Buying Real Estate in Florida - An Overview of the Legal Process
1.MAKING AN OFFER.
Owners of real estate may sell their property either with or without the help of a licensed real estate professional ("Realtor"). However, finding & purchasing real estate is generally far easier when Realtors are involved.
Once a purchaser finds real estate to purchase, the Realtor will assist in making an offer to the seller. The offer is typically submitted on a formal contract & presented with a deposit. The deposit is usually between 5% & 10% of the purchase price. If the seller accepts the offer, the seller will sign the contract & return it to the purchaser. The deposit tendered by the purchaser will be placed in an escrow bank account with either the Realtor or the escrow agent.
2. THE FORMAL CONTRACT
a.Form of Contract. There are 2 standard forms of real estate purchase contracts customarily used in Florida, the FAR and the FAR/BAR. Both are designed to be standardized forms by the Florida Association of Realtors with the advice of Florida attorneys, & neither is intended to favor or protect one party more than the other.
b.Loan Contingencies. If the purchaser intends to borrow money, the financing section of the contract should be completed. The purchaser must make a good faith effort to obtain a written loan commitment from a lender within the time period specified, but if unable, the purchaser can choose to either purchase without using their own cash or terminate the contract & receive a deposit refund.
c.Investigation of the Property. At the time an offer is made, the seller should provide the purchasor with a disclosure statement identifying problems with the property. Then the purchasor conducts various inspections of the real estate, usually within 10-30 days of the contract date. The types of inspections can include: physical condition of buildings & structures; termites; boundary surveys & flood zone cert.; & review of association rules & restrictions.
The purchaser should have the official public records investigated by a real estate attorney in order to confirm the seller has clear & legal ownership of the real estate. The attorney will obtain a report ("Title Search"), & carefully review it to determine the chain of ownership & whether there are any loans, mortgages, or other liens/encumbrances requiring removal. Additionally, the attorney will arrange for title insurance for the purchaser which serves as an insurance policy to protect the purchaser/owner from possible hidden title problems, easements, liens, etc. not revealed through the Title Search.
Should inspections reveal problems, the seller is notified & required to correct the problems within the time period specified in the contract. If the seller is unable to fix the problems, the purchaser may terminate the contract & receive a deposit refund. Alternatively, the seller might agree to credit the purchaser at closing the costs to fix the problems.
Termination of the contract can be a technical process; therefore, the inspections should be completed quickly so that the seller can be notified of any problems before the inspection period expires.
3. CONSUMMATING THE PURCHASE ("Closing")
a.What Occurs At Closing? The formal process of transferring ownership of the property is called the "Closing". The Closing Agent (usually the attorney providing the Title Search) prepares & oversees the signing of necessary documents, including loan documents.
At Closing, the purchaser delivers the proceeds & related costs to the Closing Agent for disbursement & seller signs a deed transferring ownership. The Closing Agent ensures any mortgages/loans/liens on the property & all costs related to the transaction are paid off and cleared. After all mortgages, liens, and costs are paid, the remaining proceeds go to the seller. The common costs & expenses include recording fees & transfer taxes, Closing Agent fees & costs, expenses related to the loan, title premiums, & Realtor commissions.
b.How Does The Transfer Become Official? The Closing Agent submits the deed to the clerk of the public records for recording. The recorded deed notifies the public that the real estate was transferred & that the purchaser is the new official owner.
4.WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
a.What Happens After The Closing? Approximately 30 days after Closing, the Closing Agent sends the purchaser a title insurance policy & the original deed bearing the official recording information.
b.What Does The Purchaser Have To Do After Closing? The purchaser is not required to file any additional documentation as proof of ownership. However, owners of real estate are required to pay annual property taxes to the local county government which will send a real estate property tax notice to the owners each year.