What Does A Massachusetts Real Estate Closing Attorney Do Exactly?

by Rich Vetstein on March 3, 2010 · 7 comments

in Closings, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Purchase and Sale Agreements, RESPA

Signing or not signing?A lot more than you might think. Plus, Massachusetts law now requires attorneys to preside over residential real estate closings.

Many buyers and sellers often wonder what a real estate closing attorney does other than conduct the closing. Well, quite a bit of work actually.

The closing attorney acts as the “quarterback” of the closing process, performing many time consuming tasks preparing a transaction from intake to closing. (Important note: many borrowers don’t realize that they may request to select their own closing attorney instead of the bank attorney. The new RESPA rules which went into effect on January 1 encourage lenders to allow borrowers to select from a list of attorneys or their own personal attorney. This will most often save you several hundred dollars because you won’t have to hire a separate attorney to review/negotiate the purchase and sale agreement.

Intake/Title Examination

When the title order arrives from the lender, the closing attorney first orders a municipal lien certificate, which verifies the real estate taxes and other municipal charges on the property. Insurance binders and payoffs of mortgages are also ordered.

The closing attorney is responsible for examining the title to the property. For purchases, the title is researched going back 50 years. The closing attorney carefully reviews the title examination to ensure there are no title defects; if there are any issues, the attorney will work with all parties to resolve them. Some title defects are extremely difficult to resolve. (By law, the closing attorney must provide new home buyers with a certification of title).

Title Insurance

The closing attorney also coordinates the issuance of title insurance to the lender and the new home buyer. I always recommend that buyers obtain their own title insurance policies because even with the most accurate title examination, there can be hidden title defects that could derail a later sale or refinance. Look no further than the Land Court Ibanez foreclosure mess for what can happen when you don’t get an owner’s title policy.

The Closing

As the closing day approaches, the closing attorney will coordinate with the lender for the preparation and delivery of numerous documents to be signed at closing, including the mortgage, promissory note, truth in lender disclosures, and most importantly, the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. The closing attorney will also coordinate with the seller to receive the deed to the property, final utility bills, smoke detector/CO2 certificates and condominium 6(d) certificates. As outlined in the Settlement Statement, the closing attorney is responsible for handling a number of issues at closing:

  • Payoff and discharge of mortgages
  • Payment and allocation of real estate taxes and utilities (water, oil, etc.)
  • Payment of realtor commissions
  • Disclosure and payment of lender fees and closing costs
  • Funding of mortgage escrow account
  • Payment of transfer taxes and recording fees
  • Payment of pre-paid interest
  • Distribution of sale proceeds
  • Title V septic certification and condominium 6(d) certification

The closing attorney then conducts the closing. He will explain the numerous loan and closing documents signed by buyer and seller, collect and distribute all funds, and otherwise ensure that the closing is properly conducted.

Post Closing

After the closing, the attorney processes the loan funding, performs a title rundown to ensure there are no changes in the title, then records the deed, mortgage and other recordable instruments. The attorney will also ensure that all paid off mortgages and liens are discharged. Title insurance policies are issues several weeks after the closing.

We are experienced Massachusetts real estate closing attorneys. Please contact us if you need legal assistance with your purchase, sale or refinance transaction.

Here is a great video outlining the closing process from our underwriters at Westcor Land Title-New England.

  • http://massrealestatenews.com Bill Gassett

    No doubt there are a lot of things a closing attorney will do that many people just take for granted!

  • C. Thomas

    It would be nice ot know what the selling attorney does versus the buyer attorney. Does the Seller really need one? I mean if the buyers attorney is doing all the work why should i shell out an additional $500?

  • http://www.vetsteinlawgroup.com Richard D. Vetstein, Esq.

    Thomas, respectfully you are looking at it the wrong way, focused only on the cost. Look at it from the viewpoint of who is there to protect your rights and interests as a seller. The closing attorney is working for the buyer and the lender, and is thus adversarial to the seller. He/she is certainly NOT looking out for your best interests. Without an attorney, you are more likely to get railroaded during the process because you don’t know what you’re doing.

    The seller’s attorney drafts and negotiates the purchase and sale agreement, ensuring that the seller’s interests are protected. Remember, that once the property is under agreement, it’s off the market, and the job of seller’s attorney is to ensure that the buyer performs/closes and if he doesn’t, that the seller can obtain the deposit as liquidated damages. If there are any title issues cropping up, the seller’s attorney will work with you to resolve them. The seller’s attorney also draws up the deed, trustee’s certificate or power of attorney, if required. At the closing the seller’s attorney ensures again that the seller’s interests are protected and that the transaction closes in a proper fashion.

    It’s well worth the $500 or whatever the seller’s attorney charges.

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  • Abigail Test

    I’m handling the sale of my parents house and the attorney’s fee came to over $2500 which a friend of mine who’s a real estate agent in RI says sounded really high. He told me that lawyers in RI usually only charge a flat rate around $750.00. I’m being charged an hourly rate of $225.00/hr. Is this normal in MA? It’s been a fairly straight forward transaction. I had to get power of attorney to sign for my parents at the closing, but their attorney drew up those documents. In the itemized bill, she’s charging for every phone call and e-mail she made regarding this sale. Is that standard practice in MA or do most lawyers charge a flat fee?

  • http://ThorntonLawSalem.com Chris Thornton

    This is a great forum for the consumer public to read to better understand the role of the closing attorney. So much of what a closing attorney does is unseen by the consumer. Furthermore, the liabilty continues on an open ended basis. On the day of a closing, the Certification of Title may just seem like a piece of paper. But 10 years after the closing, when the buyer/owner finds out there is a missing discharge from a defunct bank, that is when they find out the true value of the Certification.

    C. Thornton – ThorntonLawSalem.com

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