Tag Archives: Advice

When Buying a House Always Keep These 4 Things in Mind

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couple signing home purchase...
ShutterstockEven if you’re pre-approved for a loan, make sure you give yourself enough time for the extensive documentation.

By Geoff Williams

Buying a house is a little like asking someone to marry you. In both cases, you make your offer believing there’s a good chance you’ll get a yes, but you know you could get a no. If the answer is yes in either situation, your fates will be linked for many years to come — possibly until death do you part. But if you don’t get an immediate answer, the wait can be excruciating. We may not be able to help you with your love life, but if you want your house offer to be greeted with a yes — and a quick one — here are four rules to follow.

Be likable. Money talks, but so do you. And you don’t want to say anything that could turn off a seller.
“You’re most likely buying someone’s home that they have memories and a lot of emotional ties to,” says Marc Takacs, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Atlanta. So if the seller is present when you see the house, keep quiet about your grand plans for landscaping or repainting the living room.

[Read: The Hidden Costs of Buying a Home.]

“Don’t tell someone how bad, ugly, stupid, etcetera, that someone’s house is, and then try to buy it. That doesn’t work,” Takacs says.

Well, it might, if the homeowner is desperate and primed to sell, but if there are other buyers circling, you’ve given the seller an excuse to reject your offer and accept someone else’s.

Another no-no, according to Takacs, is being high-maintenance. “Don’t overstay your welcome,” he advises. “I don’t think anything irritates a seller more than when a buyer visits a house too much or stays for too long.”

He also suggests that when you submit your offer, avoid making unreasonable demands such as a lightning-fast closing date. “Try to be considerate of the fact people are trying to carry on with their lives, move and all the other stuff that goes along with that. Being pushed out of your house can be very unsettling,” Takacs says.

Don’t be stingy with your offer, but don’t overreach. If you offer exactly what the seller is asking, you will get his or her attention and probably their respect and appreciation. In many cases, your offer

“If you buy it for more than you can afford, you’ll end up hating the house and yourself in the long run.”

will be accepted. Offer a tad bit more, and you may chase other buyers away whose offers are at or below the list price.

At the other end of the spectrum, a lowball offer may insult the homeowner. In some instances, it may be shrewd to offer significantly less than the list price, but first consult your real estate agent, who will probably have the best read on what your seller is likely to accept.

If you’re looking to make the strongest offer possible, make sure it’s not so high that you can’t afford it, warns Kelly Long, a Chicago-based money coach and member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “Don’t offer more than you can practically afford, even if you’re approved for more,” she says, adding that this can easily happen if you’re looking at a house that’s out of your price range.

[Read: How to Compete in a Seller’s Housing Market.]

“If you buy it for more than you can afford, you’ll end up hating the house and yourself in the long run,” she says.

That’s because the more expensive your house is, the higher your monthly payments will likely be. Long cites the rule of thumb that a monthly payment shouldn’t exceed more than 28 percent of your gross income. That includes taxes and insurance, she adds.

Be ready for a yes. If the seller says no, the next steps are clear enough: You make a better offer, or continue house-hunting. But even if the seller accepts the offer, you don’t have those front door keys yet.

“You may be pre-approved based on your credit report and supplying your W-2, but the [mortgage] application process is much more involved and requires extensive documentation in a short window of time,” Long says. “Make sure you have some time set aside to gather all the necessary information in the week following the offer’s acceptance. You’ll also need to schedule, attend and pay for an inspection in that first week, so make sure you have the money on hand to pay for that.”

You may also be asked to offer earnest money, a deposit you give a homeowner to show you’re serious about your offer. Generally, earnest money is anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent of the house’s total purchase price. You can get the money back if the sale doesn’t go through, but you can also lose it if you flake out and decide not to buy the house for no reason, or you don’t follow what you’ve agreed to in the purchase contract.

Don’t sabotage yourself to seal the deal. Speaking of that contract, be careful about what you put in it.
Yes, you want the house. You want the sellers to like you. But in an effort to get those keys from the sellers, don’t be their doormat.

