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Things I Learned About Staging while Touring Homes

Header What I learned

Recently, my husband and I went through the process of buying a home. Maybe we’re just the type of buyers who are “tricked” by staging, but the homes we liked were ones where the staging was obvious. Even though we could tell the sellers were living in the space, it didn’t feel like we were stepping into someone’s home without permission. With staged homes that were clean, bright, open, and showed the home through furniture, we felt welcome and could look at the space as a prospective buyer. For homes that weren’t staged, not only did we feel as though we were intruding into someone’s space, we didn’t want to stay long because it didn’t seem like it would be “move-in” ready. The home we ended up purchasing was staged well. Bright, open, clean, and with perfectly spaced furniture to show an idea of what each room could offer. It’s not just us though. In 2015, the National Association of Realtors did a survey that found that 52% of realtors believe that staging increased the dollar amount of a home sale! Although I have read and written many an article about staging, I learned a lot about it while touring homes. Here are the main things I noticed as a potential homebuyer when it comes to staging.

Staging Isn’t the Same as Decorating

When you’re listing (or selling) a home, you shouldn’t equate staging to decorating. Although decorating provides some level of staging to a home, there’s more to it then just putting some furniture in a room and calling it good. Some of the homes that my husband and I visited were vacant, and although they didn’t have any furniture in them, we could tell which had been “staged” and which hadn’t. Cleaning, getting rid of smells and getting a place “move-in” ready before you list it can be considered staging when listing a home that’s vacant.

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When you buy a home that’s been lived in previously, it’s not always going to be 100% spotless. There might be some stains on the wood, or maybe the kitchen will have a few dings in the fridge. However, small and simple things that should be easy to clean (no crumbs on the counter, no bugs in the bathroom) should be taken care of before you show anyone the home. If you don’t feel comfortable cleaning the home yourself, or having your seller clean the home, hire a maid service. Someone who cleans for a living will have a different standard of clean than someone who lives in the home.

Stage Odd Places Around the Home

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Often, homes have a weird room or layout that you might look at and just not know what to do with. “Is it a playroom? A bedroom? An office?” There were a few homes we viewed that had a space that we weren’t sure what should go there, or how it could be used. Some of these spaces were staged, and gave us an idea of how the current resident used the space. However, other sellers removed any personality from the space, which left us scratching our heads as to how the room would be used.

Use staging to highlight odd rooms, show their possibilities and personalities. Buyers love to see what sets homes apart (at least I did) and showcasing that by putting the right kind of furniture in the room can set that home apart from the rest.

Smell Matters

Many staging experts warn listing agents about baking cookies or having strong floral scents when staging a home. Strong scented candles are discouraged because they can turn off a buyer, but listing agents and sellers should also consider other “smells” when staging. It’s hard to not cook food in a home while you’re trying to sell – after all, you live there! But cleaning up from dinner, putting food away in containers, and making sure to take out the garbage before prospective buyers come to see the home is always helpful. It might just be me, but having a scented candle going when I toured a home was more pleasant then smelling dinner from the night before. If you’re staging a home that is empty and still has a lingering smell, consider having the carpets cleaned. It’s hard to sell a home that has a permanent smell attached.

Do vs Do Not staging
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Set out Treats and Drinks

Obviously, this won’t be an everyday occurrence, but on Saturdays (the most popular day for viewing homes) set out a plate of mints, candy or other treats and a bottle of water or two. Not only did this encourage us as prospective buyers to take a bit longer walking through the home and taking in the space, but it helped us to feel welcome, without being overbearing.

Walls Matter

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Another thing many staging experts tell sellers is to paint their homes in a neutral color before putting the home on the market. Although I could see the appeal of this before touring homes, after touring homes I understand it much better.

Not only does the neutral color let the buyer feel like the home is more “move-in” ready, but it makes the rooms feel more open and lighter. Light will reflect better off the neutral colors, and make the rooms feel bigger and brighter.

We ended up buying a place that had been painted with a light white because it reflected the light well and made the space look and feel spacious.

Lights and Mirrors are your Friends!

