The seller accepted your offer, and now you've just got to sign on the dotted line. Right?

For some home buyers, the closing day for a real estate purchase is as formal and complicated as the transaction itself. For others, it’s just a blip on the radar. Either way, there are some important things to keep in mind as you make your way to homeownership.

Your mortgage rate could expire

Mortgage interest rates can fluctuate daily, and the rate your bank quoted isn’t good forever. Instead, a bank will “lock-in” your interest rate for 45, 60 or any number of days. Once that lock expires, you may have to pay a higher rate.

Any number of issues can come up: open permits, illegal renovations, or other types of roadblocks might require the loan process to stop until resolution.

For example, a buyer in upstate New York learned at the last minute that a previous owner built an addition to the home in the 1970s but never documented it properly. It turns out it was so bad that it wouldn’t pass today’s requirements. The buyer had to hire an architect, re-draw plans, and document the issue before the bank approved the loan. And, consequently, he lost the rate he’d been quoted.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, and don’t assume it’s a smooth journey to the closing table. Rate-lock expiration can throw an expensive wrench into the closing process.

The mortgage process isn’t over yet

Some buyers think once they’ve completed the application and submitted paperwork, their loan is approved and ready to go.

Not so fast. Today, some lenders will verify income, assets or credit all the way up until the very last minute. Don’t make any major changes to your finances until the closing.

That means don’t apply for a new credit card, finance a new car, or take a new job without running it by your mortgage professional.

The smallest (even seemingly insignificant) change to your finances can affect your ability to be approved for a loan.

And the house isn’t yours yet

In some locations, the walk-through is a formal event, and in others, it’s a checked box. Most real estate contracts provide for a walk-through up to 24 hours before the closing. Be sure to take advantage of it.

Why? You don’t want to close on the home if systems aren’t working, the seller hasn’t made the necessary repairs, or the seller hasn’t moved out.

If things aren’t as they should be, you can postpone the closing until they are.

You may need to do some homework

Once the home closes, not only is it physically yours, but also it’s completely your responsibility. In most states, the law is on the side of the buyer, and requires the seller to disclose any issues and confirm they’ve been resolved.

In others, it’s “caveat emptor,” or buyer beware. In this case, it’s up to the purchaser to double- and triple-check that the seller closes all outstanding building permits, releases all liens from the title report, and resolves any issues with the local building department, assessor or health department.

The actual closing could be very low-key

In most places, the end happens in parts, and the two parties don’t need to meet. Buyers sign their loan documents in the privacy of their home or office, and the seller shows up at the title company to sign off on the deed. It’s seamless and straightforward, and happens in the background.  Buyers wire their down payment, and sellers receive their funds electronically.

But sometimes, the buyers and sellers and lots of attorneys and title folks sit around the table for hours, passing paperwork and using calculators. The process is archaic and cumbersome. What’s worse: If the transaction wasn’t smooth, the atmosphere around the “closing table” could be pretty tense.

What can you do?

The easiest way to a smooth closing is to be on the lookout for red flags and do lots of research.

Have a solid team on your side, starting with a good local agent. He or she can refer you to necessary mortgage pros, title insurances, escrow offices, attorneys or inspectors.

Processes and customs vary by market, and customs that apply in one community won’t matter across the country, so getting as much information upfront as you can will help avoid unpleasant surprises.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

About the author

Brendon DeSimone

Brendon DeSimone is the author of Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling. A 15-year veteran of the residential real estate industry and a nationally recognized real estate expert, Brendon has completed hundreds of transactions totaling more than $250M. His expert advice is often sought out by reporters and journalists in both local and national press. Brendon is a regularly featured guest on major television networks and programs including CNBC, FOX News, Bloomberg, Good Morning America, ABC’s 20/20 and HGTV. Brendon is the manager of the Bedford and Pound Ridge offices of Houlihan Lawrence, the leading real estate brokerage north of New York City.
 
 

A little extra care may be needed to show off your property's assets during the cold and snowy months.

Although traditionally spring and fall are the prime seasons for selling a home, circumstances sometimes require homeowners to put their property on the market during the winter. The good news is that, given access to mobile apps and so much information online, selling in mid-winter may not be so tough.

