How to Sell and Buy a House (at the Same Time)!

Let’s not sugar coat it: Selling and buying a house at the same time can be a royal pain at worst — and at best, it’s a bit of a juggling act with some element of risk. However, it’s not an uncommon situation. According to the National Association of Realtors, 71% of repeat homebuyers owned their previous residences, which means it’s highly likely that a considerable number of them did double-duty as both buyer and seller.

In a perfect world, you could hit that perfect timing “sweet spot” where you sell your house, release any built-up equity to use for a down payment, and then find your next dream home, in that order. But chances are, there will be some overlap.

In this guide, we’ll cover the common challenges you could face, alternative routes that might work better for you, and tips for navigating the process while maintaining some degree of sanity.

A person balancing on railroad tracks illustrates the difficult logistics to be balanced while buying and selling at the same time.
(Source: Marcus Wallis / Unsplash)

Challenges of buying and selling simultaneously

The simultaneous buy-sell scenario gets a bad rap — but why, exactly? Below are some of the common roadblocks that can make it difficult to tackle both transactions at once:

Funding struggles

Unless you have a lot of cash on hand, it might be tough to come up with the money for a down payment while the equity is still tied up in your current home. Statistics show that between 2010 and 2019, the value of U.S. homeowners’ equity rose from $6.16 trillion to $18.72 trillion.

“Some options would be to do a cash out refinance on your current home, take out a home equity line of credit, or maybe sell some investments,” says Travis Steinemann, a property investor with BuyHousesBR. “But these options all have costs associated with them and may not work in every situation.”

He also points out another potential wrinkle: If a homeowner has an FHA or VA loan, in general they are only permitted to have one mortgage loan at a time, so they likely wouldn’t be able to secure a mortgage on another property before selling.

Complicated logistics

There are countless details and decisions involved in both the buying and the selling process, and when they all happen at the same time, it can create some serious headaches for the homeowner.

“The logistics include timing the purchase and the sale, negotiating with both sides on moving or possession dates, and organizing belongings to get ready for the move,” said Mike Qui, owner of Good as Sold Home Buyers. “This is where a good real estate agent can help take some of the stress away from the homeowners.”

Risk of getting “bumped” by a non-contingent offer

To minimize their risk, many homeowners decide to make an offer on a new home that’s contingent on the sale of their current home. In this scenario, there’s the possibility that your offer might get ousted in favor of a non-contingent offer. “If this happens, you have to decide whether or not you want to remove your contingency,” says Erik Jacobs, a real estate attorney with Cicero, France, Barch & Alexander, P.C. “This is risky and not always financially feasible.”

The “daisy chain” effect

Caleb Liu, owner of House Simply Sold, points out that in many cases, both the buyer and the seller are trying to buy and sell at the same time, which creates what he calls a “daisy chain effect.” Because there are more moving parts and more parties involved, there are more chances for the deal to fall apart.

“I spoke with one Realtor who told me her craziest transaction involved seven parties in a daisy chain, along with their realtors, title companies, inspectors, and contractors,” says Liu. “Each of those potential transactions had their own sets of contracts and contingencies. Any one of those deals falling apart would trigger a domino effect on the other parties.”

An image of $100 bills represents the money needed to buy before selling.
(Source: Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash)

If you decide to buy first

So, you’ve found your dream home that checks all of your boxes and the price is right — but your home hasn’t sold yet, and perhaps isn’t even listed. In spite of the caveats, you might decide that you simply can’t pass up the chance to pursue a special or unique property.

Top real estate agent Anna Paduhovich from Virginia Beach used to see a majority of her clients selling their homes before buying, but in the age of COVID-19, she’s noticed a shift.

“This might be due to more people working from home — some of them permanently — and finding that they need more space than before,” says Paduhovich. “Or maybe after being home for so much time, homeowners are realizing they don’t like their neighborhoods or surroundings and are anxious to make a change without waiting around for a sale.”

Here’s how to navigate the buying-while-selling process while keeping the stress and risk at a manageable level.

