By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Some folks like a long, unhurried closing. Others prefer a quickie. Depending on who is involved, you could have either.

The closing process in our area typically takes about 30 days. Want to close sooner? How about in 2 to 7 days? It’s possible. I’ve done it a couple of times.

A quick closing takes some fast action from the buyer, the seller, and their title company. Some diligent effort needs to come from everyone to make it happen.

If you’re looking for a quick closing, follow these six steps:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

At closing, some items, like real estate taxes, are divided up between the buyers and sellers so that each party pays their share of the expenses. This is called proration. The amount each party pays is based on the number of days in the year (or month) that they own the property. It is only fair that you are charged ownership fees and taxes just for the time you own the property.

The title agency is typically responsible for dividing these kinds of expenses proportionally based on a unit of time. For annual property taxes, we divide the tax amount by 365 days to obtain the cost per day. We then multiply the cost per day by the days the seller owned the home and the days the buyer will own the home. Each party is responsible for their prorated amount.

If the taxes for that year have not been paid, the seller is charged for their share and it is credited to the buyer to pay the total bill. If the seller has already paid the taxes for that year, the buyer is charged for their share and it is credited to the seller at closing.

Of course, property taxes aren’t the only fees that are prorated …

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When you review contracts every day, spotting mistakes can become routine. The number one mistake that most escrow officers see on real estate contracts involves blank spaces.

To be clear – contracts should always be filled in completely. There should be nothing left blank.

I’m referring to the standard Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) contract. Ninety-nine percent of real estate contracts received by title agencies are written on one of the standard TREC contracts. These are created by TREC for use in real property transactions in our state. They are frequently reviewed and are updated every few years based on feedback, requests, and legal issues.

There is a valid reason for each paragraph and blank space on these contracts. There are dozens of blank spaces on the most popular TREC contract. They all should have something on them. Some paragraphs have an option to choose from two or more boxes to check. One of the choices should be selected.

Yet, we see smart people submit final contracts that leave too much ambiguity because they are not fully completed. Obviously, most folks ensure the contract contains the proper names, address, sales price, who is paying for what, etc. But often they leave some parts of the contract incomplete.

How do we know the intention of all parties when a space is left blank? Perhaps the blank space means zero dollars. Then it should have a zero written. Or maybe it is not applicable? It should show N/A. Maybe it was accidentally missed? Or was it intentionally ignored? Even dashes in the space helps us see that the parties didn’t intend to mean something else.

If a space is blank because buyer and seller are still negotiating, then the contract should not be executed yet. Once it is executed, any changes must be made with an addendum. Changes are not allowed on the finalized contract once it is executed.

The riskiest and most overlooked blank spaces typically found on contracts include:

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Moving is exciting. And exhausting. There is a whole lot to do. Packing and unpacking, emptying and reloading cabinets and drawer. You may even be painting and remodeling.

Every day, I meet people who are immersed in the moving process as they are signing closing documents. They usually have their heads and hands full of things to do. But there are a few more items I want to tell them to take care of before they finish unpacking.

I’ve moved more than 20 times, including eight home remodels, which helped me come up with a list of eight essential tasks that you may not think about when moving. Make it a goal to complete these in the first couple of days of your move.

Tackle these eight items first. If you’re overwhelmed, hand this list to someone who loves you and ask them to assist.

Here are eight important things to do when you first move in:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Remember privacy? It’s what most Americans enjoyed a few decades ago. Today, it’s elusive and rare. It’s simple for any of us to find just about anyone with a few clicks on a keyboard.

In an effort to reduce the solicitations for carpet cleaning, bogus tax filing services, mortgage insurance scams and such, I tried to make the information on my recent home purchase a little more private. The result was somewhat effective.

How do these companies and salespeople find out you’ve purchased a property? It’s highly unlikely that they got it from the title company or real estate broker. We don’t share information with third parties unless we must. Government entities are about the only ones we disclose details.

However, property owner information is public and online in Texas. Our county tax appraisal sites allow people to search the owner of a property by property address or owner name. It’s pretty hard to make your ownership information private on those county web sites. But, I’ll explain how below:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When you buy a home, don’t you get a guarantee of clear title? Well … no.

Isn’t that why you buy a property through a title company and get title insurance? To get clear title? Not exactly.

That’s not the phrase we like to use in the title business. Those two words “clear” and “title” together. They can cause anyone within the walls of a title agency to cringe, squirm and scowl. It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

I had the audacity to use the expression “clear title” in a recent Title Tip. Just pin my tail and call me a donkey. Must have been too much holiday eggnog.

So how do you get clear title to a property? You don’t.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

A reader writes: “I bought a home in 2018 and my taxes are escrowed by my mortgage company. How do I get a homestead exemption to get a discount on my taxes? Do I need to repeat the process every year? How much does it save me?”

You most definitely want to know how to file for a homestead exemption for your 2019 property taxes. To get a homestead exemption, you must own and live in the property as your principal residence as of Jan. 1 of that tax year. So, if you purchased in 2018, you may apply for that exemption after Jan. 1, 2019.

A homestead exemption removes part of your home’s value from taxation, so it lowers your taxes. I don’t know the details about your home to tell you how much a homestead exemption can save on your property taxes, but it is generally about 20 percent. Given the property tax rates in Texas, it is worth the few minutes it takes.  

To qualify, your home must also be owned by you as an individual (or individuals). A corporation or other business entity doesn’t qualify for this exemption. Do not pay someone else to do this for you. It is free and you can do it online in a few minutes.

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to apply for a homestead exemption in the DFW area:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

In case you’ve been out of touch lately, we’re experiencing a federal government shutdown.

The U.S. government doesn’t shut down too often. But when it does, there is a ripple effect. Some areas feel the effects more than others. We shouldn’t feel it too much in the title business unless it continues. The longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely it is we will feel a negative impact on DFW real estate market.

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