The supply of homes for sale (your competition) is light, and buyers are still looking. If you have to list your home during the winter, you’ll get a pass on landscaping and some curb appeal issues. But there are some important points to consider when listing your home during the cold months.

Be sure the home is easily accessible

If there is snow or an ice storm, clear the driveway, sidewalk and any pathways on which potential buyers may walk. If there are back steps, don’t forget to clear those, too.

You never know when a buyer will want to see the home. In markets where your agent uses a lockbox for showings, you could get a request for a last-minute showing any day.

Keep the heat on

There is nothing worse than walking into a cold home. It’s not warm or inviting, and that affects the buyer’s senses. A chilly reception ensures their first impression is not a good one.

If you have an upcoming showing, be sure the heat is on and the house is warm and cozy.

Show off your winter wonders

If you have a fireplace in your home, there is no better time to show it off than the winter months. Buyers love walking into an open house where there is a fire going. It adds to the ambiance and provides a comforting feeling.

Talk with your agent ahead of listing to make sure that they are on board to use the fireplace. If you haven’t serviced it in a while, get it cleaned to be certain that using it doesn’t backfire. Keep the kindling and logs loaded up at all times.

Let buyers see your outside attributes

In the warmer months, it’s not uncommon for buyers to step out on the deck, down into the yard and into the landscaping. They will want to see the outdoor space and get a feel for the lot and the land.

Although in winter buyers may be less likely to tour the grounds, they will still want to know what’s there. If you have a deck, pool, patio or outdoor features that add value, make sure it is visible from inside. If the winter months or snow make an outdoor asset invisible, be certain that your marketing features it so buyers get the whole picture.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published January 16, 2015.

About the author

Brendon DeSimone

Brendon DeSimone is the author of Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling. A 15-year veteran of the residential real estate industry and a nationally recognized real estate expert, Brendon has completed hundreds of transactions totaling more than $250M. His expert advice is often sought out by reporters and journalists in both local and national press. Brendon is a regularly featured guest on major television networks and programs including CNBC, FOX News, Bloomberg, Good Morning America, ABC’s 20/20 and HGTV. Brendon is the manager of the Bedford and Pound Ridge offices of Houlihan Lawrence, the leading real estate brokerage north of New York City.

Follow these tips from HGTV's Christina El Moussa to catch the savvy baby-boomer eye.

On average, the American population is getting older. More than 76 million Americans were born between 1946 and 1964 (the baby-boom generation), which means a large portion of our population is aged 50 and older. Baby boomers are either retired or reaching retirement age, and they are quickly becoming empty nesters.

These aging Americans are looking to downsize because they no longer want or need their five-bedroom, two-level homes. A home that better fits their current lifestyle is much more appealing, especially if it means they don’t have to make the move to a retirement home.

When Tarek and I are flipping a house in a neighborhood that attracts baby boomers (a less expensive neighborhood with smaller homes), we make sure to include features that appeal to this generation. An easy-access shower or a main-floor bedroom may be some of the features that first come to mind, but baby boomers have other preferences and needs that make a future home more appealing.

If you’re flipping a home that could attract baby boomers, you’ll want to keep these tips in mind as you renovate.

Luxury features

While baby boomers may be looking to downsize in square footage, they’re looking to upsize the luxury in everything else. Budget-friendly remodeling tricks (such as painting the kitchen cabinets) might work just fine for younger homeowners, but chances are baby boomers will be a little more choosy. After all, they’ll most likely be living in this home for the rest of their lives.

You can’t go wrong with installing luxury features like wood floors, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances. These features are sure to bring potential baby-boomer buyers to your flip.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

More convenience

Baby boomers are tired of living in an old home that requires maintenance and work. Instead, they want something new that provides more convenience and less stress.

Boomers love modern appliances that they won’t have to repair, a yard that’s easy to maintain, energy-efficient windows and doors to save on their heating bills, and a large, open floor plan that provides lots of space and natural light.

