Buying a home is an exciting milestone, but it comes with its fair share of financial responsibilities, including the often-misunderstood closing costs. These costs are a vital part of your home purchase budget and can significantly impact your financial planning as a new homeowner.
Far from being just a trivial detail, closing costs encompass a range of fees and charges that, when understood correctly, can help you make more informed decisions and potentially save money in your home-buying journey.
Here’s everything you need to know about mortgage closing costs to avoid any last-minute surprises.
Who Pays the Closing Costs: Buyer or Seller?
When it comes to closing costs in a home purchase, the question of who pays what is often a topic of negotiation and varies by transaction. Generally, both buyers and sellers have their own set of fees to handle, but the exact distribution can differ.
Your mortgage lender is required to provide you with an estimated breakdown at multiple points in the loan process. The loan estimate outlines the estimated closing costs and lists out all the different fees, as well as who is responsible for paying them.
Typically, the buyer shoulders a significant portion of the closing costs, which can include:
- Loan-related fees (such as application and origination fees)
- Appraisal and inspection fees
- Initial escrow deposit for property taxes and mortgage insurance
- Title insurance and search fees
Sellers commonly pay for:
- Real estate agent commissions
- Transfer taxes and recording fees
- Any homeowner association transfer fees
Room for Negotiation
It’s important to note that these are not hard and fast rules. In many cases, closing costs are a point of negotiation in the sale agreement. For example, in a buyer’s market, a seller might agree to cover a larger portion of the closing costs to attract buyers. Conversely, in a seller’s market, the buyer might take on a larger share to make their offer more appealing.
Imagine you’re buying a home priced at $300,000. The closing costs, amounting to approximately 3% of the purchase price, would be around $9,000. As a buyer, you might agree to pay $6,000 of this, covering most of the loan-related fees and escrow deposits. The seller, in turn, might handle the remaining $3,000, covering their portion of fees like the agent’s commission and transfer taxes.
Comprehensive List of Fees Associated with Mortgage Closing Costs
Mortgage closing costs can be broken down into a few different categories: lender fees, real estate fees, and mortgage insurance fees.
These fees may vary depending on the lender you choose. Here’s a basic rundown of each closing cost to give you an idea of what you can expect.
- Application fee: Covers processing your mortgage loan application and obtaining your credit report.
- Attorney fee: In some states, an attorney must review the mortgage paperwork; fees vary and can be hourly or a flat rate.
- Broker fee: If using a mortgage broker, they typically charge a commission, usually between 1% and 2% of the home’s purchase price.
- Origination fee: The origination fee compensates the lender for administrative tasks and is typically around 1% of the loan amount.
- Discount points: Paying points upfront can lower your interest rate; each point equals one percent of your loan amount.
- Prepaid interest: Covers the interest that accrues between the closing date and the first mortgage payment.
- Recording fee: Charged by local governments for recording the mortgage documents; it covers the administrative costs of maintaining public records.
- Underwriting fee: Charged for the underwriter’s services in evaluating and preparing your loan; includes costs like due diligence and legal fees.
Real Estate Fees
Real estate fees are related to costs surrounding the property itself. Some are one-time fees, while others are recurring.
- Appraisal fee: Necessary to assess the market value of the home. Costs vary, but typically around $500 to $600, payable before the appraisal or at closing.
- Property tax: Generally an annual or biannual payment. Most lenders require at least two months’ worth pre-paid into an escrow account at closing.
- Homeowners’ insurance policy: An annual premium required for a home loan. The first year’s premium is often paid at closing, with subsequent payments included in your mortgage.
- Title search and insurance: Ensures the property is lien-free. Lender’s title insurance protects the lender, while owner’s title insurance safeguards the buyer.
- Transfer tax: Imposed by governments when a property is sold, usually a percentage of the sale price.
- HOA fees: For properties in a homeowners association, this may include a transfer fee and potentially the first year’s annual assessment.
Mortgage Insurance Fees
When you pay less than 20% of your home purchase price as part of your down payment, you’re usually required to pay mortgage insurance. Your private mortgage insurance (PMI) premium is typically assessed as a monthly fee within your mortgage payment. However, you may also have some costs at closing.
Upfront mortgage insurance fee: Depending on your loan type and lender, you may have to pay an additional application fee for a loan with mortgage insurance. Additionally, some loans require that you pay a one-time fee at the time of closing on top of your annual fee throughout the mortgage.
Government-backed loan fees: If your loan is from the FHA, USDA, or VA, then you may have extra mortgage insurance fees if your down payment is under 20%. FHA loans require an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75% and a monthly fee. The VA and USDA don’t charge mortgage insurance, but instead have guarantee fees. VA fees fall between 1.25% and 3.3% while USDA fees are a flat 2%.
Understanding How Closing Costs Are Calculated
That list may seem huge and overwhelming. However, before making an offer on a house, you can estimate your closing costs using some shortcuts. Average closing costs are usually about 2% – 6% of the loan amount.
Let’s look at that in real numbers.
Say you buy a home for $200,000. You can realistically expect your closing costs (not including your down payment) to extend anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000. That’s a pretty big range, so use that as a starting point when you begin to compare loan offers.
But don’t wait until you’ve fallen in love with a house to financially plan for closing costs.
