- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

The Carlisle family home, a two-bedroom, two-bath town house, had been getting smaller by the year. Dan and Mary's three children were growing from toddlers into rambunctious children who needed a little more room than the small family area offered.

After contemplation and a little financial analysis, the couple decided it was time to find a house that would better suit their needs.

"It was really an exciting time," Mr. Carlisle says. "We talked about what we could get for the house and then knew what we could afford to buy."

The couple put their Dale City home up for sale, and in the extremely hot market, it sold within a few weeks. The Carlisles, though, had just begun looking at houses.

"We had searched around a little, picked out some neighborhoods and even made an offer or two," Mrs. Carlisle says. "But we really hadn't found that perfect home yet… . We just needed a little time."

Their time was limited. They were scheduled to go to closing with the buyer of their home in 30 days. With every home-searching second that was wasted, the family became closer to being, in a sense, homeless.

Their story ends happily. They moved in with Mrs. Carlisle's family for a few weeks before closing on the perfect family home but they had a close call.

"I don't know what we would have done," Mr. Carlisle says. "If we had had to stay in hotel rooms for a few weeks, it really would have put a dent in our pocketbook… . We could have rented, but finding a good rental property takes so much time, and we would have had to put all of our stuff in storage. We were lucky we had someplace to go."

With prime real estate in the metropolitan area selling as fast as it's available, many homeowners are changing gears quickly from seller to buyer. What happens in the interim can throw some families for a loop.

"It all comes down to making informed, planned decisions," Realtor Bob Shields says. "While it's hard to predict the future and know how fast your home will sell, you can try to prepare your family for the transition into a new home."

Mr. Shields, who works in Long & Foster's Annandale office, says it's important when deciding to put your home on the market to find a Realtor who can walk through your home, assess it on its merits based on property upkeep and appearance and give you an idea of its "sellability." Agents also can look at other properties in the same neighborhood to help determine your home's appeal.

"An agent who's familiar with the area and the properties surrounding it can tell you how long other homes have been on the market," he says. "While no one really knows for sure how long it will take a home to sell, [the agent's assessment] can really give you a good idea," he says.

For a seller who also is looking for a home, the money for a down payment on a new property is more than likely contingent on the sale of the existing home. Though a buyer can write a contract on a new home that's contingent on the sale of his or her current home, Mr. Shields says most agents discourage that kind of transaction.

"When the purchasing of one home is tied to the selling of another, there's a lot of trust involved," he says. "Now, in some situations it works out, but both parties have to be extremely comfortable that the potential buyer is going to do everything he can to sell his existing home and that the other homeowner isn't going to seek out another buyer."

Mr. Shields says it's important to remember that most sellers in today's market are getting multiple offers on homes and that many sellers are more likely to accept a contract with fewer contingencies.

Still, some sellers do find themselves in the position of not having their new home available when it comes time for the closing on their sold property.

"There are many people out there who have to move into temporary housing," Mr. Shields says. "The transient nature of this area means a lot of buyers are out there with the moving van around the corner. They are ready to take possession of a property as soon as it's possible."

Sellers find themselves scrambling for storage spaces, finding rental property, moving in with family members or even renting hotel rooms short-term. Though it may not seem like the perfect situation, it's not uncommon. There really isn't "real estate etiquette" that stipulates the appropriate amount of time before a buyer takes possession of a property, Mr. Shields says. Most transactions allow for 30 to 45 days, usually allowing enough time for the seller to find a property or make other arrangements.

"It's not like a seller is thrown out onto the streets once their property is sold," he says. "There is always time involved, and the seller should be comfortable with the vacancy date stated in the contract. Both parties have to be happy."

Clauses also may be added to a contract that allow the sellers to occupy a home past the allotted time or buyers to move into a home before the closing date. A pre-settlement agreement allows a buyer to move into a property before settlement, but during that time, the seller becomes a landlord.

"In this type of arrangement, the buyer essentially is renting the property from the seller before he purchases the property at closing," Mr. Shields says. "This works for some … especially when the seller doesn't have any need for the property anymore."

A post-settlement agreement allows the seller to stay in the home beyond closing while paying the buyer rent.

"This agreement is particularly useful if the seller can't find a new property to purchase," he says. "Some buyers have a little flexibility in when they need to be in a property."

All of these agreements require the buyer and the seller to be comfortable with each other and their respective positions.

"There are many negotiating points in the contract that can make both parties happy when discussing possession of the property," Mr. Shields says. "It's important to get everyone the buyer and the seller into a 'win, win' situation. Then all are happy."

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