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Real estate transactions are governed by a wide body of federal statutes and a combination of state statutes and common law. The requirements established by state law often differ significantly from one state to the next.

Real estate brokers are employed as the agent of the seller in order to obtain a buyer for their property. See Agency. The contract between the broker and seller is called a listing agreement. The agreement may be an open agreement whereby the broker earns a commission only if he or she finds a buyer. A listing is exclusive if the broker is the only agent entitled to a commission for finding a buyer. Under an exclusive arrangement, a broker may be entitled to a payment even if the seller finds the buyer without the brokers aid. Real estate brokers and salesperson are licensed and regulated by local state laws. See, e.g., California Civil Code § 2079. Professional organizations may also provide further guidelines.

It is commonly required in real estate contracts that the title to the property sold be marketable. This requires that the seller have proof of title to all the property he or she is selling and that third parties not have undisclosed interests in the title. See Real property.

A title insurance company or an attorney is often employed by the buyer to investigate whether the title is, indeed, marketable. Title insurance companies also insure the buyer against losses caused by the title being invalid. In order to pass title, a deed with a proper description of the land must be executed and delivered. Some states require that the deed be officially recorded to establish ownership of the property and/or provide notice of its transfer to subsequent purchasers. The most common method of financing real estate transactions is through a mortgage.

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