According to Kent Sisk, an account executive at NexTitle, a title and escrow agency based in Bellevue, Washington, “the market is so hot right now [that] many buyers are waiving the inspection period, sometimes waiving the inspection altogether, in order to get their offer approved.”

Not smart, Sisk says.

[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]

After all, you don’t want to learn after you buy the house that the roof leaks or there’s mold hidden away in the ventilation. Or you may end up berating yourself if you waive the appraisal contingency, which lets you back out of the deal if the lender concludes the appraised value is less the sale price, and later learn that you vastly overpaid for your home.

Ideally, your offer will be one that makes everyone, the seller and you, happy and reassured that everything between now and the closing will go smoothly. If you feel like you need to win this house at all costs and things go badly after your offer is accepted, not only will you lose — it will definitely cost you.


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5 Design Trends That Homebuyers Desire

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Modern villa, interior, view room from kitchen
ShutterstockThe open concept kitchen appears to be here to stay, and quartz is replacing granite as a desired countertop material.

By AJ Smith

Early summer is often referred to as homebuying season. It is traditionally a time when more homes go on the market and more people are looking to buy a home. This means it can also be a competitive time to get the best price for sellers. But you have to be offering something that buyers want.

As the housing market’s recovery continues, there are some trends in design for this year’s high season.

1. Open: The biggest change in home design of the past quarter century is most likely the open concept kitchen. While traditionally the kitchen was hidden away and disconnected from the rest of the house, we now use kitchens as an opening to our living space. The focus on entertaining guests may be a source for this trend as open spaces maximize the ability to gather and relax with friends and family even while still preparing refreshments. It looks like this idea is here to stay and the walls will

Spaces are currently being designed for aging consumers.;

continue to come down between rooms of different function.

2. Neutral: Neutral palettes are dominating in the home and replacing the use of bright colors. White, sandy and gray tones are popular among the main features while bold colors pop up in small details, like throw pillows, lighting or backsplash. Subtle glamour is also emphasized through small decor dazzling against the neutral background.

3. Universal: Spaces are currently being designed for aging consumers; more Americans want to age in place. Universal design elements like having the master bedroom on the first floor, low drawer appliances and showers that accommodate benches or bars are growing in popularity to accommodate people who anticipate having less mobility in the future.

4. Quartz: When it comes to kitchens and bathrooms, factory-engineered quartz is taking the market by storm. While granite was the most popular countertop material for more than a decade, it appears it is being replaced. With the same professional look and feel as granite, quartz resists cracking and chipping and is non-porous so it is easier to clean and rarely gets stains.

5. Green: Energy-efficient and water-saving appliances are now standard in new or renovated homes. Touchless faucets, smaller master bathtubs, high-efficiency light fixtures, toilets and dishwashers have become preferred options as energy and financial savings can be significant. These are not only green options, but savings that homeowners can clearly see in their bills.

Anticipating the trends will help you get the most money for your home sale and help position your property in the best light to attract a seller.


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What to Do If Your Home Is Mapped in a High-Risk Flood Zone

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Superstorm-Flood Maps
Wayne Parry/The Associated PressA December 2012 photo shows how the home on the left in Tuckerton, New Jersey, was elevated high enough to avoid the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, while the home to the right, which was not, was severely damaged.

By Katherine Wood

You’ve probably heard the story: The Federal Emergency Management Agency mapped the house of someone you know into a high-risk flood zone, requiring the owner to pay thousands of dollars in flood insurance rates. Maybe you’re that homeowner, and the back corner of your yard now measures slightly below your neighborhood’s base flood elevation. What do you do now?

First of all, don’t panic. The U.S. government recently took steps to soften the impact of many of the most drastic proposed changes to flood insurance this year. The Biggert-Waters Reform Act of 2012, by eliminating insurance subsidies in high-risk areas and through other measures, was designed to make the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) self-sustaining.

While the act remains in effect, President Obama in March signed the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which modifies key parts of Biggert-Waters to make for a more gradual transition toward sustainability. However, if you received a letter from your mortgage lender indicating the need to purchase or pay higher premiums for flood insurance, you should take it seriously.

Here are few ways to reduce your risk of flood damage and lower your payments.

