To outsiders, buying or selling real estate appears to be a simple process that basically involves choosing between three houses, meeting the real estate agent for coffee to tell them which one you chose and then, viola! The buyer suddenly lives in the new home. As practitioners, we all know that a real estate transaction is so much more than an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters. Each transaction has its own facts and circumstances that lay the groundwork for how long it could take to get to closing.
One thing that all real estate transactions have in common: the multitude of individuals involved in making the deal happen. Just think of all the moving parts in a standard sale: the financing, the agents’ communicating and negotiating, the abstracting and title review, curative work, the buyer’s cooperation, the seller’s cooperation, appraisals, home warranty, inspector, termite report, etc., etc. The list goes on. The fact that there are so many moving parts and parties involved also means that any small issue can cause a major delay or even worse, the termination of an entire deal.
The most recent Confidence Index Survey put out by the National Association of Realtors for March 2021 reported that 70% of transactions closed on time, while 24% were delayed and 6% terminated altogether. The most common cause for delay was appraisal issues (22%), with financing issues in close second (21%), and title issues in third (12%).
Clearly, title agents have little control over detrimental issues like whether the home has foundation issues discovered by an inspector, or whether the buyer is timely in submitting documents to the lender, but the title agent can do his or her part. Here are some ways to avoid being the cause of a delay (here’s a hint: they all involve communication):
DEDICATE TIME TO ORGANIZATION
This is a difficult task when there are not enough hours in the day, but it is imperative that you set aside time to get organized. Plan an hour or two once a week to go through every file you are working on. Make sure no one is waiting on you for something. If they are waiting on you, a simple check-in will show them that you are on top of it. Even if the ball is not in your court, parties appreciate ongoing communication which shows a level of competency and organization. So, once you have an idea of the status of your file, send a periodic update to the agents and lender, even if it is a positive message such as, “Good afternoon, my file review indicates that we are still on track to close by May 15th. Please let us know if you need anything from title to ensure a timely closing.” Send. Done.
PRE-REVIEW TITLES AS THEY COME IN
As soon as the abstractor sends you the abstract, take a look at the cover sheet, or “run sheet,” as it is often called, to see whether this transaction is the ideal one-mortgage, developed subdivision, or whether this one may involve more work. Suppose the buyer is named “John Smith” – you will need to set aside a good bit of time to distinguish judgments alone. This may feel counterintuitive, but if you have what appears to be a nasty title – take it head on and get that one reviewed ASAP. If there are issues with the title, everyone now has a jump start on getting distinguishments, payoffs, and curative work. You have no control over the fact that the title may be problematic, but some parties will still tend to blame the messenger for the problem. The sooner they know the issue and see a clear path to resolving it, the less likely they are to blame the title agent for the delay.
SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
This may be the most important step to take to ensure a timely closing. When an agent comes to you on May 1st with a purchase agreement stating that the closing date is May 4th and you are knee deep with other work and pressing issues, the best policy is to be honest with the agent to let them know that May 4th is an unrealistic closing date. Not only would you have to rely on others to make this file a priority for that deadline to happen, but there may be an number of other items that could cause a delay, such as curative work or a payoff that will take a minimum of 10 days to come in. Letting the agent know upfront the risks and challenges associated with a three day turnaround will go far. Of course, if you can pull off closing the deal on May 4th, then you will come out looking like a hero.
Although you may not always say what your clients want to hear, your frequent and honest communication is the best way to set the real estate transaction on the path to a timely closing and to reassure the parties that they are in good hands.