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Open your windows, set up your mirrors, turn on your lamps, get the highest wattage you can because light and mirrors really do make a room feel bigger and brighter. When we walked into homes that had dark walls, closed curtains and low wattage lamps, we immediately felt cramped and confined. It didn’t seem like a place we would want to live.
We were attracted to places that had more light, as it felt more open. Strategically placed mirrors lit up parts of a room that didn’t get natural sunlight. Smaller rooms that had mirrors added an extra dimension, too. Not only did the light “extend” into the mirror, the room felt like it had grown.

Finally, for buyers, remember staging can hide problems!

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Although staging can really sell a home, it’s important for buyers to remember that sometimes, well-done staging can hide major problems with a home. Cracks in the walls can be hidden with art and mirrors, well-placed furniture and plants can hide carpet stains and cracked floorboards. Make sure to take a good look at staged homes – they may be beautiful, but they can be hiding something, too!

Home Warranties are Appealing

While looking at these homes, the ones that were advertised as coming with a home warranty were more appealing than others. Knowing that our potential new home could be protected from break downs of our systems and appliances made us feel comfortable and secure. If you are listing a home, or if you're planning on selling your home soon, consider getting listing coverage from a home warranty. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the home buying experience (and getting a home warranty along with the sale of a home) check out my company’s website at www.landmarkhw.com. If you’re looking for the perfect home warranty plan for your buyer, you can compare our plans and pricing here. You can read how-to and educational articles at blog.landmarkhw.com as well.

Understanding Home Warranties: Why Did My Contractor Leave Before Making Repairs?

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Do you have a home warranty on your home? If so, you may have noticed that the home warranty process is a bit different than just calling your local repair person and paying a huge sum of money to have them make a repair. In fact, the entire diagnosis process is created so you save the most money possible. If you’re interested in learning about the home warranty diagnosis process, please read our article on the subject here.

If you’ve gone through the whole process of getting a contractor out to your home, and they’ve diagnosed the problem in your system or appliance, you may have had them leave before completing any repairs or replacements. For many homeowners, this is confusing, and they’re left wondering why a contractor would leave before finishing the job. There are a few different reasons that this could happen.

  1. Home Warranties have Busy Seasons

Busy Season

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During summer and winter, home warranties get extremely busy. This is when homeowner’s find out their furnace or air conditioning units aren’t working, and as the temperatures start to fluctuate, they know it’s time to get a repair done. They’ll call Landmark, and with a larger volume of people calling the home warranty, the longer the wait times are, and the more work the contractors have to do to get everyone taken care of. Many times, all the contractors in a particular area are booked through during a busy time. This is why they sometimes only have time to go to your home for diagnosis and then have to rush to another appointment. They will come back once they know they have the parts to make the repair and they have enough time to do a good job.

  1. Ordering Parts Takes Time

Ordering Parts

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If your contractor has gotten approval from Landmark in order to make the repair, but leaves your home without making the repair, they most likely have to wait for parts. Ordering parts takes time. Most contractors don’t have every part for every system in their trucks, ready to go. Even Landmark doesn’t have every part for the contractors. Not only does Landmark or the contractor have to order specific parts, but they have to wait for them to arrive before being able to use them to make repairs.

Landmark also partners with vendors in order to get the best quality parts for the least amount of money, which is why for many repairs all you have to pay is a service call fee. In order to get quality parts for a good price, you may have to wait a bit longer for the parts to arrive before the contractor can use them to make the repair.

This is extremely similar to what happens during summer and winter for many contractors – not just Landmark contractors! It’s part of the HVAC process.

  1. Home Warranty Repairs Require Diagnosis

Waiting for approval

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As you have probably seen in our article about the home warranty diagnosis process, before a repair is completed, Landmark has to approve it. Landmark will only approve the repair if it is covered under the home warranty plan the homeowner has purchased. This may make it so your contractor has to leave your home before making the repair. However …

There is a chance that your contractor DOESN’T need to leave your home while waiting for approval!

You may not have to wait

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Sometimes contractors assume that Landmark will be slow to approve or deny a repair and will put off putting a diagnosis in until much later. Although Landmark allows 24 hours before we require a diagnosis (we understand our contractors are often out all day going to appointments and don’t always have time to update your service request) we are always looking to speed up our process.