Learn the terms. Whether you already have flood insurance or are new to the coverage, it helps to know the important terms:

  • Base flood elevation (BFE): The elevation at which there is a 1 percent or greater annual chance of flooding. The higher your house’s elevation sits above the BFE for your neighborhood, the lower the flood risk. FEMA uses this elevation to determine your home’s risk.
  • Special flood hazard area: If you’re just now finding out that your house is high-risk, your lender probably sent you a notification that it’s in a special flood hazard area. This area is based on the base flood elevation and can determine your flood insurance rates.

Check the map. If you believe there’s been a mistake regarding your house’s placement in a flood zone, take a look at FEMA’s maps. The agency’s online map service center can provide you with the basic information you need. It will tell you the base flood elevation for your house’s location. Use these maps generally, as they aren’t the official Flood Insurance Risk Maps that FEMA uses to determine risk.

Get a professional opinion. If you intend to challenge your house’s position on the flood map, you must first send a Letter of Map Amendment request to FEMA. After that, you should hire a licensed land surveyor to perform an elevation survey and determine the official risk for your property.

How to reduce the amount you pay. If the challenge fails and your house remains within the boundaries of a high-risk flood zone, purchasing flood insurance is a mandatory requirement for most mortgage holders. There are ways, however, to cut your monthly premiums:

  • Purchase a Preferred Risk Policy: Most preliminary maps take 6 to 12 months to take effect, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA recommends purchasing a Preferred Risk Policy during that time, which can provide coverage at a lower cost. The premium for a Preferred Risk Policy can reach as low as $128 per month, according to FloodSmart.gov. The NFIP recently extended eligibility for Preferred Risk Policies to apply to properties remapped on or after Oct. 8, 2008.
  • Grandfather in old rates:
    • If you buy a Preferred Risk Policy before the new maps go into effect, you may renew your lower rates for 2 years. In the third year, you potentially can qualify for low-to-moderate risk rates instead of high-risk rates.
    • If you already have a flood insurance policy and the base flood elevation has increased in your area, your premiums could increase. Grandfather rules, however, allow you to use the earlier elevation to calculate rates, as long as you’ve maintained continuous flood insurance coverage on the property.
    • You also can use grandfather rules if you can prove that your home was built in compliance with the flood map that was in effect at the time of construction, according to FloodSmart.gov.

Enjoy your protection. Your flood insurance rates might increase as a result of remapping, but at least you’ll have coverage if the worst should happen.

Even homeowners in lower-risk areas should consider purchasing protection and could qualify for Preferred Risk Policies. In fact, 20 percent of flood insurance claims come from moderate-to-low risk areas, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

The average flood insurance claim from 2008 to 2012 was nearly $42,000, according to FloodSmart.gov, so purchasing coverage isn’t a bad bet. Even if your lender doesn’t require you to purchase flood insurance, flood protection could save your house from high water and you from taking a financial bath.

Katherine Wood writes for HomeInsurance.com, an online insurance resource for homeowners and drivers across the country. Offering comparative homeowners and automobile insurance rates, 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 homebuyers make educated decisions about their insurance purchases.

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 or AOL.


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Home Not Selling? 5 Steps to Take

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house for sale with
Shutterstock“Often sellers make the mistake of factoring in what price they need in order to sell the property.”

By Geoff Williams

The housing market is faring much better than it was a few years ago, but sales have slowed from 2013. If that “for sale” sign has been on your front lawn a lot longer than you expected, you may be wondering: What do most homeowners do in this situation? It’s best to consult your real estate agent, assuming you have one, but you may also want to consider the following suggestions to sell your home quickly.

Lower the price. This is the most obvious suggestion, but price is often the problem. “Often sellers make the mistake of factoring in what price they need in order to sell the property,” says Rob Anzalone, co-founder of Fenwick Keats Real Estate, a New York City residential brokerage and property management firm. “Need is desire and isn’t a factor in establishing market value.”

Another reason sellers price their home above the market value, Anzalone says, is because they’re afraid they’ll sell for too low of a price and then look like a sucker. But he adds: “It’s very difficult to underprice a property. If the price is too low, buyers will bid it up to market value with multiple offers.”

