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Closing (or settlement) is the final step in executing a real estate transaction.
The closing date is set during the negotiation phase, and is usually several weeks after the offer is formally accepted. On the closing date, the parties consummate the purchase contract, and ownership of the property is transferred to the buyer. In most jurisdictions ownership is officially transferred when a deed from the seller is delivered to the buyer.
Several things happen during closing:
Closing in escrow usually occurs in states in the western half of the US. A title company (rather than a lawyer) or other trusted party holds the money and the signed deed, and arranges for the transfer. This is primarily so that the seller can give up ownership of the property, and the buyer can hand over the payment, without both parties having to be present at the same time. Escrow ensures an orderly transaction, or if something goes wrong, an orderly termination of the agreement.
On the Eastern side of the US, settlement (as closing is called) takes place on a specified date and time during which all parties (usually including the agents involved) meet at a settlement company presided over or supervised by a lawyer or settlement agent. At that time, the settlement agent disburses all funds listed on the settlement statement (in form of certified or wired funds) and the property exchange takes place, and the deed is then recorded by the company.