When I Buy a Home, When Do I Get the Keys?
You may have imagined the magical moment when your real estate agent hands you the keys in an Instagram-worthy photo op. Maybe you've dreamed of creating your own cheesy stock photo like this one:
In reality, the handoff is less ceremonious but an important event nonetheless.
Many first-time buyers wonder when this happens exactly, signifying they can move in and occupy the home. It depends on when three milestones occur.
Milestone #1 Funding Date
Toward the end of the homebuying process, you sign final loan documents. The lender reviews this paperwork a day or two later. It ensures all loan requirements are met, does a final employment verification, and may pull credit again.
Don’t change your financial situation until after your loan is complete.
If the file is cleared, then comes funding day. This is when the lender issues loan funds. When the seller gets their money, the sale is complete.
But you don’t get the keys just yet. You have another milestone to complete: recording.
Milestone #2: Recording Date
“Recording” is when the county or other local government office records the transfer of ownership. Until this happens, you don’t officially own the home.
Some counties can record on the day of funding, but many states and counties record the next day.
Ask your lender and real estate agent early in the process when your county typically “records” the sale. It could affect your move-in date.
Milestone #3: Possession Date
In a seller’s market, you may have to agree to a “possession date” that is later than the sale closing date.
The possession date is the date you can move in. It is usually the day of closing, but sometimes it’s one to three days later.
This gives the seller time to move out. In a way, it’s an insurance policy for the seller: they don’t have to risk starting their move before the sale is final in case it falls through. When the seller has multiple offers, they will often request this benefit from the buyer.
Sometimes, the seller will “rent back” the home after funding. This is when they pay you money to live in the home longer than a few days after closing. In this case, your possession date could be a month or more after funding and recording.
Getting Your Keys
The listing agent (seller’s agent) holds the key to your new home – literally.
If you’ve completed all three milestones above, you or your agent can arrange to meet the seller’s agent to get the keys. Feel free to pick up the keys at the agent’s office, a coffee shop, or wherever is convenient for you.
You can always stage the key handoff inside the home for your Instagram story later.
Don’t expect much wiggle room about getting the keys early. The listing agent most likely will not allow you to move in ahead of time, despite legitimate reasons for doing so: you rented a truck, you have to move out of your apartment, or you want to move over the weekend.
Get Started on Your Homeownership Goal
If your goal is to finally get the keys to your own home, there’s no better time to start than now.
Soon you could be holding the keys to your new home, posing for the perfect pic.
Tim Lucas spent 11 years in the mortgage industry and now leverages that real-world knowledge to give consumers reliable, actionable advice. Tim has been featured in national publications such as Time, U.S. News, MSN, The Mortgage Reports, My Mortgage Insider, and more.