[Read: 7 Reasons Your House Isn’t Selling.]

As for how low to go, make it count, says Margaux Pelegrin, a Realtor at Philadelphia-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors. “A $1,000 price reduction won’t be effective on a $400,000 listing,” she says. “The price should be reduced a minimum of 2 percent.”
She adds that one large price reduction is always better than lowering the price in small increments.

Deep clean. Hopefully this is the first thing you did before putting the house on the market, but maybe you didn’t clean as thoroughly as you thought. “Cleaning up the interior and exterior by painting, replanting or updating carpet can make a big difference,” says Leslie Piper, a housing specialist with Realtor.com. Another benefit is that you’ll pare down your personal belongings and you’ll “make the home look larger,” she adds.

Also consider keeping your pets out of the house during the selling period. “If the pet smell is apparent, it can be a real turnoff to prospective buyers,” Piper says. She suggests removing them from the home when prospective buyers are wandering through the house, and, if possible, boarding them at the house of a friend or family member.

And pay special attention to the home’s entrance, suggests Jennifer Darby Metzger, a broker with ERA Justin Realty Co., in Rutherford, N.J. “Can you put down some fresh mulch to tidy up the curb appeal?” Metzger asks. “Sometimes just taking out old rugs, giving a fresh coat of paint and beautifying the entrance can help the house sell.”

Consider finding a new real estate agent. If you get the sense that your agent never has time for you or your home has been on the market forever, it may be time to work with someone else.

“It’s imperative that when listing your property to go with a local expert – a broker who is knowledgeable and has a solid marketing plan,” Anzalone says. “Often sellers will go with the broker that discounts their fees the greatest.”

[Read: 5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Real Estate Agent.]

That’s understandable, since you want to keep as much profit as you can, but real estate agents exist for a reason. The good ones know what they’re doing. The bad ones, Anzalone says, may not have the budget or expertise to market your house effectively.

If you decide to make a switch, be sure to dissolve your contract. You don’t want the agent still working to sell your house while you’re working with someone else.

Fix what needs to be fixed. This is easy to do if there’s a glaring problem with your home, but what if there is something subtle you haven’t noticed?

Liz Lucchesi, an agent with McEnearney Associates, Inc. Realtors, based in Alexandria, Va., says she and her homeowner clients keep a feedback spreadsheet for this sort of problem. If you had a number of potential homebuyers marching through your house and eyeing but not buying, you can start to look for patterns.

“Is there a consistent deficiency noted by each and every buyer who has come in the door?” she asks.

If so, fix the problem, and let everyone know about the changes, Lucchesi advises. “Take pictures of the changed areas that were addressed and post them every and anywhere,” she says. “Facebook, Twitter, the multiple listing service and the [home selling] websites.”

Look at your photos again. That’s right — the photos on the websites where you’re showcasing your house. “These days, most people begin their house hunt on the Internet. First impressions are everything when it comes to homebuying, especially online. The more photos, the better,” says Erin Sartain, marketing and training director for NexTitle, a title and escrow agency based in Bellevue, Wash.

She stresses: “Turn on the lights. Too often we see listing photos that are taken inside and not a single light is turned on.”

If you do that, she says you might as well describe your home as a cozy cave. “All small lamps, overhead lighting, porch light — turn them all on for photos. Not only does it add warmth to a room, but it allows people to see the room they are looking at.”

[See: 12 Ways to Save Money at Home.]

She suggests scrutinizing your photos, too, making sure the toilet seat is down in a bathroom photo, the bed is made in a bedroom picture, clutter is removed from the counters, there are no animals in the photos and cars are removed from the driveway. “You’d be amazed at how often these things are missed,” she says.

Wait, no animals? Who would have anything against Fido? Besides, couldn’t a few animals make you seem more likable to a pet owner buying your home?

Maybe, but you will also scare away other buyers, Sartain says. “It could be an instant turnoff for someone who is allergic. Some people see animals and immediately think, ‘Oh, great, the carpets have been peed on.’ It’s just awkward to have animals in real estate photos,” she says.