Although we have informed contractors that often approval or denial does not take a long time, it’s always good to double check with them that there’s not more they can do with your system before leaving your home. Here are a few steps you as the homeowner can take when communicating with our contractors to ensure they’re getting your repair or replacement done as fast as possible.

If your contractor says they have to wait for diagnosis from Landmark and will then come back, ask them:

  1. Do you have the parts ready for this repair already?

If they do not, they won’t be able to make the repair regardless of getting approval from Landmark. They are unable to do anything further at this time, and will have to come back to make the necessary repairs.

If the contractor does have the parts, encourage them to call the diagnosis into Landmark for approval right then.

  1. Do you have time to fix this repair?

If the contractor says no, the repair most likely takes longer. Work to reschedule a time for them to come back that works for both of you while you’re face-to-face. This way, the contractor will have more than enough time to fix the repair or replacements and won’t feel rushed on time.

If they do have time and the necessary parts to complete the repair, push them to get the approval now from Landmark in order to get your repair completed without trying to make another appointment.

Why contractors might leave

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Now that you’ve read through this article, here at Landmark we hope you feel prepared for the next time you open a service request. Please put any questions you might have at the bottom of this article, and we will respond to them as soon as we can. If you don’t have a home warranty, but you want to get great deals on your repairs and replacements for your systems and appliances, get a personalized quote and compare our plans here.

The Home Warranty Diagnosis Process

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Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you probably have a home warranty and you might be wondering how it works. Although you can always read through the contract that you were sent when you signed up with Landmark, this is a breakdown of why home warranties do things the way they do – specifically with a diagnosis.

  1. When something breaks, look at your contract first.

When something in your home fails, the first thing you should do is get out your contract to see if it’s covered in your home warranty plan. Make sure to read the first page of the contract that discusses the generic parts of your home that Landmark does and does not cover. Then, you can go to the correct section in your contract (heating, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, appliances, etc.) and look at the parts and systems that are included in coverage and which are excluded. Sometimes, knowing if what has failed is covered in a home warranty is relatively easy. If you have a radiant heat system, for example, and it breaks down, a quick glance to the excluded part of your contract shows that a repair or replacement of the system wouldn’t be covered. However, it can also be difficult to know what exact part has caused your system or appliance to fail, or why, so a call to Landmark’s customer service department (866-306-2999) is the next step, OR you can open a claim online by going to www.landmarkhw.com/claim.

Diagnosis with a home warranty

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  1. Call Landmark to open a service request

While on the phone with one of our customer service agents, they can quickly do a preliminary pre-diagnosis to see if they can see an easy solution that will save you money for a service call fee. If it seems like more information is needed to see what has caused the failure with your system or appliance, the customer service agent will open a service request. This will match you to a qualified contractor who will come to your home for diagnosis.

  1. Make an Appointment with the Contractor

When you open a service request (either through the phone or online) you are given a contractor’s information. Usually, a contractor will call you to set up an appointment, however there are times when you will need to contact them in order set up a time when they can come out to your home. Landmark cannot make an appointment for you and a contractor as we don’t have the contractor’s schedule.

Why doesn’t my home warranty schedule contractors?

Our contractors are independent partners. This means they set their own schedules and may also have other appointments during the day that we don’t know about, from customers other than Landmark homeowners. We assign contractors based on three things:

  1. Trade Specialty (A contractor who has a lot of experience with your particular breakdown in your home.)
  2. Location (A contractor who is close to you.)
  3. High Ratings (a contractor who is highly rated and recommended)

Because of this, you should ensure you are contacting the contractor for scheduling. Although you can ask for another assigned contractor from Landmark, all scheduling must be between you and the contractor.

  1. Contractor Diagnosis

When the contractor arrives at your home to take a look at your system or appliance, you will pay them a service call fee. They will then inspect the problematic system or appliance to see if they can establish the reason it has broken down and what needs to happen in order to fix it.

Before any work can be done on the system or appliance however, they need to call in their diagnosis to Landmark in order to get approval to make the repair or replacement.

