What Happens at Closing?
For a purchase - at closing, the ownership of the property is officially transferred from the seller to you. This may involve you, the seller, real estate agents, your attorney, the lender’s attorney, title or escrow firm representatives, clerks, secretaries, and other staff. You can have someone with your power-of-attorney represent you if you can't attend the closing meeting, or, if you’re out-of-town, the closing can be arranged at a location near you, using a traveling notary - your title company can arrange this for you. The closing process can take anywhere from 1-hour to several depending on how closely you want to read all the documents presented to you.
Most paperwork in closing or settlement is done by attorneys and real estate professionals. You may or may not be involved in some of the closing activities; it depends on who you are working with.
Prior to closing you should have a final inspection, or "walk-through" to ensure requested repairs were performed, and items agreed to remain with the house are there such as drapes, lighting fixtures, etc.
In most states the settlement is completed by a title or escrow firm in which you forward all materials and information plus the appropriate cashier's checks so the firm can make the necessary disbursement. Your representative will deliver the check to the seller, and then give the keys to you.
For a refinance - closing consists of signing all pertinant documents, like the note, deed of trust, etc., followed by a 3 day right of rescission in which you can change you mind and cancel the loan. Barring that, funds will then be disbursed to pay off existing mortgages on the property, and debt designated to be paid off; also to pay any insurance or taxes that are due. If you are getting cash out, this is when you receive those funds, usually by wire transfer.