It seems like buying or selling a home requires a lot of paperwork. What can I expect?

It’s true—buying and selling real estate involves a lot of very important paperwork. A registered broker or salesperson can provide guidance throughout the process, but before I get into that, there’s some general advice about forms and contracts that is especially important.

First of all, make sure you understand everything you sign. If you’re confused about something, ask your real estate representative to clarify – taking the time now could save a lot of aggravation down the road. Signing your name on the dotted line is not something to be taken lightly—you’re dealing with binding contracts for significant values. If you still have concerns about anything you’re signing, you should seek legal advice.

Also, you should never sign a form unless all of the blank spaces are filled in, and always ensure that you get a signed copy for your records at the time you sign the form. You can expect your real estate professional will do this with you, but with so much paperwork, things can get missed.

With that in mind, the first thing you’ll need to do is to find a real estate professional. With expertise in all the necessary paperwork, they’ll be a big help throughout the buying or selling process.

It bears repeating that you should interview a few potential candidates before you ultimately decide on a representative – it has to be a good fit. Find out if your friends and family have worked with anyone they would recommend. Also, be sure to ask each candidate about their approach to the process.

Once you’ve decided on a representative, discuss your needs, desires and expectations and ask them what they expect from you. Be explicit: to avoid misunderstandings later on, you shouldn’t make any assumptions. If you are buying or selling with someone else, like a spouse, ensure that you’re both on the same page when speaking with your representative.

If you’re a buyer, you may sign a buyer representation agreement, while sellers will sign a listing agreement. It’s important to note that when you sign these agreements, you are entering into a binding contract with the brokerage that employs your representative, not with the individual representative.

If you’re selling your home, make sure to get additional documentation that lists the services that the brokerage will provide. Ensuring the documentation captures all of your needs in writing will help reduce the risk of future misunderstandings.

If you’re a buyer, the next piece of paperwork will come once you’ve found a property you’re interested in and you make a written offer to buy it. Making an offer isn’t just about the price. The offer will likely include several schedules each covering a different topic, such as how the deposit will be dealt with, as well as any conditions on the offer. Smart buyers will make their offers conditional on a satisfactory home inspection, and you should also consider a condition regarding mortgage financing, if necessary.

Once an offer has been accepted, it becomes an Agreement of Purchase and Sale, which is a binding legal contract between buyer and seller. Although your representative will help you with the agreement, they are not a party to the contract. We sometimes receive complaints about what a salesperson may have said or done, resulting in one of the parties trying to get out of the deal. Unfortunately, the deal is between the buyer and seller, so you need to make sure the documents say what you want or need them to say.

Before the offer can close, any conditions included in the offer must be addressed. For each condition, the buyer must provide either a notice of fulfillment to indicate that the condition has been fulfilled, or a waiver to indicate that the condition is being waived without being fulfilled.

Alternatively, according to the terms of the condition, you may choose not to fulfill or waive the condition within the time allowed, in which case the transaction will end without a purchase or sale, and your deposit may be returned if the terms of the condition allow it. You should seek the advice of your lawyer and real estate representative before deciding not to fulfill or waive a condition.

Once that’s done, it will be time to close the sale. As the closing date approaches, you’ll need to sit down with your lawyer to go over the title transfer and various other pieces of paperwork necessary to complete the deal, before you can get the keys to your new dream home.

It might seem daunting, but having a team of skilled professionals can make a big difference. Your real estate professional and your lawyer are there to look out for your best interests. And once again, ask questions along the way, you will be glad you did.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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