A lot has to happen before you can close on a new home successfully. Some of it is your responsibility, and some of it belongs to others. But don’t expect it to happen overnight or perfectly smoothly. There are too many factors involved. And there’s a lot of money riding on the deal, too—not all of it yours. So the wisest thing to do is take care of everything at your end; dot every “i” and cross every “t” that you can from your end of things. And be picky, picky, picky about who you’re doing business with; from the get-go, choose only the most experienced, successful professionals and companies that you can find. They have what it takes to make the long, complicated process considerably more bearable. For example, if it’s possible, it’s a good idea to go with a Texas-based lender, because of Texas real estate laws, some of which differ from that of some other states. An out-of-state lender might make some mistaken assumptions that could add to delays.

For most homebuyers, pre-qualifying for a home loan and signing a contract are major steps. But that’s just the beginning of the journey towards home ownership. And the rest of the trip can sometimes make or break the deal. It’s during this period that the lender is trying to complete the financial package, the title company is doing the necessary research, surveys and appraisals are put into motion, and the homebuyer orders home inspections and obtain homeowners insurance. Anything that goes wrong at any of these stages could mean delays—or even a broken deal.

As a homebuyer, you need to know that pre-qualifying for a mortgage loan—and actually qualifying for it—are two very different things. You also need to know that the difference between the two can definitely affect the closing date. To get pre-qualified, a homebuyer must meet with the lender and have essential information (Social Security number, income, etc. at hand). Then, after checking your credit score, income, and employment, the mortgage lender writes up a document—based upon this preliminary information—that states what size of loan you might qualify for. Remember, this is not a final conclusion or a mortgage loan approval—it’s really only the lender’s “educated guess”—so don’t start counting your chickens just yet! As a matter of fact, many lenders these days are encouraging homebuyers to skip pre-qualification and go directly to qualification—before they start looking at homes—or, in many cases, even before the contract is signed.

That’s because the actual qualification process is much, much more extensive and in-depth. Typically, it involves giving the lender accurate information, W2 forms, bank statements, tax returns, and proof of income. All this goes through the lender’s approval process, which can take a fair amount of time. That’s because the up-to-date accuracy of the information you’ve given them is checked and double-checked at this time. So be sure of your facts and figures, because any errors, inconsistencies, credit problems, or misinformation could definitely put a damper on things at this point.

Things a homebuyer should know. Or expect. Or do.

* Lenders should give buyers a good-faith estimate of how much money to bring in—by certified check—to the closing. Closing costs typically run about 3 to 6 percent of the loan amount.

* One business day before closing, you have the right to inspect the Uniform Settlement Statement. This itemizes the costs of all services you must pay at closing.

* The lender is also responsible for giving you a truth-in-lending statement that states all the details about the cost of the loan.

* The title company’s job is to research public records and verify that the buyer and the seller don’t have any lawsuits, liens, or judgments against them or the property.

* One of the real estate agent’s jobs is to stay in contact with the title company during the research phase, just to make sure that any problems that might surface are dealt with promptly. It’s important to avoid last-minute surprises, which could lead to delays on closing.

* Before closing, the smart homebuyer should order inspections on the house and property to make sure that everything is in good shape and that no major repairs are required. Repairs could change the agreed-upon price in the contract. The homebuyer should be there with the inspector when it’s done. Why? Because an inspector’s report can be 10-12 pages long and full of technical jargon, so being there to ask questions and get on-the-spot explanations can really help you get a grip on the situation. The cost of an inspection can vary; it depends on the location of the house, the size of the house, and what kind of foundation it has. By the way, a termite inspection also needs to be ordered by the homebuyer before the closing. If an inspector is not certified in this area, another inspector will have to be hired.

* Homebuyers are responsible for getting homeowners insurance and have proof of it at closing. The Texas Department of Insurance says buyers should expect to pay about $400 to $1,000 a year for insurance—and possibly even more if the home is in a flood zone. Most lenders will recommend an escrow account where funds for insurance and property taxes are automatically set aside each month.

* The lender will require hazard and liability insurance for at least the amount of the loan. At the closing, you’ll be expected to pay the first year’s premium for this insurance.

* The homebuyer should schedule a final walk-through of the house right before the closing. It would be a good idea to do the walk-through with your real estate agent. You want to make sure that the house is in the condition that you agreed upon in the contract. Remember, once the closing is done, you’re the owner of the house—as is. You no longer have any legal power to get the seller to fix anything, and the seller no longer has any legal responsibility to do so.

* A settlement agent—usually the title insurance company—is the one who usually sets the time and place of closing.