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Photo by Lea Kimley.

Details of the contract are crucial in a pleasant real estate closing

By Leisa Boley Hellwarth, a dairy farmer and attorney near Celina

The very first real estate closing I attended for a client was over 25 years ago. I was fresh out of law school, and a friend of mine, who was a cosmetics sales associate at Marshall Field’s, was purchasing her first house. It was what lawyers refer to as a “roundtable closing” which meant that the buyer, the seller, their realtors and their lawyers all met around a conference table and signed documents and transferred payment. This event is forever embedded in my memory because, as a new lawyer, I proudly showed up in a nice dark suit. And literally every other person, which was notable because it was all female, was wearing a floral dress and lots of fragrance. Just thinking about it makes my sinuses hurt.

The closing went off without a hitch. But less than 24 hours later, my client was mad, really mad. All because the seller took the fireplace tools. I can assure you these fireplace tools were not anything special, but my client demanded representation on this issue, and I did my job. Fortunately, the sales contract that I had reviewed specifically mentioned that the fireplace tools remained with the house. So within 48 hours, the buyer was happy again, and the seller was without the aforementioned fireplace tools.

The moral of this story is that the most important document in a closing is the sales contract that spells out specific requests of the buyer and the seller, provides a timetable, and governs the transaction. Most realtors do a wonderful job with sales contracts that are usually forms approved by the local realtors and attorneys. It does matter what is stipulated in this document, so please pay close attention that every part of the deal is included in the contract in writing. If not, chances are that provision will not be enforceable.

With purchases involving farmland, it is important to consider if crops are growing on the land being sold. If so, the purchase agreement (another term for the sales contract) should stipulate that the current owner or tenant has the right to harvest the growing crops.

The biggest difference between real estate closings in Franklin County and those in my home rural area of Mercer County is title insurance. When I practiced in Columbus, the seller purchased title insurance which guaranteed clear title to the buyer. In Mercer County, the seller usually promises clear title in the sales contract, but it is up to the buyer to do his due diligence which means he typically hires a local lawyer to due a title examination and offer an opinion on the title. The net effect is the same. This is a very important step in the process. On more than one occasion, I have done title research that led me to tell the buyer he would be better off finding a different property because of all of the issues that were uncovered when examining all of the documents filed on the property at the courthouse.

In Ohio, property taxes are paid one year in arrears. Typically, at closing, the seller pays a pro-rated tax bill to cover his portion of the property tax, so the future tax bills will be the responsibility of the buyer.

The seller pays for the drafting of the deed as well as the conveyance fee on the property. In Mercer County, that is $3.50 for every $1,000 in the sales price. The buyer pays all recording fees which include a .50-cent per parcel transfer fee at the auditor’s office and recording fees at the Recorder’s Office. In Mercer County, that is $28 for the first two pages, and $8 per page thereafter. And there is a $20 fee if your documents do not conform to the template at the recorder’s office.

Obviously, these charges vary from county to county in the state. I just included what my local clients deal with as an example of the process.

I just held a “roundtable closing” a few days ago. Times have changed. The sellers were three females, and no one wore a dress or excessive fragrance. I left my dark suits in Columbus, so I had on jeans and boots. And all parties departed the closing happy because a fair price was negotiated between the buyer and the seller. All the legal documents in the world cannot create that kind of harmony.

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