How to Close Real Estate Deals in Florida
Florida is home to some of the most highly sought-after real estate in the US – a market that has seen seismic changes with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic shock.
Jacequeline A Salcines, a Florida-based real estate attorney, shares her sector insights with us in this feature. What key challenges do real estate closings face in Florida, and how can a qualified attorney best address them?
To begin with a broad overview, what are the key steps of closing on a real estate deal in Florida?
Well, the most important step is to always hire a knowledgeable and experienced real estate lawyer. This one decision seems to alleviate many issues down the line. In my business I find that sellers often do not hire one and instead rely on the buyer’s title company – which does not represent them. When issues arise, and they do, the seller is left high and dry without anyone in their corner.
The same advice goes for the buyers. Not all title companies are created equal. It is crucial to make sure you hire a real estate attorney, such as myself, that is also a title company, to represent you in the transaction. Many issues pop up during real estate transactions; having a knowledgeable and experienced attorney in your corner goes a long way and can make the difference between closing or cancelling.
After hiring the right lawyer, the next step is clearly to get a solid contract that protects you, followed by examination of title by the title company, lien searches, inspections and, if all is clear, you get ready for closing.
How does the process of closing differ between residential and commercial properties?
The examination of title, lien search and the inspection of the property make up the bulk of the behind-the-scenes ‘due diligence’ on a residential transaction. Commercial transactions are bit more complex. Often you are dealing with multiple units and tenants. The due diligence is more elaborate, wherein the buyer may want to see rent rolls and CAM numbers to see whether the investment is prudent regarding monies in and out.
Due diligence may also require the examination of the seller’s books to determine the viability of the investments. Inspections are also more elaborate, such as testing soil and DERM requirements to see whether the property is suited for the purpose for which the buyer desires the property. If the buyer is planning to erect a building or maintain a gas station, the zoning and land requirements will differ.
What steps, such as obtaining pre-approval for a mortgage, should a buyer undertake to ensure that closing is completed as quickly and smoothly as possible?
I have been practicing real estate transaction law for almost 24 years now, and I can tell you with 100% certainty that the two matters that hold up most real estate closings are the banks and the condominium associations. It is crucial that the buyer timely apply with the lender right out of the gate. Same with applying with the association. Associations tend to drag their feet, and often require fingerprinting and credit checks. By law, they have a certain number of days to complete their applications and approvals and they do wait until the last minute.
I find that sellers often do not hire one and instead rely on the buyer’s title company – which does not represent them. When issues arise, and they do, the seller is left high and dry without anyone in their corner.
The mortgage application is where having a good real estate lawyer in your corner will protect the buyer. Banks are also notorious for dragging their feet, but unfortunately do not really care about contract deadlines. They rely on the buyer or the buyer’s agent to advise them if the deadline is looming and what is needed. I often have buyers that come to me to recover their deposits after the bank denied their ‘pre-approved’ mortgage once the financing contingency expired. If the buyer had a real estate lawyer, they would have kept the bank apprised of what was needed to make sure it was timely and the deposit protected. Staying on top of the lender and what requirements are needed for the loan to be processed and approved are crucial.
What are the pitfalls to watch out for during the closing period?
As I mentioned, the usual pitfalls come from the lenders, who generally seem to be oblivious to contract deadlines – particularly the deadline to obtain financing or cancel the deal. Lenders often place a buyer’s deposit at risk. In the role of the buyer’s real estate attorney, myself and my team act as a watchdog to make sure that not only the mortgage is being processed smoothly, but all closing and contingency deadlines are met.
Clearing title issues are also matters that cause closings to fail. You may have certain survey encumbrances that the buyer or lender cannot live with, or perhaps a stale old mortgage on the side of the seller that was paid off in full decades ago, without a recorded Satisfaction of Mortgage. Tracking down heirs or a private lender that no longer exists may prove futile and place the seller in breach.
Sometimes buyers miscalculate closing costs and at the last minute are short the funds to close, and so have to scramble to liquidate funds. Preparing a closing statement early on for my clients is one of the things I feel helps them plan best, so they have a pretty close to final number as to the funds they will need to close and can prepare accordingly.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect real estate closings in your jurisdiction? Are any of these effects still a factor in current proceedings?
I live in Miami, so I can honestly say that COVID-19 doubled my real estate business and closings here in Florida. We saw the influx of out-of-state buyers all wanting to relocate to Miami due to the climate and employment changes. Property values increased dramatically and we were closing cash deals on high-end properties in record time. We returned to the bidding wars, with buyers offering over asking price and not even wanting to perform inspections or even finance their purchase. It really kept me and my staff busy.
Now, with the interest rates almost double what they were just a year ago, things have returned a bit back to normal. However, because I am situated in Miami, we always have a great number of international buyers who want to settle down in or invest in our area. Buyers from South America and Europe continue to grow in number. We are able to cater to these international buyers because of my Hispanic background, myself and my staff all being bilingual, as well as offering a wide array of services other than just closings, such as 1031 exchanges.
Can you share anything about current emerging trends in real estate that you are witnessing as we head towards 2023?
I feel it is actually quite contradictory. Many aspects of the real estate market seem to be normalising post-COVID, while some have permanently changed.
The workforce transformation has certainly played a key role in the ever-evolving real estate market here in Florida. Working from home changed the playing field, resulting in high demand for luxury single-family homes and condominiums. The commercial landscape also continues to expand, with many well-known tech companies and Fortune 500 businesses, who no longer want to work in New York or California, relocating to the Sun Belt.
Miami has no city tax and because of the climate and proximity to Latin America, it is no wonder that we will continue to experience the boom in real estate here in Florida for years to come. I am happy we can continue to serve these national and international buyers with all their real estate needs and look forward to welcoming them to my city.
Jacqueline A Salcines, Founder
706 South Dixie Highway, Second Floor, Coral Gables, Florida 33146, USA
Tel: +1 305-669-5280
Fax: +1 305-669-5283
Jacqueline A Salcines is an established and well-respected real estate and business lawyer with a particular focus on residential and commercial real estate transaction matters. With over 23 years’ worth of experience serving her community in Florida and throughout the United States, she represents individuals, buyers, sellers, corporations, realtors, distressed homeowners, landlords, tenants, foreign clients and more on their legal needs.