!

If you need any help buying from someone who’s selling on their own, we’ve got you covered there too. Check out our blog on How to Buy a Home Directly from the Owner.

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7 Steps to Closing the Sale [Infographic]

From accepting an offer to signing on the dotted line, here is a step-by-step guide to make closing on your home sale an easy and efficient process for everyone involved.

7 Steps to Closing the Sale

To view, download and print 7 Steps to Closing the Sale [Infographic] as a PDF, click here.

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Moving Day Is Coming

You’ve been so focused on selling your home and finding a new place to live that you’ve had no time to think about moving day. Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule movers, especially if you’re moving during the summer months when movers tend to be the most busy.

Here’s how to choose a moving company:

1) Figure out what type of company you need — local, regional or national — and research available companies online.
2) Ask friends and acquaintances or your real estate attorney for referrals.
3) Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few options, make sure they are licensed and insured.
4) Check with the Better Business Bureau about whether the movers you have in mind are known to generate complaints.
5) Contact your list of moving companies and ask for bids and their available dates in your moving time frame.
6) Don’t agree to pay a deposit upfront unless it’s standard practice in your area. Most reputable movers do not ask for a deposit.

Choosing an available mover is important. Choosing a trusted mover is vital. You don’t want to unpack your items after the movers are gone only to find broken pieces. Double check that your mover is insured to cover accidental breakage and other unforeseen issues; you don’t want to deal with those hassles if you can avoid them.

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If keeping the cost of your move down is a big concern, consider postponing your move until after the height of the real estate season when movers aren’t as busy. Once you’ve hired a moving company, it’s time to move on to buying boxes and packing.

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Real Estate Forms Every FSBO Seller Needs (and Where to Get Them)

If something’s going to be official and there are government entities involved, there will be forms. There’s no way around it. Buying and selling real estate is no exception. If you have bought or sold before, you know firsthand how many sheets of paper are involved and how often you have to sign your name at closing. If you are new to real estate transactions be forewarned: Your signing hand will be very tired when the closing is over.

You can navigate this process by being careful and meticulous and relying on the counsel of a qualified attorney. You’ve already filled out the most important form — the contract for the purchase of your home. As you move through the closing process, be prepared to furnish:

• A survey of your property
• Building permits and remodeling receipts
• Home insurance and title insurance documents
• Mortgage, loan and lien documents for financial and estate planning

These are all personal records and should be easy to find in your home files or retrieved from your safe deposit box. You’ll need to find a source for the legal documents you’ll need. Because you’re selling on your own there will be no agent to help you collect the forms you need, but that’s OK. We’ve got the resources you need close at hand.

Visit our Real Estate Forms and Guides Center for all the legal forms you need to close on a home in your state, including disclosures. We also offer related forms and contracts for financial and estate planning.

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Let’s Get This FSBO Home Sale Closed in 6 Steps

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When to Hire a Real Estate Attorney and Title Company

Every seller pays for a real estate attorney or title company whether they sell a house with an agent or FSBO. Hire a lawyer to protect your home sale and a title company to coordinate the paperwork.

What a Good Lawyer Does for FSBO Sellers
There are many, many variables in the real estate sale and purchase process that require you to make decisions: How much should I list my home for? Should I sell my home now, or wait another month? Should I paint my walls white, or buff? You get a break with this one: Don’t just think about hiring a real estate attorney, hire one as soon as you move into the closing phase. There is just too much at stake to risk letting some sort of legal snafu torpedo your sale. Your state might require you to hire an attorney, but even if that’s not the case, don’t skimp on this worthwhile expenditure (likely less than $500).

An attorney will guide you through the paperwork, ensuring that you are complying with state law every step of the way. Your real estate attorney will also work closely with the title or settlement company and the buyer’s attorney to make sure that the transaction proceeds smoothly. A local real estate attorney is likely to have worked with the title company and opposing attorney on past transactions, making it even more likely that your deal will move forward without complications.

The last place you want to be is at the closing table with a professional closer and your buyer’s attorney staring at you and expecting you to respond to a legal question that you are not prepared to answer. You need an experienced advocate on your side to be certain that your interests are always represented.

How to Choose a Title Insurance Company
Once you’ve hired an attorney, ask her for a recommendation of a title company or settlement agent to hire for your closing. Don’t hire that company before doing research about its costs vs. competitors and reputation in the marketplace. With a real estate attorney recommendation you’ll have a good starting point.

Also, title insurance industry practices vary due to differences in state law and local real estate custom. Find out from your attorney what the local practices and customs are in the title business in your local market.

