A lesson in real estate problem-spotting

All too often, home buyers and sellers remove themselves as active participants in their real estate transaction when the contract is signed, confident that their agent will handle everything for them. This approach can result in an unpleasant surprise if your agent calls to tell you at the 11th hour that the sale has been delayed or won't be closing at all.

A Santa Cruz real estate agent should, of course, stay on top of the details. But an agent is not your surrogate. Ideally, you and your agent will work as a team to close the deal. However, remember that you are the decision maker, and your agent is merely the facilitator.

For example, let's say the people who have agreed to buy your home are having trouble lining up financing. They request a couple of extra days to finalize a loan commitment. The request will be made through your agent. It would be inappropriate for your agent to grant the extension. That's a decision for you, the seller to make, while relying on the good advice of your agent.

The delay in financing could be due to the fact that the lender hasn't received a forthcoming document. Or, it could be due to a bad credit report. The first is nothing to worry about; the second could mean big trouble.

Suppose your agent decides not to bother you with the request for an extension. Instead, your agent tells the buyers' agent that it's OK to take the extra time. The agent has now stepped in to the role of decision-maker.

A few days turns into a week and you still don't know that anything might be amiss with your sale. If the buyers aren't successful in obtaining the financing they need to close, you could have wasted precious marketing time by not staying involved.

Some agents think they're doing their clients a favor by insulating them from bad news. They hope to solve the problem so that the buyer or seller isn't bothered. Although the agent's intentions might be good, they are ill conceived.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: To ensure that you have a successful home purchase or sale, resolve to stay involved in the process from beginning to end. This may seem impossible to buyers and sellers who are extremely busy. There's usually a lot at stake, so it's worthwhile to make time to stay involved in the outcome of your real estate transaction.

One reason buyers and sellers shrink into the woodwork as soon as the contract is signed is they feel they're out of their element. They have little or no real estate experience and think it's best to leave the heavy lifting to people who know what they're doing.

A good way to stay on top of your transaction -- regardless of your level of expertise -- is to ask your agent to provide you with a summary of the critical details of your purchase contract as soon as possible after the final contract is signed.

The summary should include key contract dates for such things as the date the buyer's deposit is due, contingency deadlines (for financing, inspections, the sale of another property, etc.), a final walk through of the property and the closing date.

It should also include the names and contact information of the people involved in the transactions, such as the buyers and sellers, their real estate agents, the closing agent, inspectors and the buyer's mortgage broker or loan agent. A synopsis of who pays for what (transfer taxes, mortgage fees, etc.) is also useful.

THE CLOSING: Enter the key contracts dates on your calendar and follow up with your agent on the critical deadlines as they come due.