After a buyer's offer has been accepted, the house goes through an escrow process for about a month.  During this period, an escrow or title insurance company transfers ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer after making sure that all of the terms of the contract have been met.  These companies normally charge about 1-2% of the purchase price of the house.  Part of this is paid by the seller, part by the buyer, usually according to local customs.

In my experience, the escrow process has always been the easiest part of buying a house.  The escrow officer usually calls to introduce himself or herself and to offer to answer any questions.  During the escrow period, you'll get preliminary reports and documents that will need to be signed.  When escrow closes, you'll get a final report.

Shop around once more for the best loan

Even if you've been pre-approved for a loan, you'll want to shop carefully to make sure the loan you're being offered is the best around.  Remember--you're under no obligation to get your loan from the company that gave you the pre-approval letter.  Here are some tips:

  • Be wary.  There are, unfortunately, bad actors in the lending business.  The Mortgage Professor lists many dirty tricks on this page of his invaluable website and recommends that you work with an Upfront Mortgage Broker when shopping for a loan. 
  • Figure out what kind of loan you want.  Do you want your loan to be fixed or adjustable?  What points do you want to pay?  What loan term do you want?  To help you through these decisions, visit this page on the Mortgage Professor's website.
  • Do your homework--a slightly lower interest rate can save you lots of money over time.  Visit this page of the Mortgage Professor's website for more tips on shopping for a loan.

Home inspections

Soon after escrow opens, you'll want to arrange for a home inspector, who will check out all of the housing systems and appliances to make sure they work properly.  Many lenders insist that you get one, but it's wise to do so even if they don't. 

You, the buyer, should always accompany the home inspector as he tours your house.  If there are problems, he or she can answer a lot of questions about repair options and estimated costs.  

If your inspector finds problems with the house that haven't been disclosed by the seller, you'll usually have the option of walking away from the deal.  But most buyers instead negotiate with the seller over who should pay for the repairs.  The outcome of this negotiation usually depend upon the relative bargaining strength of the two parties.  If you've offered a good price for the property, the seller might readily agree to pay for all repairs.  If your offer was low, the seller might insist that you pay.

If you're borrowing money, your lender might complicate things by insisting that major repairs be done before escrow closes.  

Final inspection

Sales contracts often give have the right to re-inspect the property just before it closes to make sure that the house hasn't been damaged during the escrow process and to make sure that everything that is supposed to stay with the house has been left behind.  I've never exercised my right to a final inspection, but it might be a good idea if you're distrustful of the seller.


A few days before escrow closes, you'll need to sign a bunch of documents.  If you're working with a buyer's agent, you'll normally sign these papers at his or her office.  If you're buying a FSBO house, you can normally do this at the escrow office or title insurance company.  

When you sit down to sign the documents, you'll normally be asked how you want to hold title.  In California, for example, a married couple can hold property as a joint tenancy or as community property or as community property with rights of survivorship or in a trust.  Don't just guess at an answer--as this article explains, there are big tax and legal issues at stake. 

Unfortunately, your agent won't be able to offer you any advice on this, so talk with a lawyer or CPA beforehand. 

Useful resources:

ŠLori Alden, 2008.  All rights reserved.