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6 Things That Can Go Wrong With The Closing Gone Awry (And How To Remedy Them)

Molly GraceOctober 29, 2019

Buying a house can feel like a constant string of high-stakes uncertainties. So when you get the confirmation that your closing has been scheduled, it can be tempting to finally relax and start celebrating. But don’t pop the champagne just yet – not until you have the keys in hand and the deed to the house is in your possession.

Because the home buying process is made up of a lot of vital, moving parts, one piece falling through can cause the whole thing to come to a screeching halt. Though house closing issues can be a huge headache for buyers and sellers, being prepared and knowing where possible pitfalls lie can help you weather problems more calmly and know what to do when things don’t go as planned.

How Common Are Closing Delays?

Encountering issues or delays with closing is the nightmare that keeps many a hopeful homebuyer awake at night. However, to ease your worried mind, you should know that most closings go off without a hitch.

The most recent National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Confidence Index survey shows that 73% of home purchase contracts are settled on time. Of those that aren’t, 23% are delayed but go on to close. A small minority, only 4%, of contracts are terminated.

So, even if you hit some bumps in the road, take heart that it’s likely you’ll still get to the finish line; it just might take a bit longer than you expected.

Here are some of the most common issues buyers and sellers encounter when trying to close on a house.

Closing Problem #1: Financing Issues

Unless you’re a cash buyer, no mortgage = no home purchase. And because the mortgage application process puts a borrower’s finances under the microscope, it’s not uncommon for buyers to have their financing fall through after they get the initial go-ahead from a lender.

In fact, “issues related to obtaining financing” is the most common reason for delayed or terminated home purchase contracts, according to the NAR survey.

This could happen because the buyer wasn’t strongly preapproved for a mortgage in the first place.

If they didn’t get full preapproval where they provided a lender with financial documentation, but were instead only prequalified, they could be denied or approved for significantly less money upon closer inspection. The lender may find that the information originally provided wasn’t 100% accurate, or that the buyer has other issues that affect their creditworthiness.

Another reason that a buyer’s financing could fall through is if there are any big changes to their financial situation after they’ve been preapproved. Before a lender gives final approval on a loan, they do another check on your finances. Buyers can get themselves into trouble if, in their excitement about their upcoming home purchase, they start racking up credit card debt buying things for their new house.

If your debt-to-income ratio suddenly inflates or your credit score drops significantly, you could lose your preapproval. Issues can also come from taking on a new job, opening up a new credit account or making a big purchase that cuts into the amount you have set aside as reserves.

The Fix

Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton that can be done after the fact unless the solution is fairly simple and doable, like the buyer putting more money down if a lender approves them for less than they expected. A buyer can look for alternate financing, but that will further delay the process.

The best solution in this case is prevention. For buyers, that means getting preapproved before making an offer on a house and staying in regular contact with your lender to ensure that you’re providing all the documentation needed in a timely manner. Additionally, avoid making changes to your financial situation during this time.

As a seller, only consider offers that come with preapproval letters. Working with buyers who only have a prequalification based on unverified information, or buyers who don’t have financing set up at all, is risky because you can’t be as certain that they’ll be able to follow through with the purchase.

Closing Problem #2: Appraisal Roadblocks

Before you can purchase a home using a mortgage, your lender will require an appraiser to evaluate the property and determine what the house is actually worth, independent of its list price.

The lender will only give you what the appraisal says the house is worth, so if it appraises low, the buyer and seller have to negotiate how they want to make up the difference.

The Fix

The remedy for a low appraisal is fairly simple; the problems arise when neither party is willing to budge on what they want and come to an agreement.

When an appraisal comes in low and you’re still determined to make the sale work, you have a few options:

  • The seller lowers the asking price
  • The buyer makes up the difference in cash
  • Buyer and seller meet in the middle, with the seller lowering the price a little bit and the buyer paying the rest of the difference out of pocket

You also have the option to challenge the appraisal; however, you have to have really good reasons for why the appraisal was inaccurate. This could mean digging up comparable sales in the area showing that the house should be valued higher, or providing proof that the information the appraiser used to value the property was incorrect.

Closing Problem #3: Unsatisfactory Inspection

Most buyers will want an inspection clause included in the purchase contract that gives them the ability to have a professional inspect the property for potentially costly issues, and to walk away from the deal if the inspection reveals serious problems.

No house is going to be in perfect shape, but if the inspector flags anything that could cause trouble down the road, that can throw a wrench into the process.

Closing delays can happen if the buyer and seller can’t come to an agreement on how to deal with problems revealed by the inspection. Ultimately, if a buyer isn’t satisfied with the remedies offered by the seller, or simply thinks the inspection issues aren’t worth it, they can walk away.

