Understanding Closing Costs — Avoid Surprises at the Settlement Table

Understanding Closing Costs

By Michael Maddiex, President, Long & Foster Settlement Services.

Before buying or selling a home, it is important to know and understand all of the costs that are required at closing. Many settlement companies have gone to a flat fee for all purchase and refinance clients. This fee varies per company and geographical location, but here is an idea of the key services it may include.

Document Processing: The settlement company coordinates all elements of the transaction from the receipt of sales contract to closing. During this process, they order a title exam, resolve any title issues, coordinate the seller payoff, prepare the title commitment, schedule the closing with the lender, prepare the deed with a local attorney, obtain lender’s documents and prepare the final Closing Disclosure (if applicable) and ALTA Settlement Statement.

Title Exam: A detailed search or abstract of the local title records is conducted to determine the “chain of title” and recorded liens, which are examined and reviewed to determine insurability. During the title exam, a settlement company helps resolve any issues or inconsistencies before the property can be sold.

Title Binder: While this document is not the title insurance policy, it is an issued commitment to provide future title insurance on the property you are purchasing. It states the coverage that is going to be provided, and it lists any exceptions and requirements to be met prior to issuing a title policy.

While title insurance is not included in the closing costs, it is an essential piece of the settlement process. You can learn more about protecting yourself and your home here.

Closing: The attorney or licensed settlement agent conducts the closing for the buyer and seller. During closing, they explain all the documents and answer any questions you may have. They also notarize all signatures – a requirement, ensuring all settlement documents are valid.

Mailing: All documents, including the deed and the deed of trust executed at settlement, are mailed to the county courthouse for filing with the land records, and executed mortgage documents have to be sent back to the lender.

Document Archiving: Many settlement companies archive the transaction documents by electronically warehousing them.

If you have questions about closing costs, feel free to contact one of our title partners.



6 Tips for Planning Your Summer Vacation


By Joe Amatangelo, President, Long & Foster Property Management.

summer vacation

The official start to summer is here. If you haven’t booked your vacation getaway yet, here’s some advice to consider before doing so.

Choose your ideal vacation destination:Whether you want to travel to the shore, the beach or a popular lake, there are numerous places to vacation throughout the United States. Once you’ve selected where you’d like to have your vacation,start your search online for a property. While it’s best to book your vacation early—often a year in advance, there are places to rent last minute.

Read about the property’s amenities:Once you’ve found a property that you’d like to rent, research its amenities. Are linens and towels provided? Does the property have waterfront access, a boat dock or other desired amenities? Vacation rental companies like Long & Foster Vacation Rentals will include details information on each rental property on their websites, so you know what you’ll have access to when you rent the property. If you’re shopping late in the season, be flexible and open to different options—many times a property is a good fit, even if it doesn’t check off all items on your “wish list.”

 Review the lodging agreement: Read the terms and conditions of the rental agreement, including your check-in and checkout dates and times, to prevent any surprises later.

Know the deposit deadlines: Typically, your rental deposit is due 30 days prior to the start date of your reservation, but this deadline can vary, so ask about the policies of the rental company with which you’re working.

Watch for cancellations: If your schedule is flexible, ask to be added to a wait list for a specific property. That way if someone has to cancel at the last minute, you might be able to book that dream home you wanted to visit.

Take a mini-vacation: Consider booking your vacation over a long weekend. While your top property might not be available for a full week, it could have availability for a shorter getaway.  

If you haven’t booked your summer vacation yet, now’s the time to do so. Most properties are going fast, but you can still find great destinations if you reserve your trip soon.

In addition, you might consider booking off-season. The crowds are gone, the weather can be awesome and the rental rates lower. You can see what Long & Foster Vacation Rentals has to offer for the peak (and off-peak) seasons here.

5 Key Steps to Protect Your Smart Home

By Mikkie Mills

Smart homes open the doors to new technological potential, but they can also open the virtual door to intruders and hackers. As smart home technology grows, so do the risks of being hacked, which can stop some customers from adopting these amazing technologies for their homes. However, protection can make a home incredibly safe from hackers. Here are five ways to keep your smart home safe.

Use Strong Passwords
We’ve all heard it countless times, but having a strong password really is the first step against hackers and is enough to keep the majority of hackers out of your devices. However, many people prioritize creating passwords that are easy to remember (or that don’t change) over their home’s security. The best passwords are a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. As a rule of thumb, change your passwords every time you add a new device to the network, or at least every few months. There are also reliable password management systems that can keep passwords rotating and safe for all your devices.

