Finalizing Your Home Sale: A Step-by-Step Guide
After months of hand-wringing, negotiating, remodeling, and beyond, your home-selling odyssey is finally drawing to a conclusion. Why? Because you've managed, through a heck of a lot of elbow grease, to capture that most elusive of creatures: a buyer. (Haven't found one yet? Check out our home-selling primer to get the whole process started.)
Well, we've got some good news and some bad news for you moving forward.
If you were banking on the process coming to a swift end, you may be disappointed--the closing process has only just begun, and it might take a little while. But the good news is there's an end on the horizon, and it's speeding toward you faster than it seems.
Let's explore the next steps of the home selling process in greater detail.
1. Get that earnest money
We're going to assume, for the sake of this article, that you've found a committed, non-finicky buyer, one who's ready to get the closing process started.
The first thing they're going to do, you'll be happy to note, is write you a check.
Referred to as an "earnest payment," this check is, in essence, a security deposit—a down payment on the down payment, if you will. One that signals your continued interest in making good on that property purchase after the long, drawn-out closing process (eventually) comes to an end.
Here's a quick summary of how it'll work. An independent third-party will hold onto these funds in escrow—the general dollar amount, in ballpark terms, usually amounts to one to two percent of the offer amount—and that third party will distribute them to you at the end of a successful closing process.
Think of it as an insurance policy: if your buyers back out at the last minute, then you'll get a reasonable severance package. But, if you don't make good on your contractual obligations specified after the buyer's inspection or appraisal, they could back out and take their earnest money with them, leaving you with nothing.
2. Provide a full seller's disclosure
Put as simply as possible, this is a big itemized list of all the issues with your property and with the neighborhood surrounding it.
What you're obligated to include on that list, legally speaking, varies from state to state. Check out the requirements unique to your area by visiting sites like Nolo.com, which offers comprehensive overviews of the disclosures mandated in your area.
Expect to list information related to the following:
- The house's age
- Projected utility costs
- Any fundamental structural issues, like with the roof
- Finally, any additional concerns worth noting—repeat issues with pests, a flood-prone basement, etc.
3. Make way for an inspection
After you've gotten disclosures out of the way, your buyers are going to start to want a third-party property inspector to give your home a top-to-bottom assessment, just to make sure there are no additional causes for concern.
And don't worry, your buyers will be covering this fee, too. Expect their inspectors to be looking out for:
- Plumbing problems and other issues with utilities, like faulty wiring
- Potential fire hazards, like chimneys that aren't up to code
- Issues with appliances and HVAC units
- And more
If they find something unsavory in the process of their inspection, you may have to do a bit more negotiating with your prospective buyer—this could mean adjusting your asking price, offering credits for them to make any necessary repairs to offending issues, and more.
Oh, and if your home is older and could have potentially hazardous construction materials on site—think lead, asbestos, radon, or some other truly gnarly substances—expect a second specialty inspector to be making the rounds on your property as well.
4. After the inspector, make way for an appraiser
Lenders always require prospective home buyers to get an appraiser to assess the value of their home-to-be, that way lenders know they're not making a bogus investment on behalf of the borrower.
Expect as thorough an investigation—if not more thorough—from appraisers as you saw from property inspectors.
They'll offer your buyers insights on your property value, as well as the value of comparable homes in the neighborhood. (Again, we should note that all of this is on someone else's dime, not yours.)
If the appraisal returns and it's less than what your asking price is, this could spell trouble for the buyer, which in turn could spell trouble for you. Lenders won't cover less than the appraisal amount, which means the buyer will have to make up the difference or renegotiate the price with you—or just walk away from the deal entirely.
5. Make time for a final walk-through
This is a buyer's last chance to confirm that all of the requests made after the inspection and appraisal processes were successfully implemented.
If the buyer detects any issues like these during their final walk-through, closing may be delayed, so be sure to take proper steps ahead of time if you want to stay on schedule:
- All requested repairs are completed
- Appliances and other amenities outlined in the purchase agreement remain on the property and are in good condition
- Any damage that occurred in the process of the seller moving out has been fixed
- Lights, faucets, and other utility-related home features are in working order
- Hazardous construction materials or belongings have been removed from the premises
Expect to see the buyers in person at closing, or someone whom they've given power of attorney. Whether or not you're legally obligated to appear at the closing is a matter specific to your state—in some areas, buyers and sellers attend separate closings.
After the final walk-through, and once the buyer has signed on the dotted line, you'll have officially made it across the home-selling finish line. Breathe a sigh of relief and pour yourself a congratulatory beverage, because you've earned it.