And, really, isn’t selling a home awkward enough?


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New Mortgage Strategies for Homebuyers Without 20% Down

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small house and piggy bank with ...
ShutterstockWhat should you do if you don’t have 20 percent down to buy a home, and you want to avoid private mortgage insurance? You have some options.

By Gerri Detweiler

Buying a primary home? The 20-percent-down rule is yesterday’s news. More down payment options exist now, including both government and private sector alternatives, allowing more flexible choices for homebuyers. Don’t be fooled however, as most of the programs that allow for less than 20 percent down include private mortgage insurance, aka PMI — which is an added premium built into the mortgage payment.

PMI is meant to protect the lender if you have less than 20 percent equity in the home and default on your mortgage. Your PMI is a percentage of the loan amount added to the monthly payment. For example, with conventional mortgages, a loan of $400,000 may carry $166 or so per month in PMI, so that’s $166 added to the principal, interest, homeowners insurance and property taxes. And a typical FHA mortgage with a loan amount of $400,000 will carry $450 per month in PMI. (The PMI is higher on FHA loans because they tend to carry lower interest rates, more flexible credit requirements, and lower down payments than conventional loans.)

Either way, that’s quite a bit of money each month. So what should you do if you don’t have 20 percent down to buy a home, and you want to avoid PMI? You have some options.

1. The Old-School 80/10/10 Method: Popularized in the lending heyday from 2004-2007, the 80/10/10 program allows a buyer to put down just 10 percent of the purchase price of the home. In most cases, a 10 percent down payment would require monthly PMI. Using the 80/10/10 approach, your lender would provide 80 percent first mortgage, that same lender and/or a subsequent lender would provide a 10 percent second mortgage in lieu of the monthly PMI, while you contribute the 10 percent down payment, sealing the deal.

Most lenders will allow for secondary financing up to 90 percent combined loan-to-value (combined loan-to-value meaning first and second mortgage combined loans) up to the maximum conforming loan limit for the county in which the property is located. While the majority of mortgage lenders typically do not offer second mortgages, smaller pocket-size lenders are entering the marketplace aggressively with the 80/10/10 solution. You’ll likely have to meet at least a 700 credit score requirement and 10 percent down of your own funds to close escrow.

Also, some lenders may even still allow 10 percent to be gift funds, so check with a qualified mortgage professional.

2. Prepaid Private Mortgage Insurance: Alternatively, rather than electing for the monthly payment option, a buyer with as little as 5 percent down can chose to prepay the mortgage insurance upfront in a one-time premium called single-pay mortgage insurance. Not all lenders offer it, so buyers should shop around. The program works by simply pre-paying a chunk of the future PMI payments upfront as a fee at the closing table. This can be anywhere from 1.75 percent to 3 percent of the loan amount.

Like the 80/10/10 program, a 700 credit score would be required and the single pay mortgage insurance amount can be gifted.

3. Gift of Equity: Do you live in a family-owned property? Or do you have the ability to purchase the property you rent from your landlord? In either instance, the owner of the property — whether a family member or a landlord — can provide a gift of equity for at least 5 percent of the purchase price, as well as for closing costs and single-pay mortgage insurance. A gift of equity is simply the seller of the property providing funds for the benefit of the buyer and accepting less net proceeds at closing.

The lender will require a letter of motivation on why the family member or the landlord is selling their property to a buyer with whom they have a personal relationship. There could be a variety of reasons, so it’s crucial to make sure the deal is properly reviewed by a qualified mortgage professional. This letter of motivation will address what’s called a non-arm’s length transaction, when there is a relationship between the buyer and seller. In these situations, the lender places more scrutiny on the transaction due to the potential for fraud.

4. Military Veteran Perks: Do you have previous military experience with a general or honorable discharge? The Department of Veterans Affairs allows eligible veterans with a certificate of eligibility from the VA (which shows their loan eligibility) to purchase a home with no money down as well as no monthly PMI, with loan sizes even as high as $1,050,000 in some high-cost areas.

