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How to buy and sell your house

Master the timing of buying a new home while selling your old one

Last Updated 7/17/17
by Rosemary Avance, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Couple sitting on floor with boxes

Introduction

Juggling the sale of one home and purchase of another simultaneously is overwhelming without proper planning. If you don’t time it right, you can end up with either no home or too many. We put this guide together to help you understand the factors that streamline these processes. After you read this guide, talk to your realtor or financial advisor to decide how best to move forward so you can get into your new home and out of your old one on schedule.

For sale and sold sign

Deciding to buy or sell first

In an ideal situation, you’d close on your new home a few days before finalizing the sale of your old one. But hold-ups are common, and market fluctuations are unpredictable, so it’s realistic to expect one or both sales to lag.

If you sell your home before you’ve closed on your new one, you might not have anywhere to go. If you close on your new one before you sell, you might end up with your house sitting on the market for some time while you pay two mortgages. While both situations are undesirable, you’ll have to anticipate one or the other based on your personal situation and the current housing market.

The market is usually more favorable to either buying or selling a home (called a buyer’s or seller’s market), so at the very least you can try to predict which of the two sales will go faster. From there, it might make sense to buy first then sell or vice versa.

For sale sign in front yard

Sell first in a buyer’s market

A buyer’s market means that homes are priced low and moving slowly, so buyers have an advantage. In a buyer’s market, a home can sit on the market for weeks or months (or even longer) before selling. If you buy a new home and then your old one doesn’t sell quickly, you’ll have to make payments on both in the interim. Consider these tips if you’re selling first in a buyer’s market:

  • Price your home fairly. If you’re looking to sell quickly, have your home appraised and offer a reasonable, fair price.

  • Consider renting when you sell. You can’t know for sure how long your house will be on the market, so consider moving into a temporary apartment or rental home after you sell your home. That will give you time to shop around for available homes to purchase without feeling rushed.

  • Ask family to help out. If you live near family or friends who can put you up, consider putting your belongings into storage and moving in with them until you find a new place. Of course, this is only an option if you feel like you and your loved ones could handle a potentially extended period of time in close quarters.

  • Locate multiple suitable homes. Keep your eye on the available homes in your desired area, and keep a running list of suitable options in case your current home begins to move.

  • Extend the settlement date. If you’re close to finding a home, try to negotiate an extension on the settlement date of the house you’re selling. This will give you more time to find the right place. Another option that works well in a competitive housing market is contract contingency, where you request that the new home contract is not completed until your current home sells.

Front view of yellow house

Buy first in a seller’s market

A seller’s market means that homes are priced high and moving quickly, so sellers have the advantage. In a seller’s market, homes sell quickly, especially when they are priced reasonably. This is a great scenario for sellers with bigger households that include children, elderly family or lots of furniture. It can also be ideal if you have a very particular idea of what you want in your new home and need to take your time shopping. Keep these tips in mind if you’re buying first a seller’s market:

  • Make your house attractive. In order to ensure that nothing stalls your current home from selling, work on making home improvements with the best return on investment (ROI). Check out our resource on how to decide if a renovation can bring a good ROI.

  • Set a budget that assumes your home won’t sell. You’ll need to be in a good place financially if you choose to buy first, even if you’re in a solid seller’s market. If your home doesn’t sell right away for whatever reason, you’ll need to be able to cover the two mortgages plus interest and upkeep on both properties. You may need a bridging finance loan, a special kind of loan that covers your new home’s financing, until you eliminate your debt from your current home.

  • Understand you may have to settle for less. If you buy first and have difficulty selling your current home, you may end up settling for a lower offer than you originally expected. This can put you in a tough position if you purchased an expensive new home, counting on the income from your sale.

  • Consider renting your old home. If you buy first and have trouble selling, consider renting your home instead. This can cover some or all of your mortgage payment, and if you choose to offer it with a short-term lease you can still keep it on the market to sell.

Decorated living room

Stage your home to sell

Staging your home is a good idea regardless of whether you’re buying or selling first. The main purpose of staging is to give buyers a way to visualize how your space can be used. You can hire someone to stage your home for you, or you can take a DIY approach. Here are some ideas:

  • Play up your outdoor living space. Outdoor living spaces are gaining popularity among home buyers. Adding furniture, outdoor heaters and small landscaping details can make a big difference when potential buyers visit your house, especially if you live in a warm climate.

  • Set a scene. Create a scene in each room to provide a narrative for your house. Set up a board game in your den, or create a reading nook in the master bedroom. These small but important details can help home buyers visualize themselves using your space and make it easier to sell your home fast.

  • Get rid of clutter. This is by far the most important thing sellers can do to entice potential buyers. Recognize that people who go through your home will go through your stuff. They’ll look in cabinets and closets, and if they see tons of clutter, they’ll determine that there must not be enough storage space in your house. Organize your clutter using closet organizers, and get rid of stuff you don’t need. If you have more things in your house than can reasonably fit in it, look into renting a temporary storage unit while your house is on the market.

Family in living room with boxes

Conclusion

The decision to buy or sell your home first is a tough one. Both options have pros and cons, and you should choose based on your personal financial situation, the housing market and what works best for your family. Talk to your realtor or financial advisor for more advice about your particular situation.

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by Rosemary Avance, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Rosemary Avance, Ph.D., uses her social science research background as a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team to help people make smart choices. She researches products, businesses and industries thoroughly, then passes on the most relevant and essential information for consumers looking to make important purchasing decisions.

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