In most states, home sellers pay for the owner’s title insurance policy, in effect paying to assure the buyer that the home is really theirs to sell. The fee that the seller pays includes the property search done by the title company and the policy for the new owner. (The buyer typically pays for the policy that protects their mortgage lender). Because the seller is bearing the upfront title search cost, the seller has the right to choose the title insurer.

For more information, check out Amrock’s title insurance explainer video and get the For-Sale-by-Owner Guide created for home buyers and sellers.

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The FSBO Sellers Guide to Closing

The contract is signed and the deal is done — almost. While it might seem there is little to do between contract and closing, this isn’t the time to slack off. Follow these steps to a successful closing experience:

• Work with the buyer’s appraiser and inspector
• Make sure the buyer is making progress
• Hire a closing company
• Schedule your move
• Close the deal

1) Expect an Appraiser and Inspector
The buyer’s lender will have to approve the deal, and that involves validating the sale price through a formal appraisal. The lender will choose the appraiser, but the buyer can request an appraiser who is familiar with your new neighborhood. The appraiser will contact you to arrange a time that is convenient for you. Make sure you settle on a date as near in the future as possible. If the appraisal isn’t favorable you need to know that right away.

Meet the appraiser at the house with the listing sheet and your list of improvements and major maintenance items. Also have copies of recently sold comparable properties and any other factors that you believe support the contract price. Accompany the appraiser as he walks your home and answer any questions honestly. Expect the process to take between an hour or two.

If the appraisal is lower than the agreed-on price, you will have to renegotiate the price or abandon the deal. The buyer can request another appraisal, but understand that appraisers’ opinions are supposed to be independent and cannot be negotiated.

An unraveling deal is upsetting to everyone involved. Though it is a bitter pill, you might have to accept that your property is not worth what you thought it was. The only opinion that ultimately counts is that of the appraiser.

The Inspection Process
The inspection usually takes place within a week of signing the contract. The buyer pays for the inspection. The inspector will pay close attention to disclosures you have listed on the required form, which is intended to flag chronic or potential problems with the house. Once again, the inspector will contact you to arrange a time for the inspection that is convenient for you.

The inspector will flag structural and system problems that might soon need repair. Home inspectors usually do not check to make sure that the house complies with local building codes. If you have not gotten the appropriate permits and inspections for home improvement projects, it is your responsibility to get the projects approved by the local building inspector. This might involve paying fines and fees.

If you do not bring your house into code compliance, the buyer has the legal right to sue you for reimbursement for the fines and fees he had to pay to correct your illegal work. If you are in doubt, request an inspection from the local building code staff.

If the inspector finds substantive problems, the buyer will ask you to cover some or all of the cost of fixing them. It is reasonable to ask you to pay for essential structural and mechanical repairs that you would have to address even if you continued to live in the house.

Expect to negotiate on the cost of the repairs. The buyer will ask to have qualified contractors furnish estimates. The buyers might ask, but it is not customary for the sellers to pay for redecorating, new finishes, new carpet, to refinish floors, put in new landscaping or to address other features that are strictly for their preference.

If you can’t agree with the buyer about fixing substantive flaws, the buyer has the right to cancel the contract.

2) Stay on Top of the Buyer’s Progress
It’s important to stay on top of any dates in the contract to be sure the buyers comply. This is particularly important regarding the financing date. If the date is approaching and the lender still isn’t finished with the underwriting of the loan, make sure your attorney is aware of the situation. It might be necessary to extend the date on the contract. Real estate agents often call this “the do or die date,” because if it passes and the financing isn’t in place, there is a possibility that the contract might not be valid.

If you live in a condo or have a homeowners association that requires approval of new residents, be sure to put the potential buyers in touch with the appropriate people as soon as the contract is finalized so there is enough time for the buyer to comply with the association’s requirements.

3) Hire and Work with a Closing Company
To get your transaction closed you’ll need to hire a local title company or settlement agent (depending on the custom in your area) to do a title search and facilitate the closing. Start by asking your real estate attorney for a recommendation about a good local company to use. (Chances are he or she will have one or two local favorites). But you do not have to go with your attorney’s recommendation.

Find local title companies through the American Land Title Association or your state title association and contact those nearby to find out about pricing, years of experience in the title insurance and closing business and availability around the time that you envision closing.

Once you hire a title company or settlement agent you will work closely with that company and your real estate attorney to be certain that you have filled out the forms you need, fulfilled state requirements for transferring your property to the buyer and getting the deal closed.

