Getting to the closing table on time

REThink Real Estate

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 8, 2010

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REThink Real Estate

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News

Q: I am under contract on a foreclosure and can't get in contact with the listing agent, and I need to close soon to receive the tax credit. My agent has been unable to talk to the listing agent since the contract was submitted. What can I do?

Per the contract, I had seven days to conduct an inspection. The bank (or listing agent -- whoever was responsible) never turned on the utilities, and there are some obvious electric, HVAC and plumbing issues that we need to have inspected. We filed an addendum to extend the inspection date for seven more days, because the utilities were not on, but never received any word back from the listing agent.

We believe that the listing agent is withholding information from the bank or simply not submitting our paperwork to the bank in a timely order. We have notified the listing agent's broker-in-charge (BIC) once about his failure to respond to us (in a timely manner), and that magically got our offer accepted.

Is there any way to put pressure on the listing agent to force him to contact us? We were under contract by April 29, but we have to close in time to receive the tax credit. What steps can we take to get the ball rolling to ensure we close on time? --J., Laurel, Md.

A: First, be aware that federal legislation has been approved and enacted that extends the deadline for you to close your purchase to Sept. 30, 2010 -- the original closing deadline was June 30.

And know that you are not alone -- the National Association of Realtors estimates that about 180,000 buyers are in your exact situation: they got into contract before the April 30 deadline, but were on track to miss the original June 30 closing deadline.

It will not come as a surprise to you that in most of these cases, the buyer is not the cause of the delay. Now, sometimes the delay is on the buyer's side, as when the appraisal involves a delay (as so many now do), or when the loan lags in underwriting.

But many, many of these cases involve delays on the seller's side -- mostly due to short sales, which are now the most notorious misnomer ever given their uber-long time frames, and bank-owned properties, in which (as in your case) the fact that the seller is an institution and not an individual can cause slow turnaround times on, well, anything or everything.

There's a misperception out there that REOs (bank-owned properties, also known as real estate-owned properties) always close quickly because the banks are so motivated to get rid of them. When REO listing agents are at the top of their game -- as some certainly are -- these transactions can close on nearly as fast a time frame as a "normal" transaction (i.e., the sale of a home owned by individuals, but not a short sale).

But when there's a breakdown in communications or logistics on the part of either the listing agent or the asset manager to whom they report, REO purchases can take anywhere from 45 to 90 days to close (compared with a more "normal" 30-35 day escrow). Short sales, of course, take even longer -- four to eight months is not unusual for them.

There's nothing you can do that will 100 percent ensure that you will close on or before June 30, but there may be some things you can do to stack the decks in your favor. If contacting the listing agent's BIC -- essentially, their boss -- worked before, it sounds to me like it's time to try that again.

You do need to have the utilities turned on to evaluate the scope of any repair work you'll need to do before you can remove your contingencies and make a final decision about whether to move forward and close the deal. And it is the listing agent -- as the seller's representative -- who is responsible for having them activated.

As a buyer's broker of many REO properties, though, I did also have situations where either my client or I had the utilities turned on ourselves for a single day out of sheer desperation and frustration -- just long enough to have the inspections. Give your utility companies a call and see if they will work with you on an arrangement like this, although it does come with its own cautions and potential risks, like the water that might shoot out where a pipe is missing when the water is turned on.

But it's better you find out about this now rather than later. And, in my experience, the water and gas utilities will turn the service on remotely, but not at the actual property unless someone is there, just in case anything like that happens.

While you might be able to strategize and get the utility issue resolved without the listing agent as an absolute last resort, though, the bigger issue is the listing agent's general nonresponsiveness. Even if you can get the utilities on and the inspections conducted, if you can't get in touch with the listing agent you won't be able to get the rest of the seller's end of the transaction handled.

So, ask your agent to get into contact with the listing agent's employing broker, and get the broker back in the loop as soon as you can.

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