by Larry Bills
The process of buying a house is one of the bumpiest rides you can take. It’s filled with more emotional highs and lows than a Dallas Cowboys season. While virtually all moves are inherently stressful, the one that’s the most exhausting is trying to both sell a house and buy a house at the same time. It’s a process that takes a lot of patience, perseverance and, most especially, the ability to keep track of an ungodly amount of paperwork.
When I bought my first house in 2002, it was far different than my experience with buying a second one this year. The first time, I was moving out of an apartment, so the stress of trying to sell a property at the same time was a non-issue. And it was just an exciting prospect to no longer have to listen to the marching band that apparently lived above me and rattled the ceiling non-stop. But back then, real estate listings were not easily assessable by anyone but an agent, so all you knew about a house before you saw it were words on a page. And when it came time to sign documents, everything had to be signed by hand and shuffled around by couriers, all at my expense, of course.
While this go around of house buying has been so much better in terms of the information available about the property (wow, pictures on the Internet!) and the knowledge of a good real estate agent (pick your agent as carefully as you would a nanny for your child— a bad agent will almost guarantee a bad deal on a house and an inefficient and cumbersome process), what’s more stressful is basically doing everything twice: Showing your house to buyers while you go out and look for the new one, accepting an offer and then making an offer, organizing two sets of inspections, appraisals, and any repairs that must be done on both properties.
Here are some helpful tips that can get you through the process with your head on straight, so when you finally sit down in that new place and take it all in, you’ll be able to tell yourself it was worth it:
- Begin to de-clutter and streamline your house about two months before you go on the market. This allows you to spread out all your packing of non-essentials over a greater period of time. A streamlined house shows better than one with all your junk still lying about. Pack as much as you can in your garage or rent a storage unit for a few months.
- Don’t look at listings for new houses too far ahead of time. You won’t be able to make an offer on anything until you’ve first accepted one on your current house (unless you’re keen on getting stuck with two mortgages). Wait until your house actually goes on the market to avoid the frustration of finding a perfect house that you just can’t buy yet.
- If you travel a lot for either work or pleasure, do your best to put a hold on those plans while all the real estate craziness is in full swing. You’ll have your attention pulled toward tons of little details, and being unreachable just makes it harder.
- Try to negotiate a leaseback clause with the buyer of your house, in case your moving plans are logistically delayed by issues with your new house. Better to sell your old place and rent it from the new owners for a couple weeks than get stuck in an apartment or an extended stay motel for a month or more.
- Don’t get too attached to your potential new house until after it’s been inspected. What might look great on the surface could have problems, and you need to prepare for that possibility. Be prepared to walk away from the deal if there are massive structural defects or if the seller won’t negotiate certain issues related to the inspection to your satisfaction.
- You will have a massive amount of paperwork coming your way, most of which can fortunately be signed digitally. To deal with all of that in one place, consider signing up for an online fax service and handle everything in one interface. You can pay by the month for access to an online service that will let you send and receive documents, sign documents digitally, and even (with those services offering mobile apps) scan documents with your smartphone camera and fax them to your contacts.
- Given the volume of documents, at some point you’re tempted to just sign whatever’s put in front of you and get it out of the way. Resist this. If you don’t understand something, ask your real estate agent for clarification. That’s his or her job.
Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to moving into that next dream house with as little stress as possible.