First, a few clarifications. Both buyers and sellers have closing costs in a transaction; the sellers’ are typically much higher (because they pay both real estate brokers) than the buyers’. These fees are typically paid at closing—they come out of the sellers’ proceeds, and the buyer can either pay cash, or can negotiate to have their portion of the closing costs paid by the seller (read more here.)
For this post, I’ll focus on the buyer’s fees. A lender should provide you with a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) when you apply for a loan. This GFE is essentially an estimate of your “HUD-1” form, which you will receive at closing. Each lender has their own preferred format, but you should be able to compare apples-to-apples by looking at the section headers, or, even better, the line item numbers. It’s important to note, though, that lenders only control certain sections, while others may be simply based on their own experience. When comparing lenders, it’s important to focus only on the line items that the lender actually controls.
The fees vary by jurisdiction, broker, and settlement attorney, but a good way to categorize them would be:
- Prepaids – These are generally required by the lender, and may include prepaid insurance, prepaid property taxes, and prepaid interest. Another common prepaid item is condo/HOA fees. These vary based on the day of the month that you close, since they are pro-rated between buyer and seller.
- Points – A point represents 1% of the loan balance and are charged by lenders. This, along with the fees, can easily amount to thousands and thousands of dollars, so it’s important to discuss this with your agent and your lender.
- Fees – These are fees charged by real estate brokers, settlement attorneys, and lenders, and are the toughest to judge for "reasonableness" without experience. These vary widely, particularly among lenders. Some real estate agents will pay their broker’s fee on your behalf—be sure to ask them. For lenders, whose fees can be substantial, it’s important to know early in the process what they’ll charge. These fees can generally be found on your Good Faith Estimate in the 800 section, but look in the 1300 “Additional” section too. Broker's and attorney’s fees are scattered throughout the closing statement sections.
- Title Insurance – This is paid by the buyer and, depending on the policy, can amount to thousands of dollars. It’s a one time charge that covers you in the event of a problem with the chain of ownership. See my post on how to save some money with title insurance here. This is in the 1100 section.
- Government and Transfer Charges – Paid to the local jurisdiction. These can be quite substantial—for example, in the
, the transfer (paid by the seller) and recording taxes (paid by the buyer) are 1.1% each. District of Columbia Northern Virginiasellers just had big increase (from $1 per $1000 in value to $5 per $1000) in their transfer taxes.
Read more about how to spot “junk fees” in my post here. This is just a high level summary of some of the most common items on a HUD-1, so be sure to ask your agent to walk you through the expenses and strategize with you on how to keep them to a minimum!