The holiday season is supposed to be a joyful time. Beginning at the start of November, as thoughts turn towards Thanksgiving turkey, cooler temperatures, family gatherings, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years and shopping, a certain contentment begins to settle in all around.  Or does it?

Certainly not in offices where real estate closings take place. Holiday season brings panic.  As year end approaches, the calendar is the enemy.  Everybody wants to close and everything is a rush.  A feeding frenzy has begun.

Why does this happen? I remember when I first began practicing, we always had to get 1 or 2 last big deals finished before the end of the year.  My senior partners always told me we had to do this for “tax reasons”.  The first couple of years, I assumed that this was because the client had tax planning reasons for closing by December 31.  I then came to realize that it was really for the firm’s cash flow needs that December 31 was critical.  Close the deals, collect large fees, partners get bonuses, don’t close, no fee, partners don’t get bonus.  Simple economics!

Later, when I started practicing on my own and money in the bank on 12/31 vs. 1/1 made no difference to me, we still had surges in November and December. But, if deals weren’t closed by the middle of December, many clients began to close up shop for the holidays, deciding to carry over the gain or loss until the next tax year.  Thus, 12/31 became an artificial deadline.  Sometime before 12/20 was the new deadline only for my own peace of mind.

Today, the feeding frenzy is as real as ever. It is true for residential and commercial closings.  Some of it might have to do with Trump tax reform.  But there are other factors.  First, we continue to ride a long, strong economy.  The real estate market remains strong and interest rates remain low.  With so many deals out there, clients want to close quickly to take advantage of the economic climate and interest rates before this changes.

Second, contracts signed early in the year, after everything closed at year end, run their course and have year end closing dates. There are 2 factors driving this.   Commercial deals are longer term.  Once the due diligence period has run its course and approval and other contingencies have been satisfied, closing must occur.  In a typical commercial contract, this can take 6-12 months, sometimes longer.  But when the date comes up, there is a rush to close.  Though you can’t predict when a contract will be signed, it does seem that many projects start at the beginning of the year which often times out the closing date for the end of the year.  As to residential contracts, many people put their homes up for sale in the summer, after the school year.  Consequently, contracts are often signed at the end of summer and early fall.  Closings usually take 60-90 days, which puts the closing right in the middle of the holiday period.

Third, cash deals are very common in both residential and small commercial contracts. Take a lender out of the picture and the process to close gets shorter.  Sellers like to accept cash contracts as it takes a major contingency out of the picture, further shortening the closing.  Sellers will accept lower purchase prices to get to closing faster.  If the expectation is a faster closing, a closing scheduled for the holiday time period will not likely carry over to the new year.

How do we cope with the frenzy and avoid becoming shark chum? Clients, brokers and other attorneys can sense stress immediately and when they do, they do what they can to add to it.  It is important to remain organized and up to date on every transaction, no matter the size, so that you never let the sharks smell the blood in the water.  If we do this, we will make it from Thanksgiving to New Years in one piece.

Close-up of silver pen on contract. Selective focus on top of pen.

        I was recently browsing through an in-box full of blogs and articles and came across a great article on Inman.com by Cara Ameer, a Coldwell broker-associate in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 10 Reasons You Never Buy or Sell Without an Agent. Cara is right; you should absolutely use an agent when buying or selling a home. Her 10 reasons just scratch the surface. But considering that I just posted Is Your Real Estate Agent On Your Side? last week, I had to respond to Cara. Many agents, at least here in South Florida, encourage or “suggest” to their clients that there is no need to get an attorney involved in a house closing. Attorneys just muck things up. These agents say that the title company can handle every thing.

             Before I give you my 5 reasons, let me tell you a story about a client, a husband and wife, I am currently helping, whose agent told them exactly that. They were purchasing a home in Coral Springs about a year ago. The inspection revealed that the roof, over 20-years old, needed to be replaced. It could not be repaired. The roof was a shingle roof. This is unusual these days as most South Florida roofs are tile. The cost of a new shingle roof would be about $7,500 and the client asked their agent and the seller’s agent if they could still put up a new shingle roof. Without hesitation, both agents assured the client that shingle was permitted and the client’s agent skillfully negotiated a $7,500 credit from the seller for a new roof.

             In addition, the title company, recommended by client’s agent, did a lien and open permit search on the property. The search disclosed that when the roof was put on the house over 20-years ago, the permit was never closed. Both the client and the agent directed the title company to take the necessary steps with the seller to have the permit closed prior to closing.

             Sometime after closing, the client engaged a contractor to install a new shingle roof. The contractor went to pull a permit for the new roof and was denied because 1) there was an open roof permit on the house and 2) shingle roofs are not permitted in this neighborhood in Coral Springs. Only tile roofs are allowed. The agents and the title company clearly dropped the ball. An attorney would not have. A tile roof will cost almost $30,000. Client would not have closed had they known the cost would be so high and had Seller not agreed to pay it. In this case, while agent did a fine job negotiating a roof credit, he did no due diligence to determine what was allowed in the neighborhood. Consequently, the credit was insufficient and his client, my new client, would not have purchased the house. He exasperated the problem by not assuring that the open roof permit was closed prior to closing.

             My top 5 reasons to use an attorney in closings:

 

  1. An attorney always represents you first and foremost. An agent is likely a transaction broker and owes you no fiduciary obligation.

 

  1. An attorney can and will solve problems that arise during the closing process. My case above is an example. Other examples include title issues or issues with the lender. Brokers can’t deal with these issues and title companies are simply closers. They only follow instructions and won’t point out title exceptions that could be harmful to the buyer or might not be relevant and, I illustrated above, won’t always follow up. In Florida, many attorneys act as agents for title companies. But as your legal representative, attorneys actually read the documents and understand the meaning. Attorneys will work to remove exceptions that don’t apply and will work with underwriters on complicated issues.

 

  1. Where negotiations get heated, an attorney has skills to resolve problems. Agents do as well, but an attorney understands and addresses legal implications and can protect your interests. An agent can’t go this far.

 

  1. Attorneys understand and are up to date on TRID, the “Know Before you Owe” Rule. They can help you navigate loan complexities.

 

  1. Attorneys read and understand the fine print. I have to say here that I am often presented with contracts from agents that are on outdated forms. Current forms address current rules, laws and regulations such as TRID. Agents should be aware of this, but some aren’t.

 

            These are just my top 5 reasons to use an attorney; there are many more. Don’t exclude an agent. But a good agent working with a good attorney make a great team for anyone buying or selling a house.

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