4) Schedule Your Move
You’ll want to have your moving company hired and the date arranged a least a month before you move, perhaps even six weeks if your sale will close in the spring or summer when moving companies are busiest.

Research local moving companies with an eye toward finding a company with a good reputation that offers a competitive price. Get recommendations about moving companies from relatives and neighbors, or search in our Moving & Relocation Center.

5) Countdown to Closing Day
A few days before the closing, you stage a final walk-through for the buyer. If the date wasn’t stipulated in the contract, schedule one right before closing, ideally after you have moved out. This is the buyer’s opportunity to see that the house is in the agreed-upon condition and that any negotiated repairs have been made. Final walk-throughs can bring surprises; missing or damaged sheet rock that was covered by a piece of furniture or problems with flooring that were covered by carpeting are only a few. Often these are things the sellers completely forgot about, so don’t be clueless. The house should be clean and any trash removed.

After the walk through, have the buyers sign a statement that everything in the home is as it should be and that all work has been completed to their satisfaction.

At the Closing Table
You may or may not meet with the buyers on the day of closing. And the closing itself can take place at the office of your escrow agents, attorney or registry of deeds. It all depends on local custom. Be sure all owners of the property bring a driver’s license or some photo identification to the closing. Also don’t forget the keys to the home and the garage door opener. Make sure to keep any warranty information and instruction books for the new owners. Check with your escrow agent or attorney to see what other required documents you will need. If you are in a condo or homeowners association, check with the escrow agent to see if you need to bring a copy with you.

For the Western half of the United States the actual closing day refers to the date when all closing documents are recorded instead of the day when the buyer and seller meet to sign all of the necessary documents. Once the recording of the documents has been confirmed, funds and final closing statements will be disbursed.

Lenders are picky so don’t be disturbed if they want some last minute document the day of closing such as a proof of employment. The delay is usually not long and in general escrow agents and attorneys can usually work out a solution.

Pay attention to the property included in the contract. If you agreed to include the curtains, don’t take them. The same goes for light fixtures, built-in appliances and cabinet hardware. Unless they were specifically excluded in the listing and in the contract, anything affixed to the house stays. If you plan on keeping a light fixture, cabinet pulls or any other fixture, replace them before you put the house on the market.

Different areas have different practices regarding when sellers have to vacate the property. In part it depends on how the closing and registering of the new deed is handled. In some places, buyers have 24 hours to vacate after closing. In general, most sellers should plan on moving before the closing date. Sometimes, too, buyers and sellers will negotiate a date to vacate. If you are staying after you close, be sure to check out any insurance issues.

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Create a Closing Timeline To-Do List

You’re entering the home stretch. Soon, you will be moving into your new home, perhaps starting a new life in a new neighborhood. Before you get there, there are critical steps you need to take. Once you’ve accepted the buyer’s offer or negotiated a deal acceptable to both sides and have a signed contract in hand, you can expect to spend about 6-8 weeks working to get to the closing table. Not all of the burden will fall on you, but you’ll need to dedicate time to completing the tasks on your closing to-do list.

In the first few weeks after the purchase contract is signed, you’ll work to hire the team of professionals you’ll need to close your transaction and make sure your mortgage, insurance and property documents are at your fingertips.

During the same time period you can expect to be contacted by the inspector hired by the buyer and the appraiser sent by the buyer’s lender to set up time when they can visit the property. You’ll need to be there when they visit so it will likely be in the evening or on a weekend unless you are home during the day. Neither visit should take more than an hour or two and you would be wise to accompany both inspector and appraiser as they go about their jobs.

You’ll also need to take care of the other end of your transaction: finalizing the steps needed to complete your move into your new home whether you are buying or renting (or have another arrangement, such as living with relatives).

To be certain your closing process will unfold smoothly, plot your upcoming steps on a to-do list that you can also use to check off completed items.


Hire a real estate attorney immediately after reaching agreement with the buyer


Arrange for escrow through a title company or separate escrow agency (depending on what the custom is in your state) and deposit the buyer’s earnest check into the escrow account

Download a HUD-1 closing document from the American Land Title Association or Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and work with your attorney to begin filling in seller elements of the form in anticipation of closing


Find the personal financial information you’ll need (mortgage documents, property survey, insurance documents, etc.) within the first few weeks after agreeing to an offer

Cooperate with the buyer’s home inspector and appraiser

Find state-specific disclosure forms and other legal documents you need for closing


Fix items that you agree to repair as soon as possible after the inspection

Make final arrangements with a title company for a title insurance policy that you will need to purchase on behalf of the buyer

Set a closing date in cooperation with the attorneys and your title company


Contact your mortgage company to make final payoff arrangements

Hire a moving company

This is an exciting time in your life. Take care of the details that need to be handled to get to the closing table, and when the closing date arrives, you’ll be ready.

