If you decide to sell your house without a real estate agent, don't worry much about messing up. You'll need a title company -- and in some states a lawyer -- to process the final documents, so you have a built-in safety net. The paperwork you'll need to deliver to the title company depends on where you live and what wrinkles get tossed into your sale, but certain documents are necessary for a sale-by-owner in every state. In some states – Texas, for example – these documents are free and available for you to download; in others, such as Washington, you must buy a documents package. Check with a title company to see specific documents for your state.
Residential Sales Contract
Because any disputes will be settled by the sales contract, it stands as the most important document for the transaction. The sales contract covers all terms of the sale, including the purchase price, date for the sale to be completed, the buyer's possession date, terms and dates for inspections and conditions for which the sale agreement can be terminated. A signed contract is legally binding.
Residential Property Disclosure
The seller must present to the buyer a signed disclosure form listing all known defects -- both mechanical and structural -- in the property. It is incumbent upon the seller to fill out the form as completely and honestly as possible. Most sale terminations or lawsuits stem from incomplete or dishonest disclosure forms.
Lead-Based Paint Addendum
The federal government requires a lead-based paint addendum for any home built before 1978. Regardless of the home's original date, sellers must supply buyers with a flier notifying them of their rights concerning lead-based paint. Typically, the buyer has 10 days to perform an inspection targeting lead-based paint issues.
Offer and Counteroffer Forms
Typically, you can hash out various terms of the sale orally before you write -- well, fill in the blanks of -- the sales contract. However, if you have competing offers or if you want to make sure there is no misunderstanding or a backstop to the sales contract, you can ask the buyer to fill out and sign an offer form. You then can either sign that form or submit a counteroffer form for the buyer's approval. Make sure you carry over every sale condition listed on the offer or counteroffer forms to the sales contract.
Third-Party Financing Addendum
If the seller plans to get a mortgage to help finance the purchase, you'll need a third-party financing addendum. This document provides for termination of the sales contract if the buyer does not obtain financing within a specified period. In most cases, this document also protects buyers from loss of earnest money if their mortgage application is refused.
If you're selling a condominium or any home requiring membership in a homeowners association, you'll need two additional documents: a resale certificate and an addendum covering mandatory homeowners association membership. The resale certificate, paid for by the seller, comes from the homeowners association. It's more than a certificate. It provides information about the association, including general financial information, fee information specific to the home involved in the transaction and a packet containing association rules and governing documents. The mandatory association membership addendum specifies association fees responsibility during the sale. In most states, if you do not provide the buyer with association information, the contract can be terminated at no expense to the buyer.
Buyers or their lenders can specify a title company to handle the title search and process the change of title documents. Nevertheless, make sure you have a title company ready – hey, you could even go old school and find one in the phone book -- to handle your sale before you sign the residential sales contract. Get the title company involved right away, although title work typically gets ordered once the buyer's loan is approved. The title company also will arrange for the sale closing and handle the transfer of funds.
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