As with other real estate transactions, land contracts require a “closing” to prepare, sign, and file all necessary legal documents. This article discusses the common steps a buyer and seller should take to close on a land contract purchase. For information on land contracts in general, see the Nolo article, The Basics of Land Contracts. And for a variety of useful articles on real estate closings, see Escrow and Closing in Nolo’s Real Estate section.
Seth, I hope I’m not pestering with too many questions. Your web site has been invaluable. It’s probably covered on your web site, but I may have missed it: In a purchase transaction where we are closing the deal ourselves with a Notary, when do we mail the seller their cashier’s check. After the County returns your stamped documents? Supposing the seller is uncertain. What would you think of (A) leaving the cashiers check with the Notary to mail directly to the seller upon recording of the transaction or (B) including something in the packet we mail to the effect of “transaction will be voided if seller does not receive payment in the agreed upon amount of _________________ within two weeks of recording”. I like the idea of including a copy of the cashiers check. Or is this just too much of me worrying over nothing?
Agents, of course, will charge as much as 2.5% plus GST as commission on the sale of the property which, depending on the price, can be a significant sum.   However, if you have done your homework, whether you are the buyer or seller (we call them “purchaser” or “vendor”), it is possible to cut a fair deal, and to have all the documents prepared properly and legally, without the cost involved in having a real estate agent.
Things get tricky if the listing agreement confers an exclusive right to sell. This means the real estate agent has the sole right to sell the property. All offers must go through him or her, and for any sale, you're obligated to pay the agent the commission spelled out in the contract, according to Marc D. Markel, a board-certified Texas attorney in residential and commercial real estate law. Agents rely on these exclusive listing agreements to avoid putting in what can be months of free work without seeing a payoff. For this reason, the agreement outlines the many ways an agent earns a commission, including what happens if the seller breaches the exclusive agreement.
Hi Sean! When I do my own title search, it’s because I’m NOT planning to get a title insurance policy (mainly because the property is so cheap, and the extra cost is difficult to justify). And yes, I am always sure to get a Warranty Deed from the seller. If I find any apparent problem in the title search, then I’ll usually walk away from the deal unless it’s VERY minor and/or we’re able to resolve the issue as part of my closing.
You may also want a lawyer to produce and review contract documents; some states actually require you to hire one. Although you can find much of the paperwork online, Schorr says, “you need to tailor it to your deal — and the way you fill it out is just as important as what the boilerplate language says.” You’ll probably pay $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the cost of living in your area, but you’ll get an experienced pro who’s in your corner and can make sure the deal gets done right.
California's basic transfer tax is $1.10 per $1,000 of value, and generally the seller pays the cost. If a $575,000 piece of land changes hands, the seller will pay the entire $632.50 tax at closing. Some cities also impose transfer taxes, which vary from $1.10 to $15.00 per $1,000 of value transferred, depending on the value of the property and the community in which it is located. The custom is for the buyer and seller to equally split the tax in most cities, but in some areas sellers customarily pay the entire tax.
Provide as much detail as you can. Land buyers want the facts, and they wanted them yesterday. When you’re listing your property, be sure to include the zoning, plus details on whether the buyer will be able to change the way the property is zoned. You also want to include details on taxes paid on the land and other typical expenses. If you can, include the tax-roll printout from your local land registry or county assessor and include the legal description of the land in the listing. You can also provide that detail when people come to look at the land.
Demand a Title Insurance Policy. Title searches of the public records will also show liens or judgments filed against a buyer. The title company will likely ask for satisfaction of those encumbrances before it will insure the land contract on a title policy. Ask to see a copy of the preliminary title report (or commitment for title insurance) to determine if a search reveals anything about the buyer.
If you have created a land contract, you’ll also need a memorandum of land contract. This is, essentially, an abbreviated legal document that references the main contract created. This simply serves as a public notice that the buyer is interested in the property without you and the buyer having to disclose and record the entire land contract. Because the deed of the property will not be filed until you’ve received full payment on the purchase price indicated in the contract, this memorandum will be filed with the county and the city to serve as a record that the buyer is interested in the property.
The steps above are fairly similar to transactions that involve owner financing. The primary exception is that a deal that involves owner financing requires a few additional documents. Depending on the state and the specifics of the transaction, some seller financed deals will make the most sense to use in conjunction with a land contract (aka – contract for deed), which I explain in this blog post). Likewise, other seller financed deals will make more sense to use in conjunction with a Promissory Note and Deed of Trust, which I explain in this blog post.

Just like any sale of real estate, a land contract should begin with a purchase agreement. This is a legal document signed by a potential buyer making an offer on the real property for sale. The purchase agreement should indicate that the offer is for a land contract, and should state the purchase price, initial cash down payment, length of the payment term, and any other terms of sale.
Thinking of selling your land? Whether you’re working with a real estate agent or selling your property on your own, there are certain documents that you’ll need in order to close the deal. While requirements may vary depending on your state, there are a few general documents that you’ll need in order to legally transfer your property to the buyer.
When the foundation of an agreement has been reached, exchange the names, addresses and phone numbers of the lawyers involved (i.e., your lawyer and the buyer's lawyer). Get the buyer to have his lawyer draft up the details of the purchase and sales agreement (what you negotiated together, independently or through The Offer Maker®) and have them sent to your lawyer's office. Putting this responsibility on the buyer will help gauge the seriousness of the offer.
You may also want a lawyer to produce and review contract documents; some states actually require you to hire one. Although you can find much of the paperwork online, Schorr says, “you need to tailor it to your deal — and the way you fill it out is just as important as what the boilerplate language says.” You’ll probably pay $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the cost of living in your area, but you’ll get an experienced pro who’s in your corner and can make sure the deal gets done right.
The title company charges for the escrow services that it provides. These services include holding the funds, providing a place for the closing and having one of their staffers calculate the cash flows in the transaction. Typically, the buyer pays all of the costs, but in some areas they can be split between the two parties, or they can even be paid by the seller, although this is rare.
If you need to find a buyer fast, our company is in the land buying business. If you've got time to wait for a few months, then get it posted on your standard online sites (don't underestimate Craigslist!) and consider hiring an agent. If that doesn't work out or you don't feel like waiting, we've got a network of buyers at Landmark Property Buyers.
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