What Happens at the Title Office When You Buy an Investment Property
If you have bought a home before, you probably have some impression of a title office — an attractive storefront where you sit at a big conference table, sign a stack of documents, your realtor pops champagne, hands you a gift basket and maybe balloons, maybe asks you to pose with the keys or a gigantic “sold” sign. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese for adults.
Believe it or not, champagne is not required to close a real estate transaction. It’s as much for the realtor to celebrate her own commission as to celebrate your new home.
The closing process on an investment property is a lot different. At MartelTurnkey, for example, we’re often helping someone in Ft. Lauderdale buy a house in St. Louis. The buyer won’t fly out for the closing. For them, the “closing” is positively anticlimactic — signing a stack of documents in front of the notary public at their local bank branch. If they want to pop champagne, they probably have to bring it themselves and do it in the car.
So is the title office just theatre? Not in the least. Whether or not you ever visit it and get the gift basket, many people work behind the scenes at the title office to make your deal close without a hitch, nipping a dozen or more problems in the bud before you ever have to worry about them.
To understand better, let’s look at some of the most important roles in a title office and how they contribute to a successful closing, whether or not you ever get to meet them.
1. Escrow Officer
Remember, escrow is a designated “middleman” service that makes sure both parties to a contract fulfill the duties of the contract. The buyer wires all the necessary funds, the seller signs over the title, and no one gets stiffed by someone else skipping out before their end of the contract is done.
The escrow officer has fiduciary duty over funds held in escrow. Fiduciary duty means acting in someone else’s interest rather than your own.
Say you wire a $50,000 down payment to escrow. That money is out of your bank account and inside a bank account controlled by the escrow officer. What’s to stop the escrow officer from flipping around and using your $50k to buy a Tesla Model S for himself rather than closing your real estate transaction? His fiduciary duty, which he agrees to in the escrow contract and can be sued for if he violates.
2. Title Agent
The title agent is a specialized kind of insurance agent who procures title insurance for the transaction. The premium for this insurance is one of the closing costs on the transaction.
What does this policy insure against? The possibility that you might hand over the entire purchase price to the seller … only to discover that you get no property in return. The seller might have no right to sell that property. Maybe there’s a competing title. Maybe the seller is just a charlatan trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge, take the money, and run.
This kind of thing is rare, but it does happen, and a lot of money is at stake. Attorneys and researchers at the title office are supposed to catch these problems before money leaves escrow, but in the event that the title company makes a mistake, the buyer and the lender can claim any losses against the title insurance policy.
3. Closing Agent
As I mentioned above, attorneys and researchers at the title office are tasked with making sure the property has a clean title and the seller has the right to sell the property, before any money leaves escrow. The buyer must also wire enough funds to escrow to cover the purchase price and all closing costs needed to complete the transaction.
The closing agent (or settlement agent) is the person responsible for reviewing all this title work and the settlement statement to make sure everything is in order before the transaction closes. She is the “last mile,” the final stamp of approval on the documents before they are presented to the buyer.
If you go to your closing in person, the closing agent will be the one presenting you the documents at that big conference table. If not, the agent will courier the documents to you with indications of where to sign and notarize them.
Ideally, the title office takes most of the legal hassle of buying real estate off your plate. If you want even more of the hassle off your plate, reach out to MartelTurnkey. We cover not only the legal due diligence but also the physical and financial due diligence for you. It’s the easiest way to build a portfolio of profitable real estate investments. We’ll even pop some champagne with you if you’re in town!