Eligible veterans will typically pay a 2.15 percent guarantee fee of the loan amount to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is added to the loan amount and then re-amortized over the term of the loan. For example, on a loan of $500,000, that’s $10,750 added to the loan amount, making the financed loan amount $510,750. That’s still the most attractive option, compared to a PMI premium on another program.

If you plan to buy a house in the near future, these possibilities represent a tangible alternative to simply putting down funds and taking PMI on a monthly basis. While you might elect to do that anyway, PMI — depending on the loan program — may be removed in the future. Check with your lender on PMI removal, and how it may apply to your initial down payment and mortgage loan program.

Finally, because credit scores are also an important factor in some of these approaches, it can help to know where you stand and whether you’ll qualify for these programs. Checking your credit in advance of buying a home can help you determine whether you need to take some time to build your credit before applying for a mortgage. You can pull your credit reports for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com — and you should check for any errors or problems that are dragging your credit score down. (You can also check your credit scores for free through Credit.com, as well as get an overview of what’s affecting your scores and a plan to improve them.)


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Homebuying: 4 Critical Steps for the Final Walk-Through

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stack of moving boxes and chair ...
ShutterstockAt final walk-through an empty home can feel cold, sterile or hollow — and might be littered with someone else’s junk.

By Brendon DeSimone

The final walk-through in real estate was designed so that the buyer could literally “walk through” one last time before the closing. From time to time, a buyer and seller will have negotiated any number of fixes during escrow. The walk-through gives the buyer an opportunity to make sure all the agreed-upon work has been done to specifications and that everything is in working order.

Sometimes, buyers are so excited to close that they quickly whisk through the walk-through without taking time to inspect the property. This can lead to small issues once the buyers take ownership. On the other hand, the final walk-through can raise both positive and negative emotions during this final part of the sale process.

It’s smart to think things through and take the walk-through seriously. Don’t see it as simply checking a box.

Here are some things buyers should consider before and during their walk-through.

Don’t do the walk-through the day of closing. A walk-through can uncover repairs that need to be made, but that you didn’t know about before. If you do the walk-through the same day as the closing, there may not be time to get things remedied. It’s not uncommon for two walk-throughs to happen. The first identifies some issues for the buyer, and the second makes sure those issues were addressed.

Check the power outlets. Nowadays with mobile phones, it’s easy to plug a phone in and out of all of the outlets to make sure the electricity works. You want to avoid moving in all your stuff, only to realize some outlets don’t work and you lack light in a bedroom. Bring your phone and charger to the walk-through and test all the outlets. It’s quick and easy.

Be on the lookout for the sellers’ leftover junk. Sellers are notorious for leaving junk behind, so take the time to check the garage, attic and under the deck. The sellers may just assume you want their old paint cans or a propane tank for a future grill. In fact, they should leave the place completely empty. At times some left-behinds, such as the paint, can be toxic or require special provisions for disposing. (In one situation, a seller left behind all kinds of used oil that needed to go to a certain, state-approved car repair shop to be disposed of properly.) These unwanted items become yours after you close.

Be prepared for a surprise. Often times, buyers fall in love with a home that’s full of furniture, art and belongings. They see it as a home and remember a warm feeling. Fast-forward to the close of escrow and you’re faced with an empty home, which can feel cold, sterile or hollow. Buyers are often surprised by how they feel entering an empty home. Not only is it absent any furniture and “stuff,” but sometimes an empty home shows its imperfections, too. The sun may have slightly bleached floors, showing the outline of a rug. There may be carpet stains or holes in the wall from a flat screen TV or paintings. An empty home tends to show poorly, so prepare yourself before the walk-through.

The journey toward homeownership is often a long one, filled with lots of excitement and ups and downs. The final walk-through is one of the very last steps of what could be a multiple-year process. Consider the walk-through in advance and prepare for it mentally, emotionally and physically. Know what you want to look for, have a checklist and keep your emotions and feelings in check. Doing so will make for a smooth ride to the close of escrow.

Brendon DeSimone is the author of “Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling,” the go-to insider’s guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. Bringing more than a decade of residential real estate experience, DeSimone is a nationally recognized real estate expert and has appeared on top media outlets including ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, HGTV, FOX News, CNBC & FOX Business. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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 or AOL.


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