- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

Claire and Stephen Meany were relieved after months of cross-country e-mails and boomerang Fed-Ex exchanges to get the keys to their new Severna Park home and put the paperwork behind them. Yet even before Mrs. Meany found a place to store the thick folder of contracts and agreements bearing her signature, she was digging through it again, ready to refinance.

"I was able to do the refinancing settlement on the hood of my car, with my kids asleep in it," says Mrs. Meany, whose organization will pay off again later this month when she once again refinances her loan.

As much focus as families and professionals put on "getting to settlement," homeowners shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that closing on a house means closure.

Rarely do those folders and phone numbers gather any dust.

"Of course, a few of us hold onto those documents forever and ever and never seem to need them," says Jackie Shore, owner of Virginia Title & Escrow. "But for most people, at some point, you'll either refinance or sell the house."

Title company officials, lenders and Realtors agree that settlement is a good opportunity to prepare homeowners for some of the unexpected hurdles they may face as bits of complicated financial or legal information arrive in their new mailboxes.

"Basically, at closing, everything I'm needed for is over and done, and I'm wishing them well," Mrs. Shore says.

Occasionally, some dazed homeowners do end up calling her months later, wondering what they should do with the official looking deed they just received.

It may take a few months, but, eventually, the deed or the deed of trust to the house will be recorded at the courthouse and shipped out to the homeowner.

That's an important document many homeowners forget to look for, Mrs. Shore says. The deed conveys the property to the homeowner and a deed of trust is the document used in Maryland instead of a mortgage to convey the title to a trustee, such as the bank. Not only is it essential for resale, a deed is an important document for others to have should the owner die or divorce and the property becomes disputed.

"You want to put that someplace in a fireproof container," Mrs. Shore says.

Mortgage broker Richard Miller of Money Marketing Inc. in Anne Arundel County says that homeowners cannot be too careful with their deed. He recently worked with a family whose builder went bankrupt, title company burned down and bank merged, losing for a time all traces of the deed to their home.

"It took four months to establish that it was their property because they didn't keep one important document," Mr. Miller says. His advice: "Keep it all. The application documents, the settlement documents, any strings and foil. Everything you get at settlement is pertinent."

It can actually save a homeowner money to hang onto all of that paperwork.

Presenting a current title insurance policy, which protects the buyer against disputes over the ownership of the property, can save the title company some of the expense of doing another title search to find out if there are any liens against the property. Keep the plat, or the property survey. Not only can it help establish property lines and zoning constraints, but architects also find it useful in the early stages of renovation.

Come tax time, it's important to be able to account for all the closing costs that are so helpfully enumerated on the settlement sheet. Some of them points, out-of-pocket taxes that might have to be paid, interest paid bewteen settlement date and the date of the loan are tax deductible. Fees generally are not tax deductable.

"Of course, you could get most of the information you need by making a couple of phone calls, but you're a lot more likely to have it all at your fingertips than the companies you worked with are," Mrs. Shore says.

Other items to look for in the mail include tax bills and homeowner's insurance bills. Even though mortgage companies arrange to pay these from escrow accounts established at closing, these bills also come in the mail once or twice a year and manage to confuse owners.

The Realtor was the first person Mrs. Meany called when she got her first mortgage statement.

"I had some questions about the principal, and I called him right away," Mrs. Meany says. "He had been so well-connected to the title company, to the loan people. I felt like he'd have the answers."

Indeed, Realtors welcome such calls.

"This is a new experience for many, and there's a lot to know," says Dale Mattison, president-elect of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. "People call who bought a few years ago wanting help and guidance in appraisals or recommendations about repair work. I tell them they're stuck with me for life."

During the early weeks after settlement, the first phone calls are typically about property condition: The stove doesn't work; repairs weren't completed; the lawn is torn up. Mr. Mattison says most Realtors are happy to go to bat for their clients for such concerns.

"Most of us are looking to give lifelong service, to be there long after the transaction is over," Mr. Mattison says.

Ultimately, Mr. Mattison says, settlement usually comes as a big relief to buyers, who may fret over the finances until the very moment ownership is transferred into their hands. After that, he says, it's a matter of congratulations.

"For the most part, Realtors will help set expectations as to the aftermath of settlement," Mr. Mattison says. "I usually tell my clients that if they ever get insomnia, just pull all those documents out and they'll go right to sleep."

For the Meanys, who in a year have become old hands at closing on their first house, the days of anxiety are long gone. Their settlement folder, dog-eared from use, gets a little thicker with each refinancing.

"I'm at the point now where I feel like, if you read everything and follow the directions, there will be no problems," Mrs. Meany says.

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