Even if you purchase a home using 100 percent financing, you’ll still probably have to come up with some cash to cover closing costs. Closing costs are fees that are paid when a home sale closes. Both buyers and sellers pay closing costs.

Who pays for closing costs–buyer or seller–is typically dictated by local custom, not law. Keep this in mind if you’re buying in one area and selling in another.

For example, in the San Francisco Bay area, the buyer usually pays for title insurance. In Southern California, this is often a seller cost. So if you move from Southern to Northern California, you could find yourself paying for title insurance in both locales.

Closing costs most often paid by buyers include the fees associated with the buyers’ financing; title insurance (depending on where you’re buying); all or part of transfer fees (if there are any); homeowner’s insurance; inspection fees; fees paid to attorneys, closing or escrow agents; and a buyer’s brokerage fee, if there is one. Buyers also reimburse the sellers at closing if the sellers have overpaid the property taxes.

Typical seller closing costs include: the real estate brokerage commission; fees associated with repaying the seller’s mortgage and clearing liens against the property; title insurance and attorney’s fees (depending on where you’re selling); all or part of transfer fees, if there are any; and fees to cover local point of sale compliance requirements and repair work (such as wood pest damage), if this was agreed to in the purchase agreement.

Since closing costs vary from one location to the next, it’s wise to check with a local real estate agent before you make an offer. This way you’ll know what closing costs you can anticipate paying and how much this will cost.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: In the recent competitive seller’s market, most buyers didn’t risk losing in a negotiation by asking the seller to pay costs that were normally paid for by the buyer. As the market softens, you may have more opportunity to negotiate who pays for what.

Whether or not you’ll be successful negotiating an arrangement that differs from custom will depend in part on local market conditions. You’ll increase your chance of success if you pay attention to how the request is made. There’s a lot of psychology involved in home sales. It can become difficult to negotiate with a seller who feels he’s being taken advantage of.

Some sellers object when buyers slip uncustomary closing cost requests into a contract. For example, recently buyers made an offer at a price that was acceptable to the seller. However, after the listing agent calculated the net price for the seller taking into account the additional closing costs the sellers were asked to pay, the price was quite a bit lower.

The sellers took offense with this approach and accepted a cleaner offer from another buyer. If you’re going to ask sellers to pay costs that are usually paid for by buyers, consider letting the seller know this upfront. This way the seller doesn’t feel misled. How an offer is packaged and presented to the sellers can have a big impact on how it’s received.

THE CLOSING: The same advice applies to offers in which the sellers are asked to credit money at closing to cover closing costs. Credits lower the sellers’ net proceeds from the sale. So, rather than have the seller think he’s receiving more than you’re offering, ask your agent to let the seller know when the offer is presented that the offer price is higher than his net price and why.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.


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