Ask an Attorney: Residential Real Estate Closing Basics

Whether you’re purchasing your first home or planning for your next investment property, we know that real estate transactions can be confusing. Between completing the paperwork, finalizing the lending package, and working towards a smooth closing, there’s undeniably a lot to juggle. That’s why it can be helpful to have a real estate attorney on your side to guide you through each stage of the process. 

Here at MWH, our skilled team has worked with numerous clients to close tens of thousands of real estate transactions in the state of North Carolina. In this post, we’re using our expertise to answer the questions that we hear the most about the real estate closing process.

In this post:

  1. What do real estate closing attorneys do, and why should I use one? 
  2. Is North Carolina an attorney closing state?
  3. After closing, how quickly will I be on record?
  4. When will I get the keys to my new property?

What do real estate closing attorneys do, and why should I use one? 

An attorney plays several key roles during any real estate closing. First, in the lead-up to the sale, your attorney will perform in-depth title searches to track the history of the property and confirm that the seller has the right to transfer ownership to you. During this time, your attorney will also dig into property records to make sure that there aren’t any liens or title issues that may become problematic later on. 

Once the right to sell has been established, your attorney will work with your lender to finalize transaction financials and the plan for distributing funds. This can involve some back and forth, but your attorney will eventually receive the final lending package. They’ll walk you through each document to make sure that you understand every part of the agreement and any related requirements. 

After the closing has taken place, your attorney will perform the important final step of filing all documents with the county to ensure that the sale has been recorded. From start to finish, we like to say that a typical real estate closing takes around 30 days.

So why use a closing attorney? Even if everything goes according to plan, you’ll need an attorney to oversee the parts of the closing process that we mentioned above. Closings require coordination between the lender, realtor, surveyor, buyer, seller, and other parties, and your attorney will serve as a trustworthy liaison and advocate as each of these groups works towards the closing together.  

And if there are complications? Your attorney will be able to offer advice and guidance if your transaction is derailed by a contract terminationan uncancelled deed of trust, or anything else that might get in the way of a successful closing. 

Is North Carolina an attorney closing state?

Another great reason to use a closing attorney: it’s required by law. In the state of North Carolina, a licensed attorney must be involved in real estate closings. For more information about the nuances of attorney involvement, check out our podcast on what buyers should know about residential real estate closings

After closing, how quickly will I be on record?

After your transaction closes, your attorney must send deeds and other documents to your county so that the sale becomes final (and part of the public record). Clients often ask how long this process takes, and the answer depends on a number of factors. 

Are you working with a financial lender?

Some lenders have funding requirements that state that the funds can’t be used until certain documents are sent and approved. After your attorney prepares and sends those documents, there’s nothing that they can do to rush the approval process. This could mean that the transaction may not be on record right away. 

Are you closing near a federal holiday?

County offices often have limited hours on and/or before national holidays. Thus, a closing that takes place close to one of these dates may not be recorded until business hours allow. 

Has your closing been smooth and efficient so far?

With careful preparation and great timing, your transaction could be on record the same day as the closing. However, we always recommend that clients schedule movers for a day or two after the closing, just in case there are unexpected delays.

When will I get the keys to my new property?

Arguably, the most exciting moment of a real estate purchase is receiving the keys and knowing that the property is yours. It’s a major milestone for many, so our clients are usually curious about when the keys will be in their hands. 

If the keys have been left with the attorney, the attorney can’t release them unless the seller has left clear and specific permission to do so. If the seller hasn’t done this, the attorney is only free to release the keys once the transaction has been finalized and recorded with the register of deeds.

Sometimes keys are left with the real estate agent. If this is the case, the key exchange is facilitated by the agents instead of the attorney’s office. Your attorney won’t be able to do anything to get the keys to you faster. 

More Questions about Real Estate Closings?

We get it – real estate transactions have a lot of moving parts. We’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’re interested in learning more about other types of real estate transactions (like selling as a business entitybuying as an LLC, or purchasing property in the name of a trust), make sure to check out the full library of Judica County podcasts on our website. 

And if you have additional questions, concerns, or legal needs for your next real estate deal, please give us a call at (919) 772-7000.