This New York Times article is an excellent summary of new rules of the real estate market, as compared to how things were three or more years ago. Although the article mentions some characteristics that are unique to New York, it is a pretty accurate summary of the new rules of the real estate market.
Susan Stellin points out that while lending has become very complicated and there are a number of new issues that can delay closing and sometimes kill the deal, the changes make for a healthier housing market for buyers and sellers. Most of the changes are not bad at all, especially when all parties involved have an understanding of the current real estate market and a willingness to be flexible with each other. Now, all parties have access to more complete disclosures about the property, transaction and financing. Lenders are required to more fully educate buyers about their loan and give them time to digest the information. These are all positive changes. The delays can be stressful for buyers who are in contract with a seller who is threatening to cancel the transaction and move on to another buyer when their lender isn't moving quickly enough but most sellers are becoming more patient. It's also very important to work with a loan officer who is fully abreast of the changes, communicative and responsive about the status of the loan, and able to move as quickly as possible despite them.
Stellin notes other important changes. Buyers are more educated thanks to the amount of information that can now be found on the internet and they are also much more cautious. Contingencies, or the provisions of the purchase agreement that give buyers a way to cancel (and get their deposits back) for various reasons, have increased in importance. Buyers rarely write non-contingent offers anymore. And they shouldn't - tighter lending standards and the possible issues with condo HOAs and foreclosed properties make non-contingent offers incredibly risky (not that they weren't before).