Be Selective With Smart Home Devices
The growth of smart home technology means that not every product is created equally. Before bringing something into your home that could put your privacy and safety at risk, be sure to do your research. In general, use products from brands you are familiar with—bigger brands typically have more updates and better customer service just in case hacking does occur. You’ll also want to get feedback from other people who have used the devices by reading reviews from experts and customers online. If you are unsure about a device’s safety, talk to a cybersecurity or smart home professional.

Update Apps and Firmware
Most people generally remember to update their smartphone apps, but updating the apps and firmware in smart devices around the house can be a different story. Just like mobile apps, smart devices are constantly being updated and often come out with updates to increase performance, remove bugs, or improve safety. Using an old version of a device’s firmware makes it easier for hackers to attack because the firmware is vulnerable and not running at its full potential. Firmware and app updates are a great way to stay one step ahead of hackers and can be incredibly powerful—a 2016 update by Apple helped prevent computers and iPhones from being accessed by hackers to use as spy devices. In many cases, you’ll have to seek out updates by going into the app for each smart device. Making this a part of your regular home maintenance schedule and checking for updates once a month helps keep devices up to date and continually improves their safety measures.

Watch the WiFi Network
Putting smart home devices on a public wireless internet network makes them much easier to hack and makes them more visible to hackers. Instead, opt for a private home network that has a strong password and network protection. To be even safer, security experts recommend putting your smart home devices on a separate wireless network from your home computer, which greatly reduces the risk of hacking across devices. Essentially, if hackers somehow get into devices on one network, they will still have to work hard to get into the other devices.

Turn Off Unused Devices
It can be tempting to always leave every device plugged in and turned on, but doing that just gives hackers more opportunities to find a way in. Even though it can seem like a hassle, powering down your home router and computer server when they aren’t in use at night can keep your home network much more secure. Some smart home devices like thermostats and refrigerators will most likely always be plugged in, but devices used less often like TVs or wireless printers can serve as more access points for hackers if they are plugged in but not in use. You’ll save energy and keep your home safer by turning them off or unplugging them—a win-win situation.

Smart home devices are powerful tools, but they must be used carefully and safely to keep digital intruders out of your home.

Copyright© 2017 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission.

Preparing Your Home for Sale – To Get It Sold Quickly

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: February 10, 2010

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.


  • 7 Tips for Staging Your Home
  • How to Keep Things Cleaner Longer

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has found happiness in a Chicago brownstone with the best curb appeal on the block. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Pricing Your Home – Understanding Comparables

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

By: Carl Vogel

Published: August 5, 2010

Before you put your home up for sale, understand how the right comparable sales help you and your agent find the perfect price.

How much can you sell your home for? Probably about as much as the neighbors got, as long as the neighbors sold their house in recent memory and their home was just like your home.

Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

What makes a good comparable sale?

Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision—and it closed escrow last week. If you can’t find that, here are other factors that count:

Location: The closer to your house the better, but don’t just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it’s finished), finishes, and yard size.

Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won’t fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights

Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors’. Evaluating those differences—like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office—is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

More ways to pick a home listing price

If you’re still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?

If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can’t pay their mortgage can’t afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they’re divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

So you have to rely on your real estate agent’s knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

Carl Vogel, a freelance writer and former editor of The Neighborhood Works magazine, lives in a home in Chicago that is not typical of those nearby, so he appreciates a savvy comp.

5 Things That Happen From Contract Ratification to Closing

Congratulations! Your home’s under contract. You and the buyers have both agreed to the terms, and you’re excited to officially sell your home.

But there’s still work to do before you reach the settlement table. Here are five of the top time-sensitive items that you or the buyers will need to complete before closing.

  1. Home Inspection: Prior to the inspection contingency date, your buyers must schedule (and pay for) the home inspection, review the report and request any necessary repairs to you as the seller.
  2. Radon Inspection: The home inspector will typically also handle the radon testing or can coordinate this testing. The buyer is also responsible for scheduling and payment of the radon inspection.
  3. Appraisal: The appraisal must be completed by the expiration date of the appraisal contingency. The buyer’s lender will order the appraisal, typically after the home inspection.
  4. Financing: The buyers must have a loan commitment letter in place before the financing contingency expires.
  5. Termite Inspection: Before closing, you’ll need to schedule a termite inspection and remediate any uncovered issues. As the seller, you’re responsible to schedule and pay for this inspection, which is often paid on the settlement statement at closing.