To keep our yearly premiums low, Landmark unfortunately cannot pay to cover every part of your home when it fails. Thus, the contractor must report the diagnosis to Landmark before making any repairs. If Landmark gets the diagnosis and the part or cause of failure is covered under the home warranty contract, then the contractor can complete the repair without asking for anything more from the homeowner.

However, if the repair or replacement would not be covered under the home warranty, or only part of the repair is covered, the homeowner may have to pay some out of pocket costs to repair or replace the problematic system or appliance.

  1. Contractor Repair or Replacement

If the contractor finds that the repair or replacement is approved by Landmark and covered under the home warranty contract, they have permission to make the repair or replacement.

Sometimes a contractor has to leave your home before completing the repair. If this happens to you, please read our article on why a contractor may have to leave your home before making a repair or replacement here.

By now, you’ve probably realized that the home warranty process for getting a repair or replacement done on your system or appliance is a bit different than just calling a contractor up. The main reason that this is different is to provide cost savings to you! Homeowners buy home warranties so they can save money on expensive repairs and replacements. Landmark partners with contractors and vendors in order to get the best contractors and parts for your home at bargain prices.

If you don’t have a home warranty, but are interested in saving money on home repairs through our network of contractors and vendors, please visit us on our plans and pricing page here! You can compare different plans for your personal home by inputting your home’s location information.

What is a Leak Detection Test? and Other Frequently Asked Questions

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If you’ve ever experienced a broken HVAC system in the middle of summer, you know how hot and uncomfortable you can get. There are a number of reasons an HVAC system may fail, and one of them could be leaking refrigerant.

How your HVAC System Works: The Basics

If you have a forced-air system, your air conditioner works through three basic steps.

First, a gas called refrigerant or Freon is compressed in a compressor and compressor coils in a unit usually found outside of your home. When refrigerant is compressed, it releases heat, cooling down to extremely cold temperatures.

Next, the compressed and cooled refrigerant travels inside of the home to the evaporative coils. These coils are next to a fan. The fan blows warm air from your home past the cold evaporative coils, cooling the air. The air is blown throughout your home.

Finally, as the refrigerant begins to decompress and regain the heat it gave off, it travels back to the compressor outside to complete the process again, until your home is the desired temperature.

Refrigerant is really what makes your air conditioning decrease the temperature in the air and cool your home. Without refrigerant in the system, the air that’s blown past your evaporative coils and throughout your home isn’t cool. Although the refrigerant in the system is in a looped system (meaning the refrigerant continues to go to the compressor to the evaporative coils and back to the compressor without any entry or exit points) this loop can develop pin-sized holes over time that leak refrigerant.

Leak Detection Tests FAQ

Why is a Leak Detection Test Necessary?

If your air conditioning system stops working and an HVAC tech diagnosis the problem as low refrigerant, you’ll obviously want them to refill your refrigerant. Even though this will get your air conditioning up and working again, blowing cold air, this is just a Band-Aid solution to the real problem: finding and fixing the leak. By just filling up the system with new refrigerant, you’ll end up having to continue to buy more and more refrigerant as it continues to leak out of your system.

This is where a Leak Detection Test comes in. HVAC technicians have a number of different methods that we will discuss a bit further on in this article that help them find where your system is leaking refrigerant. By completing a thorough test, they can repair the leaks, sealing the refrigerant inside of the system and ensuring that your keep you cooler for a longer time.

Why is a Leak Detection Test so Costly?

Unfortunately, since most of these leaks are pin-sized holes, it can be extremely difficult to detect where the leak is coming from. It takes a long time and a number of different types of tests to determine where your system is losing refrigerant. Refrigerant lines are often inaccessible, in ceilings, walls and other hard to reach places where the HVAC technician may not be able to repair without opening holes in your walls and ceilings. Not only does this mean a lot of frustration on your end, but also higher costs simply because it’s such a difficult process.

What Types of Leak Detection Tests Are There?

There are a wide variety of leak detection tests. Which one the technician uses for your system depends on what type of system and refrigerant you have and where the technician thinks the leak may be. Here are a few types of leak detection tests your technician may complete:

Bubble Solution

This is the simplest leak detection test. With access to accessible refrigerant lines, the technician is able to place a bubble solution on the line. If the line begins to bubble, the technician can tell that the gas is leaking out of the line and can patch the hole.

