Moving to DC from NYC

New Yorkers have a phrase called the “New York Minute” to illustrate just how fast life in the big apple moves. When it comes to Real Estate though, DC has New York City beat. Many New Yorkers are shocked to learn that a DC Real Estate Minute is 1000 times faster.

I was born and raised on the border of Connecticut and New York. The direct way I deliver information is pretty relatable to a lot of New Yorkers. When New Yorkers contact me to help them find a home in DC and we have our initial consultation, they walk away with some new information. They love our prices compared to theirs, but they are shocked at how different the process of buying real estate is in DC. Here’s what’s different and what you need to know about buying a home here in DC, Maryland and Virginia

Recently I helped the loveliest couple buy a home. When we were reviewing the contract, one of them hesitantly and apologetically said her dad was a Real Estate Lawyer in New York City. Dad had some questions.

With decades of experience selling real estate, I know our market, contracts and process here are so different than New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I was undeniably frightened her Dad was going to mop the floor with me.

Her dad actually only had a few questions and he was very nice. Our conversation was very eye-opening for both of us. Hang in here with me because he told me the funniest experience he had with clients and what they did to their house prior to moving out.

1. Do You Hire a Broker, an Agent or a Lawyer in DC, Maryland or Virginia?

In the New York tri-state area, you generally look at home with your Real Estate Broker as they are often called. Once you want to negotiate an offer in New York, each party hires their own attorney and the negotiations and contract language are hashed out between the lawyers.

In the DC Area, the Real Estate Agent negotiates the contract. We’re considered Agents here, even if some of us, like yours truly, have a Broker’s license. Our “Broker” is the one who runs the company and who we go to with questions. They don’t always sell real estate but sometimes they do. In the DC Area, it’s not common for either side to hire an attorney. But we do select a Title Company which handles the closing. I only recommend Title Companies who have an attorney handle the transaction and closing. Not every Title Company in DC has an attorney on staff.

The Title Company will run and examine title, work with the lender for their title binder and issue Title Insurance.

2. What Stops the Title Attorney in DC From Stealing the Escrow?

My client’s father wanted to know more details about how their earnest money deposit would be protected. I explained that our Settlement Attorneys here are Escrow / Title Agents. They are bound by law to maintain the Escrow Account, keep records, and allow inspection at any point in time by the state or jurisdiction in which they are located. He asked how we would ever know if the attorney disappeared with the money. They are officers of the court. Nothing stops them from taking off with escrow funds other than the fact that they have a job to do, a reputation to protect, an oath to uphold, a jail they want to stay free of.

A reputable attorney would be giving up years of their education, their career, their freedom, just for the money in their escrow account.

Apparently, it happens enough in New York that people worry about this. I have happily forgotten that there can be an element of shady characters in New York. Last time I ate at a restaurant in New York City, I was splitting up some cash among the party and the waitress leaned over my shoulder and actually snatched a few wayward dollars that were meant for the person sitting next to me.

I’m not saying we don’t have our own level of shady here, but we stick to using reputable Title Companies with attorneys on staff. At the time I was working on my notes for this video, a poor homebuyer contacted the Title Attorney I work with the most and said she closed on a condo and found out it was never recorded. After digging into it, it seems that it was some sort of fly-by-night Title Company and yes, the sole proprietor is not an attorney.

3. How Does the Mortgage Company Trust the Attorney to Send them the Funds?

My client’s dad was concerned that the mortgage company was just sending hundreds of thousands of dollars without any guarantee that it’s being used to pay off the old lien and any other funds due so that the title can be conveyed to the buyer without encumbrances. Again, the Title Attorney is an officer of the court, and the liability and consequences for NOT doing what needs to be done is career-ending and possibly freedom-ending. If they steal the escrow money, then what are they going to do? Run? Hide forever? Eventually they will be caught and the consequences are steep.

4. When Do You Close Escrow in DC?

We don’t call it closing escrow in DC, Maryland or Virginia. And it’s not a loose time frame. When we write a contract, we put all the deadlines for the contingencies in the offer and we also select the closing date. I will consult with the lender before I commit the buyer to these deadlines, but generally without even asking I can put in closings of 25 days to 60 days and it works. Longer than 60 days is unheard of here, because the interest rate would expire. Less than 25 days is difficult if the lender needs time for an appraisal.

My client’s dad said that the title work could take weeks. I said it’s not like that here. It can be pulled quickly and I’ve closed cash deals inside a week.

Everyone lives by the contract dates. We don’t just wait for a lender to get everything underwritten and then start an escrow closing process. We tell them when to close and they make it happen. I have no idea what goes on in New York but one time a lender from a prominent New York City bank said, “It takes us 90 – 120 days to close real estate.”

I said, “Sir, you would be out of business here.”

What if the Sellers Take Things They Aren’t Supposed to?

This is why we do a final walk through. The contract says that the house has to be in the same condition as of x-date. We either select the contract date, so the day you saw the home, or the inspection date. We want to register the condition at that point in time as the condition in which the buyer will accept the home. Dad asked what if it’s not in the same condition. I said, “we don’t close.” Of course this is within reason. If we tour the home and the appliances are gone, we hold closing until it’s resolved. I recently did a final walk through where the toilet was clogged. The listing agent said it was the buyer’s problem. But it’s not. He didn’t own the home yet, so it’s the seller’s problem. And the seller had to fix it prior to closing.

If it is not a huge thing, maybe the seller left a small item behind they don’t want. That won’t hold a buyer up from moving in, nor does it affect the condition of the home. We assume everyone wants to be reasonable and the buyer just closes and disposes of the item.

At the final walk through, my client’s Dad was there. He told us he was happy to pull up and see that the grass was still on the lawn. I asked why it wouldn’t be on the lawn. He said he had a contract where the seller decided to take the lawn with him and only left dirt behind. He said what happens if something like that occurs? I said no one to my knowledge has ever taken the grass with them, but if they did, I would tell your daughter that we are not closing on the house until it’s resolved.


At the closing where I got to watch my client’s Dad in action shuffling papers and telling his daughter and son-in-law what to sign and why to sign it. There was that New York Minute we all know and love! I had a lot of follow up thoughts after as I always wonder what my life would be like if I was doing this job in my hometown. I feel like I would find the New York way frustrating. It seems less based on trust and more on everyone lawyering-up and fighting it out. I prefer the collaborative way we work here.