Real Talk: The devil is in the details

Real Talk: The devil is in the details
(Photo by Aleksandra Kochurova)

By Ann A. Duff

It will not surprise you to know “the devil and the angels are in the details” and you must keep your guard up during any transaction, especially in real estate.

Maybe my own experiences from just this week can explain a little more:

The lender in our transaction forgot to add in the buyers’ front foot Maryland tax fees, so the numbers were off by $1,000. As a result, we had to chase him down late on Friday night so that my sellers could remove their financing contingency for their out-ofstate purchase ASAP.

We also had to dig deep to find proof of the additional $500 security fee a tenant must cough up to a D.C. condo association and track down the mystery extra condo paperwork. All of that meant lots of phone calls.

I ratified a contract with a long settlement date and had to specifically ask for my buyers’ sizable deposit to be placed in an interest-bearing account. It won’t total very much in the end, but it may be worth a celebratory night out on the town.

I hit the books to find out when the property last sold and where, so my buyers could get a discount/reissue rate on title insurance. Sometimes this requires a trip to the city or county courthouse to check recordation dates and title company names, but it was decidedly worth the 30% reduction.

This week, I also needed to hurry two different tenants along to get elevator and loading dock reservations nailed down to match their preferred packing/unpacking days. It resulted in stress reduction for both.

To close out the week, I accomplished two different remote settlements with far away sellers by arranging notary companies to appear, as if by magic, at their Paris hospital bedside and at their Colorado Springs retreat, respectively.

So, to reiterate, details matter when it comes to real estate. Here are some specific suggestions to keep in mind, as you navigate the process of buying, selling or renting:

Create a unique calendar for your purchase/sale/rental/tenancy and match it with a checklist. Watch those “exit ramps” and deadlines. Lean on your realtor for guidance and keep track of your travel and commitments.

Get on “the list” now. Whether you need a refrigerator, new carpet, painting or repairs, it is hard to get work accomplished due to the broken supply chain or swamped resource people. COVID-19 and those shutdowns have had layers of unexpected consequences. People are waiting months for A/C systems.

Actually read the sales contract. Set aside a couple of hours and pour a glass of wine, but do look at the terms, timelines and commitments involved. Take time and a yellow highlighter to identify questions in your contracts and leases.

Ask if any recent boilerplate language changes in the various jurisdictions will impact your timeline or protections. Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR), Greater Capital Association of Realtors (GCAAR), as well as Maryland Association of Realtors (MAR) and the county-specific affiliates, such as Montgomery County and Prince Georges County, all have different contract language, treatment of deadlines and enforcement.

To know one contract is not to know all contracts, especially since the cancellation of the regional sales contract, which at least got things somewhat aligned. Get ready to really focus if you are selling, for instance, a Capitol Hill townhouse and buying in Arlington, or down-sizing from Potomac, Maryland to Old Town. Those boundaries take minutes to cross and make a world of difference.

Actually read the mortgage paperwork, and, yes, maybe get another glass of wine. I cannot say that loan documents are easy to understand and often the most detailed forms appear at the settlement table, but please ask questions in advance and, buyers, choose your closing company carefully. Opt for experienced staff with communication skills and strengths, plus an attorney at the closing, to walk you through the world of escrows, default, amortization and any “first-time buyer” benefits.

Finally, don’t forget to ask about existing warranties, available operating manuals, hidden keys and tricks to turning lights on. In the rush to get things accomplished, we can forget that every property has a personality and its own funky operations. Maybe the upper hallway switch needs to be off to have the foyer chandelier work or the locks really should be changed since 27 people and the dog walker have keys, and, by the way, the deadbolt should never be locked because no key exists.

With settlements occurring separately more and more often these days, these details, asides and conversations can get ignored. Plus, you can miss learning about the neighborhood cat which will appear nightly at your back door, the “interesting” neighborhood dynamics or trash day dos and don’ts.

All that said, why even get close to losing thousands of dollars or your mind? When it comes to real estate, become a temporary detail geek, so you can rest easily.

The writer is an Alexandria-based realtor with McEnearney Associates who works throughout the DMV.