Additionally, baby boomers prefer a one-story home because they won’t have to go up or down stairs to get to their bedroom.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Home office

Many baby boomers are still in the transition phase from working a full-time job to retiring. Often boomers want to keep working even after they’ve retired because they enjoy bringing in the extra income. A home office will allow them to work from home without having to commute every day.

While you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money on transforming a room into an office, setting aside a room to be used specifically as a den or an office will be appealing to those baby boomers who want to continue working.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Easy-to-maintain yards

This goes hand-in-hand with more convenience, but I can’t seem to stress it enough. Put simply, baby boomers want a yard that doesn’t need a lot of work.

While finding a zero-maintenance yard is not very likely (except, of course, in maintenance-free communities), hardscaping a portion of the yard or replacing the lawn with a patio will cut down on yard work.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Extra space

Baby boomers love extra space — but it has to be flexible space. They enjoy space they can adjust to their lifestyle and preferences. Rooms they can easily transform from a guest room into an office and then a hobby room are much more attractive than a space meant to be a bedroom forever.

Boomers like the freedom to choose how they use their extra space, especially when it doesn’t require a lot of work on their part to make the changes.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Baby boomers require unique features in their homes, which can be overwhelming if you’re not sure how to appeal to their generation. But keep these tips in mind during your next flip and you’re sure to attract baby boomers.

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About the author

Christina El Moussa

Christina El Moussa is an experienced real estate investor and reality TV star. She and Tarek El Moussa co-founded Real Estate Elevated, a program providing real estate investment training. The program is focused on helping students all over the country successfully find and flip houses. Please visit Real Estate Elevated for more details.

Why are more property owners requiring renters insurance? The truth is it's a mutually beneficial necessity.

By Barry Bridges 

In years past, an apartment-hunter might have been able to find a place with little more than the first and last month’s rent and a handshake.

But today, the conditions for signing a lease might include anything from a criminal background check to a pet interview.

Times have changed, and the changes go beyond the vetting process. A prime example is renters insurance, which has gone from something that your insurance agent might recommend to a lease stipulation.

An estimated 44 percent of property management companies require renters insurance at all of their properties, with another 40 percent making it mandatory at some of their properties, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Why have so many apartment communities adopted mandatory renters insurance, and how should renters feel about it? The answer could be that necessity sometimes leads to positive outcomes.

The economics of insurance and liability

The trend toward mandatory renters insurance started gaining steam more than a decade ago.

In 2004, The Wall Street Journal reported that apartment companies had seen average increases as high as 50 percent in their property and liability insurance rates. In response, more property owners began making renters insurance mandatory.

The companies’ goal was to relieve the economic pressure by requiring tenants to share more of the risk and financial responsibility, possibly getting a break on their own insurance rates in the process.

At the time, many commercial properties faced higher prices for terrorism insurance as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. In addition to the threat of property-damaging catastrophes, they were also facing the perennial concern of liability.

A renters policy that includes liability coverage could help reduce legal exposure for both tenant and landlord — if, for example, a guest suffers an injury on the property.

Sharing a cost and receiving a benefit

What made good financial sense for apartment companies in the early 2000s continues to make sense today.

What about renters, though?

Naturally, the idea of an apartment community’s ownership passing along costs to its tenants might not seem fair to all concerned. However, renters insurance offers tangible benefits regardless of whether you have your policy voluntarily or as a requirement of your lease.

  • In addition to liability protection, renters insurance can offer contents coverage if your belongings are damaged, destroyed, or stolen — something that a landlord’s insurance typically doesn’t offer. And if you think an apartment can’t hold enough property to justify the cost of insuring it, consider the research suggesting that the typical renter of a 2-bedroom apartment has $30,000 worth of possessions.
  • Renter’s insurance remains a bargain. In 2013, the average yearly cost of premiums was estimated at $188, or about $15 a month. Average premiums have stayed stable for most of the past decade.
  • You might be able to save money if you bundle a renters policy with your auto insurance, so be sure to ask your agent about that option.

The fact that the estimated number of renters insurance policies increased from 29 percent to 40 percent between 2011 and 2015 suggests that more renters have come to realize its value, in every sense of the word.

