I believe if you polled most home buyers and sellers in the Cary area they would tell you – “buyers get the keys at closing” – which according to the stand NC Offer to Purchase Contract is absolutely correct – possession transfers to the buyers at closing.
Here’s the problem – most people have an incomplete definition of how closing is defined according to the contract – most people think of sitting at the real estate attorney’s office signing all the documents as closing – in fact that’s only one of the steps – closing is defined as the date and time the new deed is recorded.
What does this mean? The owner/seller still owns the home up until the time the closing attorney files the new deed at the county courthouse. When sellers hand over keys & allow the buyers to take possession prior to the deed being recorded they are exposing themselves to potential risk – risk such as damage to the home, personal injuries occurring at the home, problems with buyers loan funding etc. Is it rare that a problem occurs, yes, but when a problem does occur it’s usually major. I always view my role in representing clients to keep them informed allowing them to make educated decisions.
All this being said I will tell you that often times a seller will hand over the keys to the buyers at the closing table without a second thought – maybe because they don’t realize the possible implications/haven’t been properly educated or they are willing to take the risk. I find it ironic that when a seller does hold the keys until the deed has been recorded the buyers/buyers agent will often become frustrated – when that’s what both parties agreed to in the contract – tells me the buyers were not properly informed.
Closing being incomplete and ownership not transferring until the attorney travels to the courthouse is a major reason why closing times should not be scheduled late in the day, especially on a Friday -w here it may take until Monday to record the new deed.
Bottom Line – according to the standard offer to purchase contract possession does not transfer to the buyers until the deed has been recorded at the courthouse – if the seller chooses to give the buyers possession before they certainly can but at their own risk. If a seller does choose to give the buyers keys/possession before the deed has been recorded I recommend using the ‘buyer possession before closing’ agreement – which addresses several of the risk factors and clarifies who is responsible for what during the interim period.