These are only a few of the items that will take place after your home is under contract. Your real estate agent will work with you on the many other moving parts, ensuring your home is successfully sold.

Painting Day Tips … Get Your Home Ready

Prep Your Home for Painting Day

As we usher in spring, it’s time to take a good look at our homes and evaluate what needs repair, touching up or simply a creative refresh. One of the best places to start is your home’s exterior.

“Early spring is an ideal time to plan ahead and begin some of the prep work that’s key to a well-painted exterior,” says Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute. “Carefully inspect the outside of your home and write down what needs to be done. Your notes will serve as helpful ‘marching orders’ for the coming painting season.”

What to look for? Obviously, any sign of trouble on the siding or trim in the form of paint that’s peeling or flaking, but also spots where ugly mold or mildew has taken hold.

Pay special attention to areas where different materials meet and note if the caulk is missing or deteriorated. Gaps in the exterior not only detract from the appearance of a home, but they can also create drafts, letting costly air conditioning and heat escape, possibly leading to water damage as well.

If there’s any painted metal on your home’s exterior, see if the coating or coatings have been compromised. Is there rust on iron railings or efflorescence (powdery white residue) on aluminum siding, soffit or trim? If so, jot that down.

Note anything else that’s amiss with your paint. Nearly any deficiency can detract from the appearance of your home, lessening its protection at the same time. And correcting these problems quickly may help prevent bigger issues in the future.

According to Zimmer, some projects can be done in almost any weather; others are weather-dependent.

For example, you can remove mildew on any dry day without regard to the temperature. Simply scrub the surface with a bleach solution, allow it to sit for 10 minutes or so, then wash away the offensive growth.

Most caulk can be applied when the temperature hits 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but take into account the overnight lows, which could leave surface materials below the threshold, at least earlier in the day. Just clean adjoining surfaces thoroughly, apply a bead of caulk, and smooth it with a moist finger to produce a tight, protective seal.

Likewise, 50 degrees Fahrenheit is typically the cutoff for exterior painting when using a latex coating (again, take overnight temperature into account). If you’re doing touch-ups, scrape away any loose or peeling paint, prime bare wood with quality acrylic latex primer, let it dry thoroughly, then apply one or two coats of 100-percent acrylic latex paint. (By using a “paint and primer” product, you can skip the prime coat.)

Your home is unlikely to suffer serious harm if you leave bare or primed wood exposed to the elements for a short time. But that’s not true with many metals, especially iron.

Once you scrape or sand away rust and expose bare metal, it must be primed immediately and painted as soon as possible afterward, or the rust could reappear in just a couple days. Therefore, don’t start this project unless the weather is warm enough to finish the job.

Make progress now on your spring painting by inspecting your home’s exterior, planning the work, and even tackling some projects right away. That’s the way to get a great jump on things!

For more tips to prepare your home for spring painting projects, contact me today.

Source: Paint Quality Institute

Home Equity Grows for 62-and-Over Homeowners


Retirement-aged homeowners saw a combined 2.8 percent increase of $170.7 billion in home equity in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to a recent report from the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, boosting their total housing wealth to $6.2 trillion.

A 2.4 percent increase in home values for owners 62 and older in Q4 2016 drove the NRMLA/RiskSpan Reverse Mortgage Market Index (RMMI) to 221.75, an all-time high since the index was first published in 2000. On a year-over-year basis, the RMMI index rose by 9 percent in 2016, compared to an increase of 8.6 percent in 2015 and 8 percent in 2014.

“The strong RMMI in the fourth quarter of last year shows that home equity continues to be a valuable asset for homeowners 62 and older,” says NRMLA President and CEO Peter Bell. “It’s time for consumers to study what it means to have home equity and to learn about its strategic uses, including how it can be used to support retirement goals.”

Recent research from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and a new Issue in Brief from the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College show that home equity has gone largely underutilized by older homeowners who have been unwilling to consider housing wealth as a resource for retirement funding. NCOA and CRR both show that limited awareness and knowledge of home equity tools contribute to the low take-up of financial products such as reverse mortgages.

To learn more about home equity, contact me today.