Instead, use an online closing costs calculator early in the process to get a more specific estimate. You will want to use real information like average property taxes in your area and the costs associated with your type of loan.
A good mortgage lender can walk you through the variables, including how different loan types affect your closing costs.
Strategies for Reducing Closing Costs: Negotiation Tactics
Negotiating closing costs can be an effective way to reduce the financial burden of buying a home. While some fees are fixed, others offer room for negotiation. Here are strategies and insights to help you lower these costs:
Understand What Can Be Negotiated
Identify which fees are negotiable. These often include certain lender fees like the origination fee, broker fees, and some third-party charges. Knowing what can be adjusted is the first step in negotiation.
Compare and Shop Around
Before settling with one lender, shop around. Get Good Faith Estimates from multiple lenders and compare their closing costs. This can give you leverage in negotiations, as lenders are often willing to offer competitive pricing to win your business.
Ask the Seller to Contribute
In some real estate markets, it’s common for buyers to ask sellers to cover a portion of the closing costs. This is particularly feasible in buyer’s markets, where sellers are motivated to make the sale.
Look for Lender Credits
Some lenders offer credits in exchange for a slightly higher interest rate on your loan. These credits can be used to offset closing costs. While this increases your long-term interest cost, it can significantly reduce upfront expenses.
Negotiate with Service Providers
For services like home inspections and title searches, you have the option to choose your provider. Shop around and negotiate with these providers for better rates.
Review the Closing Disclosure Form
Before closing, you’ll receive a Closing Disclosure form listing all the fees. Review it carefully and question any fees that seem off or weren’t previously disclosed. Sometimes, errors can be corrected, leading to lower costs.
Time Your Closing
By scheduling your closing towards the end of the month, you can reduce the amount of prepaid interest you’ll need to pay.
Seek Legal or Financial Advice
Consider consulting with a real estate attorney or a financial advisor. They can provide valuable advice on which costs can be cut and how to negotiate effectively.
Options for Financing Your Closing Costs
In some cases, you can roll your closing costs into the mortgage, but you have to meet some basic requirements. First, it depends on your type of loan, since not all loans allow you to do this. Most government-backed loans, like FHA and USDA loans, do offer the possibility to add them into your home loan.
What’s the downside to this idea?
A higher loan amount means a higher monthly mortgage payment and a larger amount of interest paid over the life of your mortgage. Furthermore, your new home needs to appraise for the higher amount you want to finance. Plus, your debt-to-income ratio needs to be able to support that larger payment to qualify for such a loan.
If you’re getting a loan that doesn’t allow for closing costs to be rolled into the mortgage, you can still get around it. However, you must meet those criteria we just talked about.
Simply ask the seller (through your real estate agent) to pay for closing costs in exchange for paying the extra amount as part of the purchase price. Here’s an example.
If your $200,000 offer is accepted, but closing costs are $5,000, ask the seller to contribute $5,000 and change your offer to $205,000. At the end of the day, the seller still walks away with the same amount of money.
Again, this strategy is contingent upon the numbers working for you, your financial situation, and your mortgage application.
Finalizing Payment: Methods to Cover Your Closing Costs
When you finally get to closing day, it’s almost time to relax and move into your new home. But first, don’t forget to set up a way to pay closing costs.
You can ask your lender or settlement company for the preferred payment method. However, in most cases, you can either get a cashier’s check from your bank or set up a wire transfer. There’s usually a minor fee associated with each one. It’s a quick and easy process, but it shouldn’t be forgotten before you get to closing.
Closing costs are a crucial aspect of buying a home. Being well-informed and prepared for these expenses can make a significant difference in your financial planning. Remember, while some fees are fixed, others offer room for negotiation, and shopping around can lead to potential savings.
By factoring in these costs from the start, you can ensure a smoother, more predictable home-buying experience. Buying a house is a major step – financially and personally. Approach it with the right knowledge, and you’ll be set to make this important decision with confidence and peace of mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an escrow account, and how does it relate to closing costs?
An escrow account is a third-party account where funds are held during the process of a transaction, like buying a home. Regarding closing costs, part of these costs often includes initial deposits into an escrow account for future property taxes and homeowners’ insurance. This ensures that there is enough money set aside to cover these recurring expenses.
Can closing costs be included in the mortgage loan?
In some cases, closing costs can be rolled into the mortgage loan. This is more common with certain types of loans, like FHA loans. However, including closing costs in the loan increases the total loan amount and, consequently, your monthly mortgage payments and the total interest paid over the life of the loan.
Are there any tax benefits related to closing costs?
Yes, certain closing costs can have tax benefits. For example, points paid to lower your interest rate may be deductible in the year you buy your home. Always consult a tax professional to understand how your closing costs might affect your taxes.
How can first-time homebuyers prepare for closing costs?
First-time homebuyers should start saving early for closing costs, which typically range from 2% to 6% of the home purchase price. It’s also helpful to research and understand the different types of fees involved in closing costs, and consider attending homebuyer education courses for more detailed information.
What happens if I can’t afford closing costs?
If you find that you can’t afford closing costs, there are a few options. You can negotiate with the seller to pay some or all of the costs, look for lender credits, or explore programs available for first-time buyers or low-income buyers that offer assistance with closing costs.