The Fix

If you’re a seller determined to make this sale happen, you can offer to have the repairs completed before the final walk-through. You can also leave the repairs for the buyer to complete and offer concessions to offset their costs. The key is to be open to negotiation from the buyer, unless you know you’ll be able to easily find another buyer who’s willing to purchase the house as-is.

For buyers, it may be tempting to downplay significant issues if you really want the house. But, while closing delays are rarely ideal, coming to an agreement on what repairs or maintenance will be done before you purchase the house is worth it.

Once you close, the house and all its defects are your responsibility, and having to sink thousands of repair dollars into your home shortly after move-in can really put a damper on the “new home” excitement.

Closing Problem #4: Clouds On The Title

Before your lender will let you purchase a house, it will have a title search completed to ensure that there aren’t any other parties that have some sort of claim to the home.

This protects the buyer (and the lender) in the event that there are any debts, taxes or liens attached to the property, or any entities that may be able to claim legal ownership of the home.

The Fix

Title issues can be a real headache, as the transaction cannot proceed until the issues are resolved and the title has been cleared, which can sometimes take a while. This can cause lengthy delays.

For sellers, make sure that you don’t have any outstanding debts that could affect your ability to sell your house. Make sure you’ve fully paid any contractors who’ve done work on your house and that you are current on your taxes and have paid off (or will pay off before closing) any debt you have tied to your house.

If you’re divorced, double check that your former spouse doesn’t have any claim to the home.

Buyers, unfortunately, don’t really have much control when it comes to preventing or fixing title issues. One thing they can do, however, is purchase an owner’s title insurancepolicy.

Buyers are usually required to pay for a lender’s policy as part of their closing costs, but purchasing an owner’s policy as well protects them in case title issues come up after closing.

Closing Problem #5: Unfulfilled Contingencies

Prior to closing, a buyer will typically take one more thorough look at the house after the seller has moved their belongings out. This process, called the final walk-through, allows the buyer to confirm that the house meets the conditions agreed upon in the purchase contract.

The buyer and their agent will confirm that the home is empty, undamaged and reasonably clean, that negotiated repairs have been made, that any household items included in the sale (such as certain kitchen appliances) were left in the home, and that everything is functioning as stated in the contract.

If there are contingencies specified in the contract that haven’t been satisfied, that puts your closing in jeopardy.

The Fix

A good buyer’s agent will be in close communication with the seller or their agent to make sure that contingencies are being taken care of in a timely manner.

If the seller is unable to complete repairs before closing, they might consider negotiating some concessions for the buyer, giving them the funds to complete the repairs themselves. Otherwise, the closing may be delayed.

To avoid this, be mindful of deadlines for any stipulations you have in your contract, and make sure you’re on track to have things completed.

When preparing the house for the new owners to move in, ensure you’re following the contract and leaving everything that was included in the sale. Make sure you leave the home in broom-clean condition and have fixed any damage that occurred during the move-out process.

Closing Problem #6: Cold Feet

Sometimes with real estate contracts, things go south simply because one party no longer feels good about it. Though uncommon, a buyer or seller could suddenly decide to back out for seemingly no good reason.

Whether you’re buying a home or selling one, the home purchase process is an emotional one. If one of the parties involved starts to feel unsure about their decision, it can feel like this major life decision you’ve made is completely at the mercy of someone else’s whims.

The Fix

If you’re a seller whose buyer backs out unexpectedly (and outside of any contingencies that would allow them to walk away), you at least have some insurance. These are the situations that the earnest money deposit is for.

The earnest money deposit, typically a small percentage of the total purchase price, shows the seller that a buyer is serious about purchasing their house. At closing, the money will be applied to the buyer’s down payment and closing costs.

But if the buyer walks away for a reason not specified in the contract, the seller gets to keep the earnest money.

If you’re worried about a potential buyer walking away before closing, you can request that your buyer put down a larger deposit to show good faith.

If you’re a buyer whose seller suddenly tries to cancel the transaction, you don’t have the insurance of an earnest money deposit.

However, the ramifications can be more severe for a seller who backs out at the last minute. Not only can the buyer sue for damages, the listing agent can sue the seller for the lost commission.

Unfortunately, if the seller is set on cancelling the sale, it may just be better to cut your losses and move on.

If you’re experiencing cold feet on your end, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, take a deep breath and give yourself some time to think things over before making any decisions. Talk to your agent to get objective, professional advice.

How To Prevent Closing Issues

While you can’t completely prevent every scenario, closings can often be delayed simply because one or more of the parties involved aren’t fully prepared or aren’t sticking to the agreements outlined in the purchase agreement, including the agreed-upon timeline.

You can help prevent these types of issues by working with experienced professionals whom you trust, and staying in regular communication with them. Learn as much as you can about the closing process and what things you’ll need to do and bring in order to have a successful closing.

By being prepared, you’re putting your best foot forward and lessening the likelihood that your closing will hit a snag.

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    Molly Grace

    Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.