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Inspector Gadgets: 26 Areas to Check Before the Final Home Inspection

As soon as you and your buyer agree on a sale price, expect the buyer’s home inspector to come knocking at your door. Don’t be caught by surprise when the inspector appears with his tools of the trade. Do a home inspection beforehand, then fix what needs to be repaired.

Here’s a checklist from A to Z of the main areas in your home to inspect to make sure they are in proper working order.

Be sure your…

Heating/cooling system works properly

Hot water heater is fully functioning

Interior walls are free of cracks

Lights and other fixtures work perfectly

Windows and doors open and close with ease

Locks work properly

Alarm system is in good working order

Shower heads aren’t gummed up

Tub and tile caulk is free of mildew and cracks

Door bell or intercom systems are in working order

Caulking around windows is solid

Window shades and other window treatments are in good shape and work well

Weather stripping on doors is installed properly

Flashing around your chimney is in place

Chimney is capped (to keep critters out)

Fireplace is properly lined and clean (with fireplace screen in place)

Fireplace flue works

Dryer is properly ventilated

Washing machine drains efficiently

Gutters are clean, free of mold and attached properly

Overhead garage door opens with ease (Hint: if you don’t have an electronic garage door opener consider installing one)

Crawl space/basement storage is organized, free of mold and odorless

Sidewalks and driveway are not cracked and pavement is even

Staircase rails are affixed solidly

Electric outlets work

Faucets are drip free

You can also be proactive and pay for a certified pre-inspection of your home that may satisfy the buyer and get you to the closing table quicker.

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What is Title Insurance Anyway?

One of the costs you will encounter in 99% of real estate transactions is a charge for title insurance. What exactly is title insurance?

Unlike Other Insurance

Title insurance is unlike any other kind of insurance. Normally insurance protects a person against bad things happening in the future. Title insurance protects a homeowner against bad things that have happened in the past that the homeowner might not otherwise know about.

What Does a Title Policy Do?

A title insurance policy protects the new owner or the lender against problems such as fraudulent sales, liens, encroachments of fences and boundary lines, unreleased mortgages and tax liens, and other problems with the title to the property. The purpose of a title insurance policy is to provide reassurance—what I call the “sleep at night factor”—to the homeowner, so that the owner actually owns what he or she thinks they own!

What Does the Title Company Do?

Before issuing the title commitment (the promise to issue the policy after closing), the title company will do a thorough search of the real estate and court records in your jurisdiction to make sure the seller actually owns the property being sold and that there are no judgments, tax liens, unreleased mortgages or other problems affecting the property. The title company may also require a survey or an improvement location certificate to make sure the property does not encroach on the next door neighbor property. After doing the research (which may go back 20 years or more), the title company will issue the title commitment and will list any problems it has found with the property. Most title companies will work with the seller to address and fix title problems prior to the sale. In many states, the title company will also prepare all the legal documents needed to transfer the title and complete the transaction at closing.

What Kinds of Title Insurance Are There?

There are two common types of title insurance: the Owner’s Policy and the Lender’s Policy. The Owner’s Policy protects the new owner of the property against the types of title problems mentioned above, and serves as the promise from the title company that if a title problem shows up later, the title company will either fix the problem or will compensate the owner.

A Lender’s Policy protects the mortgage lender against similar issues, and also assures the mortgage lender that if the owner stops making payments on the loan, the lender will be able to act against the property without someone else making a claim on the property superior to the lender’s claim.

In a typical sale transaction, both the owner’s policy and the lender’s policy are issued at the same time by the title company. In a refinance transaction, only a lender’s policy is produced by the title company.

Who Pays for What?

In many jurisdictions the seller of a property will pay for the owner’s policy of title insurance covering the new buyer, and the buyer will pay for the lender’s policy. Different jurisdictions may have different practices, so you should check with your local title company to determine what your costs may be. The services of an attorney may also be required by your state.

Shop Around!

Speaking of checking with your local title company, be sure to shop around for the best title insurance rates and services for your transaction. As the owner of the property, you have the right to choose the title company that suits you best, and any attempts to steer your business to a particular title company chosen by someone else may be unlawful.

For more information on title insurance, check the website of the American Land Title Association at and click on “Consumer Information.”

© 2008 Thomas H. McMillen

Tom McMillen, Attorney at Law
Title Officer, Ethical Title Services, LLC