Let's Make a Deal
A buyer makes an offer, and you have accepted! This moment might bring more tears than the day you got engaged. And like an engagement, you may have the ring but you ain't married yet.
Another similarity to an engagement: If things don't work out, you may get to keep the ring. In this case the ring is the "good faith" or "earnest" money. This money is held in a neutral account called an escrow for a specified period. If the deal goes through, the money is applied to the purchase price at closing. If the deal does not go through, it's possible the seller can keep the earnest money. There is no set amount for this nonrefundable earnest money, though it's often in the thousands of dollars.
Finally, escrow! Escrow is very much like Limbo --- a place where souls wait nervously with their prayer beads until they can make passage to their eternal reward. In this case, the payoff is a completed real estate deal. Passage to the better place occurs when the buyer can pay for the house and the seller can transfer title.
A person called an escrow officer handles the details on your (the seller's) end, including title search, record disbursement, paper statements, and the payout of fees and other costs.
Should You Get a Lawyer?
Even if you have a Realtor --- but especially if you don't --- consider hiring a real estate lawyer to look over the details of the deal. Or, at the very least, take a day to look over and question anything that seems odd on your reports before signing off. This is a big, big purchase.
Then, with pen held firmly in hand, sign on the dozens of dotted lines and Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! You win the grand prize --- your house is sold!