01/30/09 — Realtors, others: Eliminating Fridays will affect closings

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Realtors, others: Eliminating Fridays will affect closings

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on January 30, 2009 1:46 PM

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Attorney Farris A. Duncan, center, explains the stack of house closing paperwork to new homeowners William Baron, left, and his wife Ashley as Town and Country realtor P.J. Parraga, fourth from left, and Premiere Home Mortgage agent Steve Grant look on Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 at Duncan\'s law office in Goldsboro.

Closing the Wayne County Register of Deeds Office and Tax Office on Fridays would hurt the local real estate business at a time when the industry is already struggling, business leaders say.

A group of business leaders met with the county manager and the News-Argus to discuss his proposal to expand the county's four-day work week to include all county departments.

Smith said the experiment is saving county dollars and told commissioners recently he would like to extend the policy to all departments.

But such a move would damage the real estate business by making it more difficult to close on a home sale at the end of the week -- and could cause even more problems if there is a holdup in the process. More than a third of all home closings take place on Friday, the professionals said.

In addition to stretching out the already complicated legal work, the change would send the wrong message about how Wayne does business, the real estate executives said. No other county in the state closes all its offices on Friday, they noted. People coming from other areas would likely find such a practice antiquated, they added.

The change would save the county little money, the group told Smith. The courthouse, where the two offices are located, would remain open.

The decision to change the hours was made when gasoline prices were nearing $5 a gallon. That was one of the reasons cited for the change, along with saving on electricity and other utilities. Commissioners have been pressed to come up with ways to trim costs while continuing to finance county projects.

David Bennett, owner of First Financial Mortgage Co., said closing on a home is a complicated transaction, involving last minute inspections and changes, insurance liability and record-keeping. Stretching out a closing from Thursday until Monday would be a hardship on both the buyer and the seller, as well as the half dozen other parties involved, he said.

"We just see it as a detriment to our business," he said. "Every day that's lost cost us money ... and that costs the county money, too."

Judith McMillen of the Prudential The McMillen Real Estate Group said the hardship would be worse on families with less income, such as young military families buying their first home.

"It's hurting those who can least afford it," she said.

Forcing parties to rush an agreement to get it completed by Thursday evening could add unnecessary costs over the three-day weekend should the deal not be finished before Friday.

"This is not just a problem for Realtors," Ms. McMillen said. "The public needs to be aware of the repercussions."

Ed Swindell of Realty World Carolina Living, said he estimated that closing the office would negatively affect about 2,000 Wayne residents who work in the building, real estate and legal fields.

Ms. McMillen noted that many families show up for closings with furnishings, ready to move in -- and limited time and money. If the deal hits a snag, the families are left with rented trucks they are paying for and nowhere to put their families. The extra time also adds costs -- for the buyer and seller.

She also noted the timing between signing documents in a lawyer's office and getting those documents recorded in the register's office. Insurance could be a problem if the deed isn't recorded immediately, she pointed out.

"Gambling for 30 minutes to record a deed is one thing," she said, "but gambling for four days is something else."

Bennett said having the deeds office closed every Friday would be "like being closed two months of the year."

Farris Duncan, a lawyer who handles many real estate transactions, said closing the office on Friday "creates an inconvenience for everybody."

The date of the deed's recording has an effect on every other part of the transaction, he said.

"I can understand the county's efforts to save money, but I have real concerns about the register of deeds office," Duncan said.

All of the business leaders said Smith listened to the concerns and seemed to appreciate their plight.

"He was kind, considerate, open and really listened to us," Bennett said.