This information emphasizes the buying and selling of residential real estate. Many would-be home buyers use the services of a real estate agent. Although the use of a real estate agent is not required, he or she can help by handling some of the details involved.

Upon locating a home or other real estate, one usually makes an offer to the owner, often through the agent (if one is involved). This offer is usually in the form of a legal "Contract". This is very important because the purchaser and seller will be bound by the terms of the Contract once they are agreed to.

Although the price of the property contained in the Contract is very important to you at the time, there are many other provisions contained in a normal contract which need consideration. Therefore, you may want to consult with an attorney before the Contract is signed. The attorney will be able to review the Contract and may suggest changes to protect your interests, as well as to explain the remaining terms of the Contract. Remember that the entire transaction is governed by the words contained in the contract. After the Contract has been signed, and accepted by the Seller, very little can be done to change the terms of the agreement, unless both parties agree to such changes in writing. The Contract will also contain the provisions that determine what will happen if either party fails to comply with the terms of the Contract. The buyer may have a right to terminate the Contract if he can not obtain a loan for the purchase of the property.

Generally, after finding a home, a prospective buyer will meet with a lender to arrange for a loan on the property.

Lenders generally require a prospective buyer to pay a down payment from their own funds, (which might include earnest money paid at the time the Contract is signed with the remaining amount to be paid at the closing). The Lender will require an application in order to consider a buyer for a loan. The additional costs which will arise as a part of the loan transaction should be discussed with the lender. These may include various loan fees, interest and tax escrows, insurance premiums and survey fees, and the fee charged by the closing attorney.

Another important part of the closing process that will be handled by the buyer's attorney is the examination of the public records to determine if there are any defects in the seller's title, or a "title search". An "as-built" survey by a licensed surveyor is usually required to confirm that the boundaries of the property conform with the boundary description contained in the public records, and that the house is located within the boundaries.

After the title search, a time will be set for closing the sale. At the closing, the buyer's attorney will present the buyer with the various documents necessary to complete the transaction, including those required by the Lender, and a settlement statement listing the various closing costs required by the terms of the Contract and by the Lender. The attorney will supervise the signing of all of the documents and then will have the documents recorded with the proper public office. Feel free to ask the attorney to explain any part of the legal documents at that time.

Title insurance is almost always required by lenders and is generally obtained by the closing attorney. The premium for the title insurance policy is paid only once by the purchaser as a part of the closing costs. The title insurance policy insures that the lender has a proper mortgage lien on the property, and that there are no defects in the title which may adversely affect the lender's lien. The policy obtained for he lender's benefit does not insure the purchaser against loss in the event that there is a defect in the title. For an additional premium, which often costs only a small amount, the buyer can purchase an owner's title insurance policy which will insure the buyer's title to the property. The buyer may want to discuss the details of Coverage with his or her attorney.

A buyer should purchase casualty insurance to protect a new home from losses such as fire or other casualty. Lenders usually require this. In addition, a buyer should purchase liability insurance to protect himself and members of his family residing in his home.

Also, an accountant or other tax adviser might be consulted with regard to the sale or purchase, as numerous tax considerations exist in such a transaction.

This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 803-799-7100.