- Illinois’ escrow process is similar to other attorney review states in that a real estate attorney is used to consummate the transaction and prepare all the closing documents. There is likely to be an “attorney review” period (5 days is customary) at the beginning of the process before the contract is finalized and either party can walk away.
- In Illinois, buyer and seller often consummate the transaction at the same closing (or ‘settlement‘) table.
Step by Step
Part 1: Attorney review, inspections and credits
These are the initial tasks once a buyer is in contract, and are most often done in parallel to Part 2: The mortgage process:
- An offer is accepted by the seller and a contract is signed. The attorney review process begins. During this period, usually 5 days, either party can get out of the deal without consequences as their attorneys negotiate the final contract.
- Concurrently, a deposit, or earnest money, is paid to the broker or attorney (never to the seller directly).
- The buyer reviews and signs off on any disclosures. These disclosures vary based on property type, but often include things like known flaws with the property, prior improvements or repairs, and potential environmental hazards. A form called a residential property disclosure report (see a sample form from the Illinois Association of Realtors® here) is provided by the seller on or before the day the contract is signed. Sellers may see this as beneficial to themselves, and believe that buyers will build these pre-disclosed facts into the contract price (and thus sellers may be reluctant to provide any credits for these defects).
- The buyer elects to perform inspections on the property as agreed upon in the contract. These inspections must be completed by a certain date, which can be called the inspection contingency date (though is officially referred to as a number of days from the contract date wherein a buyer must notify the seller of any defect revealed by the inspection). The types of inspections vary by property type and situation (and locale), but in Illinois, a licensed home inspector generally inspects the home first, and other inspections and tests (for things like lead paint, asbestos, etc.) can be ordered if revealed to be necessary by the initial inspection.
- Based on the outcome of inspections, buyers may elect to ask the seller for repair work, closing cost credits, or a reduction in the sale price due to flaws that were uncovered. Sellers have three options: agree to all of the buyers’s requests, offer a modified solution back to the buyer, or decline to make any amends. In response, the buyer can continue to negotiate, accept the seller’s position, or in some cases, end the transaction and recoup their earnest money.
- The buyer functionally removes or waives the inspection contingency by agreeing to a signed inspection response with the seller, or by failing to make an inspection response request to the seller before the number of days indicated in the contract has passed.
Part 2: The mortgage process
or those borrowing to purchase their home, the mortgage process is usually the the most stressful and opaque part of the transaction. It’s best to start as early as possible and be ready to produce lots of documentation. The following is the general process in Illinois:
- A buyer submits a loan application to their lender, either directly or through a mortgage broker. See a sample Uniform Residential Loan Application used in Illinois.
- Within 3 days, the lender sends a “Good Faith Estimate,” or GFE, to the buyer that is a breakdown of estimated closing costs. The final costs are likely to deviate from this estimate. See a sample GFE at hud.gov.
- Before the buyer is ready to write an offer, a pre-approval with a lender should be acquired. The buyer sends a series of personal financial disclosures to their lender. These vary by situation, but the most commonly requested documents are:
- Several months of statements for each bank account a borrower holds (including any investment accounts)
- Several months of statements for any outstanding loans, lines of credit, or other liabilities. This can also include documentation of rent payments.
- Up to two years of tax returns, released to the lender via an authorization submitted by the buyer using IRS form 4506-T.
- Recent pay stubs and contact information for each borrower’s employer. The number of pay stubs varies by situation.
- Any other disclosures that are material to a borrower’s financial situation. This includes but is not limited to marriage licenses, divorce settlements, child support, liens, bankruptcies, or judgments. If there’s something that affects how much money you have on hand that isn’t shown by simply looking at your salary, be prepared to document it.