Mutually beneficial solutions

Keep in mind that every requirement for renting an apartment serves some kind of purpose. While the list of prerequisites and procedures has grown longer — and arguably more tedious — something that might seem like a bother at first could turn out to be a blessing later on.

Don’t think of renters insurance as one more hoop to jump through. Try to see it as turning a mutual necessity into a mutual benefit.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

About the author

HomeInsurance.com

HomeInsurance.com is an online resource for homeowners and drivers across the country. Offering comparative automobile and home insurance quotes, consumers rely on HomeInsurance.com for the most competitive rates from the top-rated insurance carriers in the country. The HomeInsurance.com blog provides fresh tips and advice on a range of financial topics to help homeowners and home buyers make educated decisions about their insurance purchases. 
 
 

Homeowner Michael Montoya watched his home come to life from the ground up.

By Michael Montoya, as told to Natalie Wise

When my fiancée and I were home shopping, we looked and looked, and did a lot of comparisons. Price comparisons, size comparisons, what we’d need to fix in the future. We were both first-time home buyers so we were very thorough in our process.

A lot of people felt their homes were dipped in gold, but all we saw were 1990s split-levels with high asking prices. I didn’t want a home that had a 20-year-old roof and a bunch of things to fix on day one. It got disheartening after a while to think of spending that much money for something already a few decades old.

Then we started looking at new construction online, and things just started clicking. We found a development we liked that’s located halfway between her parents’ house and my parents’ house. It’s a secluded area surrounded by farmhouses.

We knew we wanted as much green space as possible, so we found the largest lot in the development, at the end of a cul-de-sac. When we were looking at older houses, most only had 0.15 acre lots, but ours is 0.25 acre. This should be great for re-sale value down the road, too.

Making plans

Once we bought the lot, we started looking for builders. The builder we liked had already started two other houses on the block, so it was perfect. We were third to build in the development. Our builder had just taken a few weeks’ vacation after finishing the second house, so we had to wait a few extra weeks, but he deserved the time off.

Since this is our first house, we knew we wanted to start small. A cozy one-story ranch with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms was ideal. It’s just over 1,200 square feet. Maybe down the road we’ll add a second level, but we have plenty of space for now.

We also thought this size would leave us plenty of room on the lot for landscaping. I’m going to do a lot of the planning and work for the landscaping myself.

The current porch is small, so adding on to that will be a priority, too. Just off the porch we’ll add a stamped cement patio. We’re excited to put in a pergola, add our gas fireplace, and entertain outdoors this summer.

We broke ground on April 10, 2015, and the builder told us it would take 120 days. We got our keys August 5, so they were right on time.

Lessons learned

The hardest part about the construction process for us was trying to visualize it all from paper. Once the framed structure was up, I was a bit alarmed because it looked so small. I wondered if I had vastly underestimated the size in my head. Of course, once it started getting finished out, my fears dissipated. We just had to wait out the process and trust the builder.IMG_2531 sm

The second-hardest part was staying on budget. There are so many upgrades to choose from, and it’s hard to be disciplined. I know I can do many of the upgrades myself over time, but even the basic trims and finishes are expensive.

It was also tempting to buy accessories  and furniture beforehand, but we are forcing ourselves to live with it a bit first.

My best advice to anyone looking at new construction: Stick to your budget, be patient and talk it through.

At first, we just wanted to get in the house as soon as possible. Now that we’ve lived here for a few months, it feels more lived-in. We’re especially enjoying the open floor plan for entertaining. We love to fill our house with family and friends, and are glad the space feels cozy for that.

The cabinets, countertops and paint colors are all dark and earthy. They go perfectly with our love of coffee, jazz, wine and entertaining. But we did white trim to provide contrast.

The exterior is gray and white, which should be a nice backdrop for the colorful landscape we’re looking forward to completing this summer. While it took us a while to choose everything, it was great to be able to pick all of the details ourselves.

No one has ever made memories here before. That’s the most exciting part.

Wondering if new construction is right for you? Search new construction listings, and get more home-buying tips and resources to help you decide.

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About the author

Natalie Wise

Natalie Wise, M.A., covers real estate and celebrity real estate for Zillow.