Fluorescent Leak Detection

If your technician refills your refrigerant and they suspect there’s a leak, they’ll most likely include some fluorescent dye with the refrigerant. They’ll come back later to use a UV light and see if any of the dye has leaked out of the lines. Once they find where the dye is located, they can easily locate and repair the leak. However, there are different dyes for different systems and refrigerants, and using the wrong dye with the wrong system can ruin an entire air conditioning system. That’s why it’s extremely important to hire a qualified technician.

Halide Torch

A halide torch has a flame that, when it comes in contact with chloride atoms, turns green. However, this isn’t always an effective test because not all refrigerants have chloride.

Electronic Detectors

There are a few different types of electronic detectors. One, the corona-suppression uses an electric current to detect leaks. When the electric current drops, gas is detected. The lower the drop in electric current, the higher the amount of gas.

A heated diode detector heats the refrigerant and breaks the molecules into negative and positive charged atoms. The positive atoms in the gas will attach to the negatively charged wire on the detector, and the detector will sense them, showing a gas leak when the detector goes off.

Ultrasonic Detector

An ultrasonic detector can hear where the gas is escaping in the line, even with pinhole sized leaks.

Can I Complete a Leak Detection Test Myself?

You may see some of these tests, look at the cost for your technician to complete the test, and s ay, “I want to just do this myself!”

As tempting as that is, don’t be tricked into trying to attempt a leak detection test by yourself. Not only can you ruin your system by putting in dyes and solutions that may stop it from working, but you can also endanger yourself by using these tools that you may not have experience with and trying to get into places you can’t reach. Please hire a technician to complete these tests for your own safety, and so you don’t have to buy an entirely new HVAC system after attempting.

Why Landmark Doesn’t Cover for Leak Detections

Although Landmark does cover for leaks in accessible refrigerant lines, we do not cover for leak detection tests. Some homeowners may wonder why Landmark doesn’t cover this option for our customers. It all boils down to cost savings on your end, and providing trusted contractors.

At Landmark, we try to provide cost-effective savings for you. To keep premiums low, there’s simply no way to provide coverage for every possible part of your home, your systems and your appliances. Our yearly premiums would be sky-high if we did. One of the things we do not provide coverage on is accessibility. If a Landmark technician has to open up a wall, ceiling, roof, etc. to get to a refrigerant line, our contract states we will not cover the leak. As most leak detection tests have to open your walls, ceilings, floors etc. simply to see where the leak is and repair it, we do not cover these due to accessibility issues. If we covered things like wall tear down and repairs in our coverage, our yearly premiums would be costlier.

Landmark also hires contractors who are vetted as the top companies to repair and replace your failed systems and appliances. At this time, we do not have contractors who specialize in these types of repairs.

If you are interested in learning more about home warranties, or what we do cover on your specific home, please get a personalized plans and pricing sheet by going to Landmark’s compare plans page, here.

Photos in the Infographic are real products and can be found here, however, remember you should not buy these yourself and use them. Using one of these tests on a system that cannot handle it, can ruin your entire HVAC unit.

Halide Torch 

Ultrasonic Sniffer

Dye Test

Bubble Test

Electronic Test

Between the Offer and Closing: What Happens Next?

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After weeks, even months of searching, you found the perfect home and you made an offer on it. You may have had to go back and forth with the seller to get to a point where the offer is something you both agree to as far as price, closing costs, closing dates and contingencies. Once you both agree and the offer is accepted, you’re on your way to becoming the owner of the home! Before you get your moving van packed up and you start buying curtains, remember, you’re not out of the clear yet. You don’t technically own the home, and there’s a lot to get done before you sign the final papers and are handed the keys and title. Ready to get going? Read on to find out what to do next.

  1. Apply For a Loan

At this point, you’ve more than likely been pre-approved for a loan. A pre-approval from a loan company shows the seller and seller’s agent that you have the ability to find a loan and finance the purchase of a home through a mortgage for the price you’re offering. It’s generally included in an offer on a home. Once you have a pre-approval and your offer is accepted, you need to apply for a loan that makes the most sense for you. This may mean shopping around for the best rates from local lenders, or hiring a mortgage broker to find you the best loan possible.

