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Real Estate

5 questions for homeowners in a hurry

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    A house in Auburn, N.H. In many recovering markets, low inventory is making it harder for sellers to find a new property in the short window of time between the sale and the closing. During the downturn, finding a home to buy was easier than selling one.


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    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Home sellers in many areas of the country face a problem that’s rather nice to have: They have found a buyer who is eager to move in, and now they must find another property to buy — the faster the better.

That’s a change. During the housing crisis, finding a suitable home to buy was easier than selling one.

In markets as diverse as Boston, Detroit, and Naples, Fla., it’s getting harder to find a home to purchase. Those three markets had significantly fewer homes for sale in late 2013 than a year previously, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. Low inventory plagues other markets, too.

Here are questions that sellers should ask so they can minimize the squeeze.

Q: How long will it take to sell?

A: Using the Multiple Listing Service data, a real estate agent can measure the time it takes for comparable homes to move from initial listing to an accepted purchase contract to the closing.

In a pronounced sellers’ market, “you might see averages as little as eight to 20 days” for homes to go under contract after listing, said Kristy Gonzalez, agent with ERA Evergreen Real Estate in Hilton Head, S.C.

Another forecast on selling time can be gleaned right after a home is listed. “Certainly you can get an idea of how fast it will sell,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who adds that on some of her listings, agents were booking appointments for buyers to tour within hours.

Q: Is it possible to sell and buy simultaneously?

A: It’s never too early to research homes in the neighborhoods you’d like to buy in, said Eric Tan, a Los Angeles agent with Redfin.

Once your home is listed, he said, “luck and coordination” are needed to close on the sale and purchase at the same time.

To have homes pass among various hands in one day, it helps to have the same firm handling the closings, Mr. Tan said.

But whether it’s a law office, title company, or other real estate-related firm, hitches, which come with the copious paperwork, may be resolved more easily with fewer sites involved.

Q: Can you ask your buyer for more time?

A: Because selling first and then buying is problematic in a sellers’ market, experts advise taking advantage of your strong position as a seller as you work out the timing of your purchase.

“Negotiate a longer time until the closing,” said Raylene Lewis of Century 21 Beal in College Station, Texas. “If closings are normally out 30 days, ask for 50 days so you have more time,” she said.

Depending on how home purchase contracts are written in your locale, it might be possible to tell a buyer that you’ll accept that offer, but it’s contingent on whether you have a home to purchase by a certain date, Ms. Lewis said.

On the flip side, as a buyer, you might ask that your purchase offer be contingent upon your home being sold by a specified time. But in a hot market, “it’s unlikely a seller will accept such a contingency without at least a purchase contract [pending] on your property,” Ms. Gonzalez said.

Q: How do sale-leaseback arrangements work?

A: You can buy time from your purchaser by renting the home for a while after you sell it.

A sale-leaseback agreement allows the seller to continue living in the home — usually paying rent to the new owner — after the close of the sale.

“This is no standard contract,” said Chicago real estate attorney Jonathan Sherry. Typically, the former owner pays rent to the buyer based upon the monthly mortgage payment the buyer is paying on the new home, Mr. Sherry said.

By dividing the mortgage payment by the number of days in the month, you calculate the daily rental rate.

Mr. Sherry cautions that there are limits to how long you can rent the house you just sold. “The mortgage document that the buyer has may require that he occupy the home within a certain period, like within 60 days of closing,” he said.

Q: Who can afford to buy before selling?

A: Before the financial crisis, home sellers could obtain “bridge loans” to finance down payments, said Neil Caron, vice president of retail production at Freedom Mortgage Corp. in South Windsor, Conn. Bridge loans were short-term loans to be repaid as soon as the borrower’s first house was sold. Now, if sellers need the proceeds from the sale to use as a down payment, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find bridge financing, Mr. Caron said.

Another option is to use the proceeds of a home equity loan as a down payment, said Charles Chedester, past president of the trade group Mortgage Professionals of Iowa. Sellers, however, must apply for home equity credit before they list their homes for sale because lenders won’t extend loans on properties up for sale.

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