Like many solid real estate agents, Jane Armstrong arrived early for the closing a few weeks ago. And it's a good thing.
The Las Vegas short-sale specialist had time to review the "HUD-1" closing statement before the actual signing, and she discovered several mistakes, including $200 in fees that shouldn't have been charged to her client.
Armstrong, who hangs her shingle with the Signature Real Estate Group, had requested a copy of the completed form in advance -- twice -- all to no avail. Still, she was versed enough in the process that showing up 20 minutes early gave her enough time to spot the errors and get them corrected.
"My client may or may not have caught the mistakes," the Nevada agent says. "But that's my job."
Fortunately for both buyers and sellers, most agents feel the same way. And they show up for signings even when they are not required to, or when the closing is handled by attorneys who represent each side of the transaction.
In some parts of California, for example, buyers and sellers separately sign the stack of papers necessary to transfer ownership, sometimes days apart. But that doesn't stop Terri Vellios of Keller Williams in Campbell, Calif. from being there for her client.
"I've had escrow officers fly through the documents while my clients' eyes glazed over," she says. "Sometimes the escrow officer doesn't explain it to my clients in terms they understand. In those cases, I will explain what something means."
Buyers and sellers also sign independently on the other side of the country in Virginia and "are never at the table together." But Jim Mellen of RE/MAX Peninsula at New Town in Williamsburg always accompanies his buyer clients, and occasionally his sellers.
"Buyers are relying on us. We owe it to them to be there," he says.
Mellen has heard other agents say they don't attend to avoid liability, but that's poppycock as far as he's concerned. "I think that is lame and borders on insubordination. We are licensed professionals and have a responsibility."
Many loan officers don't feel the same way. Their presence at settlement isn't required, either. After all, the closing professional's job is to carry out the lender's instructions. But most agents would prefer that your lender -- in the form of the person who actually took your application and ushered you through to approval -- would take the time to sit alongside you at settlement.
As it is, it's a toss-up whether that happens or not. Sometime loan agents show, sometimes they don't. But if not, they are typically just a phone call away.
Still, realty agents say there's nothing like being there. For example, when loan documents are late or the final numbers do not line up with what was agreed upon previously, the lender can offer an explanation on the spot, says Marty Soller of Coldwell Banker King Thompson in Columbus, Ohio.
"We have had to wait up to four hours for funds to be wired. That can be quite a problem when the buyer's movers are waiting at the house to start moving in," says Soller, who has seen cases where the closing was delayed over the weekend to the following Monday, forcing his client to pay double for moving and storage and find a place to stay.
Most closings go off without a hitch. But any number of bad things can happen, so it helps to have someone on your side who has been with you since the beginning on your house-hunt journey -- someone who understands your situation as thoroughly as you do.
Here's a short list of common things that go wrong at closing.
-- Acrimony. If you've had a particularly arduous negotiation, things can sometimes boil over when you sit down at the table, face-to-face with your adversary. Every agent has a story about this, but Michael Marks of Keller Williams Realty in south Florida takes the prize.
Marks attended a closing where the seller showed up in drag and proclaimed the entire contract a sham, saying that he was entitled to more money. At another of Marks' closings, armed guards were present "because of threats of bodily harm during negotiations."
-- Trouble saying goodbye. Sometimes the seller has a special bond with the house and has a tough time letting go, to the point where he wants to back out at the last minute.
Dee Smith of RE/MAX Premier Group in Wesley Chapel, Fla., once had a client who was so overcome with emotion selling the place she had owned with her recently deceased husband that she had trouble continuing. But Smith "was able to console her and help her through this tough ordeal."
-- Typos. Often, agents find misspelled names, incorrect addresses or wrong apartment numbers and other errors that the buyer and seller missed.
Earl Walker of Keller Williams in Sapphire, N.C., once discovered that the survey didn't include all the property being sold. But he was able to get the mistake corrected. Lenore Wilkas of Coldwell Banker in San Mateo, Calif., has seen wrong loan amounts. Others have seen incorrect interest rates.
-- Problems at walk-through. Sometimes the house isn't clean enough to satisfy the buyer, or perhaps it is discovered that an appliance doesn't work. Sometimes items that were supposed to be taken care of by the seller -- repairing a balky closet door, for example -- were not.
Perri Feldman of Keller Williams in Short Hills, N.J., has seen gaping holes where TV wall brackets once hung. Another KW agent, Kirk Pugh in Wilmington, N.C., was there when the builder switched the range with one of lower quality. Had he not been present, the buyer might have accepted the change without comment. Instead, Pugh was able to insist on an $800 credit on his client's behalf.
-- Missing items. Property that was supposed to stay with the house -- washers and dryers, chandeliers and curtains are the most popular -- are missing at walk-through, and the agent has to mollify his client. "Even rented fixtures like water softeners can result in a 'discussion' at closing if the rental was not disclosed beforehand," says Paul Spoerl of Century 21 First Realty in Appleton, Wis.
-- Junk left behind. Sellers sometimes leave "stuff" they no longer want, thinking that maybe the buyer would want their junk. To save the deal, agents have had to find cleaners in the last minute to get rid of the items the seller should have disposed of in the first place.
Once, a seller left a house almost fully furnished, recalls Noreen Parrell of Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. "These things don't happen often," she says. "But when they do, you have to be there."
-- Lack of child care. Agents are sometimes called upon to keep the children occupied so their parents can concentrate on the closing papers. Why people bring their kids to this important legal proceeding is a question for another day. But when they do, agents are often called on to hold the kiddies' hands -- or change their diapers -- while the signing is being completed.
-- Missing documents. More than a few buyers have forgotten to obtain homeowner's insurance or left their driver's license on the coffee table at home. Maybe the seller forgets to bring the keys. Whatever the case, the agent who's there can step in to save the day.