What happens with an Offer and Closing

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  1. Property Appraisal

Part of the closing process is to appraise the property. While creating a mortgage for a home, the lender wants to know how much the property is worth. They want to make sure the amount of money the bank is lending to the buyer isn’t more than what the home is worth because there’s a higher chance the buyer wouldn’t be able to pay back the mortgage if they sold it down the line. Thus, the lender will have an appraiser come out to the property and determine its worth. The appraiser will also look at comparable homes that have been sold in the same area to ensure that the price offered is correct.

If the home appraises for more than the price the buyer will be paying, this is great for the bank and for the buyer. In this case, the sale of the home will go through. However, if the home appraises for less than the price the buyer will be paying, there may be some problems. The bank will offer to loan the money for the amount the home appraises for, and the buyer will either have to pay more for a down payment or the seller and buyer will have to reach an agreement of a smaller purchase price.

  1. Home Inspection

During this in-between time, you will want to hire a home inspector to go through the property and take a look at the appliances, systems and structure of the home. Some lenders will require a home inspection, but even if yours doesn’t, you should hire a home inspector regardless. The inspector will go through the house and tell you what state the home is in and what you’ll need to have repaired. These items are things that you can give to the seller and ask to have repaired or replaced. Not only will this help you determine what needs to be fixed before (and during) your time in the home, the inspector will educate you on how to turn on systems and appliances and let you ask questions about the home as it’s inspected.

Click here for more details on what to do before, during and after home inspection.

  1. Title Search and Home Warranty

The title company will also do a title search on the property to make sure there are no liens against the home and that it can fully be yours when the time comes. They will possibly do a property survey to ensure the piece of land you’re buying is the accurate acreage, and that none of your neighbors have encroached upon your property lines. You’ll be given the title company’s report, and if there’s nothing holding the title, you can go forward with the sale.

If your contract of sale includes a home warranty, your title company will purchase a home warranty for you, which will be billed to the seller, the agent or you during closing costs. If you have a particular home warranty company that you want to go with on your home, you can tell the title company which home warranty company you want. You can also talk to your Realtor and see which home warranty company would be best for you before it is purchased.

If you’re interested in looking at home warranties and their plans and pricing, use our plans and pricing tool here. You can get a customized pricing list for the specific home you’re looking at purchasing.

  1. Contract of Sale (or Purchase of Sale) Is Made Official

Once the home is inspected, appraised and the seller has agreed to fix the problems that have come up in inspection, the Contract of Sale is made official and underwriters for the mortgage can begin to create the terms of mortgage, or go through the process of “underwriting.” The loan underwriters will dig deep in your financial history to make sure you’re good for paying back your mortgage payments, and you have enough funds to make a down payment and subsequent mortgage payments every month. Most of the time, closing is 30-60 days after the offer is accepted to ensure the underwriters of the mortgage have everything ready to go for closing.

  1. Home Insurance

Next, you’ll need to get home insurance on your new home. This will be factored into your mortgage payment. (It’s part of your taxes and fees). This money will be taken out each month and will go into an escrow account, where the taxes and fees will be paid annually.

  1. Get Funds Ready

Next, you’ll need to make sure your funds are ready for the down payment on your home. If you’re pulling the funds for a down payment out of an investment account, you’ll need to do that straight away. Wherever you’re planning on getting the money for the down payment, you’ll need to make sure they’re in your bank account or wired to an escrow account so that they’re available to pay the down payment on closing day.

  1. Walk Through

Within 48 hours before closing, you’ll go on your final walk through of the home. You’ll look at the repairs the seller made based on the home inspection report, and make sure that everything in the home looks good. If you have questions about the appliances, or something you were expecting to have with the home when you purchased it that isn’t there anymore, make sure to speak up during this walk through.

  1. Closing

Today is the day! Everything is made official. You’ll sign all the paperwork at a title office and get the keys to your new home. You’ll sign things like your loan amortization schedule, the details about your loan, and the sales contract. After signing for a while, you’ll be able to take the keys back to your home. Congratulations! You’re a homeowner.