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Buying

How to Dodge a Closing Day Curveball: 3 Real-Life Home Saves

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With the MLB season set to begin, we've got baseball on the brain. Specifically, we've been thinking about how even the greatest sluggers sometimes strike out when faced with a nasty curveball, knuckleball, or slider. But hey, curveballs can strike -- metaphorically speaking -- in other parts of our life as well. Like buying a home!

A lot of twisty, unpredictable, and downright frustrating things can happen on closing day. But no matter what goes wrong, you may still be able to pull off a last-minute (home) save. So get out the scoreboard and heed the advice of these three buyers who were struck by surprises late in the ninth inning.

Time zone terror

Are you dealing with a buyer or seller in another time zone? It pays to plan accordingly. Michelle Faulkner, principal of Big Swing Communications, relayed a tale of time zone terror that happened to her 12 years ago. She and her then-husband planned to have a same-day sale and purchase, selling their condo in Watertown, MA, to a buyer from San Diego and buying a family-friendly place in the burbs of Reading, MA. The back-to-back closings were to take place on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend.

"We didn't realize until the closing he was using a West Coast bank for his mortgage. The closing went smoothly, except the funds from his bank hadn't arrived. They were due 'shortly' -- our attorney told us not to worry, and we went on to the closing for our purchase," Faulkner recalls. "We had a 17-month-old daughter and a packed moving truck waiting."

The funds didn't come through for four days. The seller's attorney allowed them to move their stuff into their new place, but they couldn't sleep there, so the family had to shack up with a friend. Later that day, "I felt a little nauseous," she says. A familiar kind of nausea. "Yup, found out that night I was pregnant. Pregnant and temporarily homeless."

Take-home lesson: When you're doing back-to-back closings, make sure everyone is crystal clear on the timeline and time zones.

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Absconded appliances

It's imperative that everything is accounted for in writing, or else you may find yourself like the buyers in this story.

Last year, Brett Vlasek, a Realtor with VIP Real Estate Brokers in Delray Beach, FL, represented a seller who had a ruby red Samsung washer and dryer set that was admired by many potential buyers who visited the home. One day, a buyer came through and, after remarking on how wonderful the appliances looked, put in an offer.

All was well in this small townhouse, until the final walk-through on closing day.

"The ruby red washer and dryer were replaced with a run-of-the-mill, plain white set," Vlasek recalls. The buyer wasn't happy, and refused to close on the house without the Samsungs. Alas, the sellers had already moved out of state -- with the scarlet set. They were also a bit perplexed.

"They insisted they'd told the buyer and her agent that they were going to keep the red appliances and replace them before closing," Vlasek says. Neither the sellers nor the buyer would budge. With the danger of a deal falling through, the agents came together and gave the buyer a credit at closing "to purchase a brand-new washer and dryer in whatever color she pleased." Yeah, including Dorothy-slipper red.

Take-home lesson: Whether you're a buyer or seller, make sure you convey what does or doesn't come with the property, in writing. As a general rule, if it's attached to the home -- for example, light fixtures or built-in bookshelves -- it stays, but appliances are considered movable. That said, getting it down in writing will help you avoid any closing day delays.

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Liens from beyond the grave

After two years of his house sitting on the market in Gloucester, VA, Matt Sabo jumped when an offer came along. He, his wife, and their 11(!) kids would need to find a home to buy before their sale would close in four weeks.

They found a 1960s ranch estate that needed a few updates but seemed like a solid investment. Everything was looking good, and Sabo's ginormous family wouldn't be homeless. Right?

"The bombshell came two days before closing," Sabo recalls. The title search found there were liens against the property. "We were told it shouldn't take more than a few weeks to get it straight." It turned out to be more like five months. Naturally, his first reaction fell someplace between alarm and outright hysteria, but his Realtor/closer took the mound and saved the game.

"Our Realtor managed to work out a deal where we could stay in the house, rent-free, while the bankruptcy issue got cleared up," Sabo says. "Ultimately we ended up moving into the house on time and living in it for five months until we closed."

For anyone in a similar situation, Sabo says not to panic. Get your agent on the phone and start thinking outside the (batter's) box.

"We got creative in making a deal, and it turned out well," he says. "It was a case of a potential disaster turning into a blessing."

Take-home lesson: Make sure to do a title search on a property you want as soon as possible -- ideally, weeks before you close. That way you'll uncover any liens or other problems long before you're in too deep.

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Related: 5 Things to Do Before Buying a Home