Find out whether it’s financially feasible

Steinemann says it’s important to look at your cash reserves and your monthly disposable income. Ask yourself these key questions:

  • Can you afford paying both mortgages?
  • How long of a financial runway do you have before you’ll be unable to make both payments?
  • Do you have enough assets to use as a down payment?
  • How much do you have available for your down payment after accounting for paying both mortgages for the number of months in your worst-case scenario?

“If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, this option isn’t for you,” says Steinemann. “But if you earn a strong income and have low monthly debts, you can likely utilize this option.”

Talk to a trusted agent and lender

Paduhovich says it’s best to consult with a trusted real estate agent, who will likely talk to a lender about your situation. “The lender will look at what your current house is likely to sell for, what your payment is, and what you want to spend on the next house,” she says. “They’ll also look at your debt-to-income ratio to determine whether you can get preapproval for the loan before selling your current home.”

Consider a bridge loan

If you don’t have enough assets for a down payment, Jacobs suggests talking to your lender about obtaining a “bridge loan.” This is a short-term loan that taps into the equity in your current home to get the necessary down payment to complete your purchase. This is only a viable option if you’re comfortable taking on two mortgage payments for up to six months or a year, which is the typical term for a bridge loan.

And if you want to get creative, Jacobs has had some buyers make their offers contingent on getting the bridge loan rather than on the sale of their home.

Make an offer that satisfies both seller and buyer

If carrying two mortgage payments is too much of a stretch, one option is to make a contingent offer, which includes a condition that you’ll only buy if your current home sells. If it doesn’t sell, the contract states that you won’t lose your earnest money. While this eliminates your financial risk, it also weakens your offer.

“If a seller has one offer that is cash with no contingencies, and another offer that is a little higher but has an inspection contingency, financing contingency, and a contingency on the sale of their current home, they will go with the cash offer every time,” notes Steinemann.

This is especially true in competitive markets where multiple offers are coming in, Paduhovich points out. When inventory is low and demand is high, going in with a contingent offer is not a powerful position to be in. It’s more likely to work out if it’s a buyer’s market or if there is less demand for the home you want to buy.

Another option is to solidify your offer by offering significant non-refundable earnest money, in hopes that the seller will consider that to be a good enough incentive to wait a bit longer until you have sold your house, notes Mike Qui, owner of Good as Sold Home Buyers.

“If your dream home is at a popular price point for the area and there is competition for the house, the best strategy is to make the highest offer and come in with non-refundable earnest money to try and win the deal,” he says.

Consider seeking a cash buyer

If you decide to buy first and sell later, you’ll want to sell as quickly as possible to avoid paying two mortgage payments for an extended period of time. Steinemann suggests working with an instant homebuyer or a local real estate investment company to initiate a cash sale, which typically goes much quicker than the traditional listing process.

If you’d like to see what a cash buyer would offer on your home, we’ll gather offers from our network of pre-approved buyers and introduce you to the highest bidder through our Simple Sale platform. You’ll be under no obligation to accept the offer — but if you do, you’ll get to pick the move date, which can be a big relief when you’re juggling multiple transactions.

A single plants illustrates the cleaning and decluttering that homeowners should do if they decide to sell before buying.
(Source: Sarah Dorweiler / Unsplash)

If you decide to sell first

Sellers who aren’t comfortable being on the hook for two mortgages may opt to sell their current home before making an offer on another property. This is a safer financial route, as you’ll free up your equity to use for a down payment, will reduce your debt-to-income ratio and will be more likely to get preapproved for your next loan.

There are plenty of variables that are outside of your control when trying to sell, but among the few factors you can influence is how your house looks and functions. Before listing, invest the time and effort into making sure these key bases are covered.

Clean and declutter

Go through every room, purge any unused or unloved items, and do a thorough deep cleaning. Wipe down the windows, clean the carpets and floors, detail the kitchen and bathrooms, and hit any overlooked areas like baseboards and light fixtures. 

