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To Close, for Comfort

Real estate closings can be unpredictable, so be prepared - even for delay

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Passing papers on a new home can be a strange and daunting process - especially for first-time buyers.

It's an exciting event - where the seller gets the money, and the buyer gets the home. But closings can also produce some anxious moments. The costs often loom ominously large and unpredictable - especially for people who have scraped and scrimped just for the down payment.

The damage usually looks even worse when the mortgage lender sends you the required closing-costs estimate - often in the thousands.

Not to worry. While closing costs can be steep, says Bob DeVasto, a loan officer at Great Western Mortgage in Reading, Mass., they average $1,500 to $1,700.

Those costs cover a myriad of reports to assure the lender, and you, that everything is clear and legal in the home purchase - that the seller actually owns the place and that it clears all inspections.

The closing finalizes the sale. It makes the house yours. You sign the loan agreement; the lender gives the money to the seller; and the seller signs the house over to you.

Most of the time.

A buyer of one $800,000 home near Boston discovered, on closing day, 48 gallons of oil and gasoline stored in the garage - hazardous waste.

At the closing, the seller's attorney waited, with the buyer on a cell phone to his wife, who was at the house while a waste company estimated the cost of the cleanup. Until they finished, the parties at the table could do nothing.

Real estate closings follow one of two procedures. Most states use escrow companies - a neutral company that holds the buyer's deposit and handles the details of closing. A few states require lawyers to oversee the paperwork.

Generally, buyers, sellers, and their agents sit down with an escrow agent or lawyer on closing day. (The lender hires the attorney; the borrower pays the attorney's fee.)

The escrow company provides all the legal documentation.

The buyer needs:

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