Source: National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association

Do’s and Don’ts for a Smooth Mortgage Financing Process

Tips for a Smooth Mortgage Financing Process

You’re almost a new homeowner—you’ve submitted all your financial documents to your mortgage consultant and you’ve been approved for your mortgage loan. Congratulations!

But to celebrate, don’t go out and buy furniture for your new home right away. In fact, any large purchases made between the time of loan approval and closing could delay your settlement date or jeopardize the financing of your home.

Mortgage lenders often run a second credit report and conduct an overall financial health check-up just before your closing date. They want to ensure your ability to repay the loan remains unchanged from when your loan was originally approved.

To help ensure a smooth financing process, here are some dos and don’ts from the team atProsperity Home Mortgage, LLC.

  • Do contact your mortgage consultant before making any changes to your employment.
  • Do continue making payments on existing accounts.
  • Do call your mortgage consultant if you are concerned something will affect your loan.
  • Don’t make major purchases with credit, co-sign another loan or max out existing credit cards.
  • Don’t assume that closing existing lines of credit or paying off collections will improve your credit score.
  • Don’t deplete savings to pay off credit debts.
  • Don’t deposit large amounts of money into your bank account(s).
  • Don’t change bank accounts or transfer funds within existing accounts.

Any of these actions could affect your mortgage financing process. Since everyone’s situation is different, it’s best to contact your mortgage consultant if you have any specific questions.

10 Easy Improvements to Make on Your Fixer Upper

Mar 22 2017 – 10:01am by Housecall

House and key shaped paper cutout, calculator and magnifier on wooden table.

By Cary Teller

There is something awesome about buying a fixer upper and doing the renovations yourself. Some people fix them up a bit at a time, using cash as they have it available. If you want to make a big impact by doing small things, here are 10 things you need to include.

1. Change Out the Lighting

Nothing says outdated like an old-fashioned gold chandelier. Lighting is something that can be updated easily and won’t cost a bunch of money. It is one of the smallest things you can do that will have the biggest impact.

2. Paint

There is an old saying that states “if a barn needs to be painted, slap some paint on it.” You will be amazed at what some paint can do to your home. A new hue can cover imperfections and give the room the blast of color it needs. Forget drab, white walls that are lackluster. Give your home a color makeover.

3. New Fixtures

Just like the lighting, the fixtures in the home become outdated quickly. Start with the kitchen faucet and then move on to the bathroom. You can update and upgrade a fixer upper by just adding these small touches.

4. Paint Cabinets/Add New Hardware

If you have new cabinets in the budget, then you should go for it. However, if your budget is limited, then you may want to try to paint them. Painting old cabinets and installing new hardware will give the kitchen a facelift. If the cabinets are old but sturdy, then you can bring them back to life. Painting is inexpensive and has a huge impact.

5. Rip Out Old Carpeting

Carpet is great when it is new; however, when it is old and dingy, it can really have a negative impact on a space. Hardwoods are the best option, followed by laminate floors. However, if you are stretched for money, you may try a bag floor or a penny style one. There are creative options online that allow you to do great things with your floors for less.

6. Add Curb Appeal

The curb appeal of the home is everything. It does not matter how great the inside looks if the outside is in shambles. Clean up any dead plants and add some new. Be sure to pick flowers and shrubs that bloom at different times. This will allow you to have color year-round. Add some shutters and a fresh coat of paint to the porch. Use decorative numbers to display the address. Finally, replace the mailbox if necessary.

7. Repaint Ceilings

Ceilings are often overlooked. They are usually white and the color is reserved for the walls. However, people do not realize how dirty these ceilings can be. A fresh coat of paint on the ceiling can really enhance the whole room. The walls are not the only thing that needs to be painted.

8. Upgrade the Exterior Façade

The biggest impact you can have on the outside of a home is to replace or paint siding. If you have it in the budget, you can add brick and stone accents. Most fixer upper homes have chipping paint and worn out siding. Splurge for some nice siding or paint a great color to update the home’s look.

9. Replace the Windows

New windows are expensive, but they are important. If you have old windows in your home, you need to spend the money to upgrade them. Windows are great for keeping the elements at bay. You will save yourself money in the long run by sealing off old-drafty openings.

10. Update the Heating and Cooling Unit

To help the process of heating and cooling a home, you need to make sure the home has an updated HVAC unit. The air filters are just as important as the unit. Filters with a rating of Merv 11, have “astro pleating” to help ensure no dirt or dust gets into your system. Extend the livelihood of your unit by selecting quality air filters.

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