Be proactive about repairs

Rather than waiting until a prospective buyer orders their inspection, start making any necessary repairs or upgrades to help expedite the future sale process. You might also consider ordering your own inspection before listing the home.

Stage for success 

In the best-case scenario, you can start moving some furniture and boxes into storage, giving you the opportunity to stage rooms for showings. Buyers gravitate to spaces that are open, organized, and clutter-free, and that showcase their day-to-day functionality.

Partner with a trusted agent 

A real estate agent with knowledge of local market conditions and buyers’ wish lists — and experience with marketing your type of home — can be an invaluable asset in pulling off a smooth, speedy sale.

“An experienced agent can aggressively market your home and help you get top dollar,” notes Paduhovich. “It’s especially important in a competitive market where there are multiple offers; a good agent can give you an advantage in getting to a successful closing.”

Price it right 

One of the few things you can control about the selling process is the price of your home. Pricing it too low could undervalue your home and leave you with less cash for your next down payment, but pricing it too high could deter would-be buyers or run the risk of the appraisal coming in low and putting the deal in jeopardy.

Liu recommends pricing the home in line with or even slightly below market value to get multiple offers, then choosing the most dependable offer with the fewest contingencies.

Have a plan for the “gap period”

While selling before searching removes any risk of overextending yourself financially, it also means you’ll need to secure temporary housing until you find your next home.

One option is to enter into a “back rent” (post-closing occupancy) agreement with the buyer of your current home. Qui sees this happen quite often when homeowners need more time after closing to either move or find a new home. “If the house was sold to an investor, the investor would typically offer a free rent back period,” he notes.

Another option would be to move into a rental property before deciding on your next move. As Qui points out, this is a common strategy for people starting an out-of-state job who don’t have much time to buy a place first before moving to their new city.

“If possible, try to sign a month-to-month lease on a single-family home with enough space for all your belongings,” suggests Liu. “Be upfront with the landlord or leasing agent and tell them that you intend to leave after several months. Not all listings are willing to accommodate this, so your options will be limited, and the monthly rate might be increased. But this is better than breaking a 12-month lease and having to pay penalties.”

A weekly planner illustrates the checklist homeowners should have when buying and selling at the same time.
(Source: Jess Bailey / Unsplash)

Tips for staying sane when buying and selling at the same time

There’s no escaping the fact that selling a house can be monumentally stressful. One study found that more than one-third of American adults were driven to tears during the process, and 40% cite selling a home as “the most stressful event in modern life.” And that stress can be even further magnified when trying to buy a new house at the same time.

To help smooth over some of the inevitable bumps in the buying-while-selling road, the experts we spoke to recommend these tried-and-true tips:

  • Work with a knowledgeable real estate agent who has experience juggling both transactions.
  • Have a specific action plan and proper expectations in place.
  • Set a reasonable selling price for your current home.
  • Clearly define your buying criteria.
  • Complete your checklist to make sure your home is ready to show and sell.
  • Make sure you have enough cash on hand to cover any unwelcome surprises.

Look into a home trade-in program

Another option to consider is a program that allows you to trade in your house for a new one, similar to how you might trade in a car for the latest model. For example, some iBuyers have partnered with construction companies so that homeowners can swap their current properties for brand-new houses, without having to move twice or carry the burden of double mortgages.

It might sound like an ideal solution, but the convenience can come at a cost. According to a survey by MarketWatch, homeowners who traded in their houses to certain iBuyers ended up getting 11% less than the selling price of comparable properties on the open market.

HomeLight’s Trade-In offering works a little differently than most iBuyer programs. HomeLight will list the home, and if it sells for greater than what the seller paid, they get to pocket the profits (minus program fees and any selling costs). That way, the seller can actively pursue their next home at the same time, without being limited by contingencies or lengthy lending processes.

While no one ever said buying and selling at the same time was easy, it is doable. By partnering with trusted experts, being prepared and exercising patience, you’ll be in a much better position to pull it off while keeping the risk and hassle to a minimum.

Header Image Source: (Luke Stackpoole / Unsplash)

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