- Explanation of any credit inquiries
- Substantiation of any large deposits or cash gifts that aren’t regular income. In some cases, a large cash gift may look similar to a personal loan by a friend or family member, and lenders will require gift letters from those that gave you the cash gift, stating that the gift was not a loan. They may also ask for itemized deposit slips. The exact amount that triggers this requirement varies by situation (for instance, a $1,000 cash gift may be material to a single borrower that makes $35,000/yr but may not be material to a borrower that makes $350,000/yr), so it’s good practice to ask your lender if you suspect you might have a material cash gift or large deposit – so you aren’t surprised by this at the last minute.
- Repeated and updated documentation of any of the above. Keep in mind: to a lender, anything can happen to a borrower’s personal financial situation and credit during the escrow process. Thus, you may be asked more than once for the same type of document so that your lender has the most recent pay stubs, rent receipts, bank statements, or other disclosures that may change over time. Any material changes in these documents -or any element of your personal financial situation- may require the lender to reassess your eligability for the loan for which you’ve applied.
- The lender renders an approval decision, and if approved, issues a loan commitment letter, stating its willingness to fund the mortgage provided certain conditions are met. These conditions usually include appraisal (so the lender can confirm that the property you’re buying isn’t worth far less than you’re paying) but will also generally include any material change in your situation -or the property- as initially disclosed to your lender.
- The financing contingency, or loan contingency is removed by the buyer by the loan contingency date as defined in the contract. Buyers often ask the seller for an extension to their loan contingency date if they have not yet received their loan commitment letter. In Illinois, a buyer must submit their request for extension in writing, and the seller has a set number of days (usually indicated in the contract) to respond negatively if they do not wish to grant the extension.
- An appraisal is ordered by the lender or mortgage broker via a central directory of appraisers (often called an Appraisal Management Company or AMC). Choosing a specific appraiser is not possible, but a mortgage broker can reject an appraiser and ask for a new one. If the appraisal comes in lower than the purchase price, a lender can decline to approve the borrower unless a change is made to the purchase price or the size of the downpayment.
- homeowners’ insurance is purchased (or substantiated, if the property being purchased includes homeowners’ insurance as part of association fees or similar arrangements), and proof of homeowners’ insurance is submitted to the lender. Your lender may also require you to get title insurance.
Tip: As this process can be long, arduous, seemingly arbitrary, and is often critical to your homebuying transaction, try to prepare these documents (or at least figure out how to prepare them) in advance. Also, do not make any changes to your employment or credit until your transaction is complete (not just until you get a loan commitment letter). This means not switching employers even if it results in a higher income, as counterintuitive as that may sound. It also means not leasing or financing a car, opening a new credit card account, or anything else that can affect your credit report.
Part 3: The closing itself
The closing process itself takes place at one table (either at the office of an attorney or title company), where buyers sign all documents related to their loan and the transaction itself. After all documents are signed and payments exchanged, buyers generally take possession of the keys unless a separate agreement has been reached to allow the seller stay in the property for a period after closing. The detailed steps that make up closing are:
- A title search is run just prior to closing to determine if there are any liens or assessments on the title. Provided the title is deemed ‘clear,’ the closing proceeds as planned. Note: buyers can ask for this title search in advance of closing (sometimes for an additional fee), and it may reveal material information regarding the property that may be good to know well before closing.
- A buyer’s attorney begins preparing the paperwork for changing the title / deed and will file an application for title insurance if the lender requires it, and a final closing date is scheduled on or around the date indicated in the contract.
- A final cash figure for what a buyer needs to bring to the closing in the form of a cashier’s check is calculated. This is based not only on a mortgage’s closing costs but factors like property taxes and utilities paid in to date by the seller.
- At the closing, or settlement, table, the buyer (and seller) sign all closing documents, including the HUD-1 (see a sample HUD-1 here), and the final loan documents.
- The buyer pays the remaining funds in their downpayment to an attorney or a representative of the title company (who is present at closing) via cashier’s check.
- The representative from the title company or your attorney will then record the transaction and deed with the appropriate municipality.
- The buyer receives the keys and, unless indicated differently in the contract, officially takes possession of the property.