Rush Job: Home Buying on a Short Deadline

Focus on a few key points and find the right place with time to spare.
Dark Green Waimea Home on HGTV's Hawaii Life

Home Exterior: Waimea Home From HGTV's Hawaii Life

The first home that Hawaii Life Realtor Annie Mendoza showed homebuyers Coralie and Kai was a Waimea residence listed for $429,000. The home comes with five bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, a fenced-in backyard and plenty of curb appeal.

Photo by: 2012, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

2012, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

By: Carole Moore

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Grad school beckons; the boss decides you’re perfect to head up the new office; the job of your dreams comes through. No matter what the reason, you have to relocate and fast.

Whether you’re moving 200 or 2,000 miles, buying a new home on a short deadline doesn’t have to be daunting. With smart planning and the assistance of an experienced real estate professional, you can find the right home no matter where you land. The trick to a fast, smart home purchase is in the planning.

Here’s how to quickly and cost-effectively find living space that fits your lifestyle:

Step 1: Have your financial ducks in a row. 
Step 2: Research neighborhoods to find the right one for you. 
Step 3: Pick your priorities. 
Step 4: Look for the motivated seller. 
Step 5: Be willing to negotiate repairs. 
Step 6: Have a Plan B. 

Step 1: Have your financial ducks in a row.

As a rule, don’t buy another place until you sell the old one. David Kahn, broker and owner of David Kahn and Company Real Estate, Montgomery, Ala., says if you haven’t sold your first home “you probably can’t qualify for a mortgage anyway.” Kahn knows what he’s talking about -- he’s also a licensed mortgage broker.

Other advice to keep your finances solid until closing:

  • Stay in a month-to-month rental until your house sells. Kahn’s company manages short-term rentals -- your real estate agent probably will, too.
  • Don’t pack documents you need to obtain a loan, like paycheck stubs or previous loan records.
  • Get your loan preapproved. You’ll know how much you can spend and having financing in hand makes you more attractive to a seller.
  • Make any offer contingent on the sale of your previous home. The best time to do this is after your old place is under contract and has passed inspection.

Step 2: Research neighborhoods to find the right one for you.

You don’t need pricey multiple visits to tell if a neighborhood’s a good fit. Baltimore resident Jill Valeri, a veteran of three short-deadline moves, says she did much of her research on the Internet.

“We specifically sought out neighborhood diversity because that was important to us,” says Valeri, a marketing consultant who has worked extensively with real estate firms.

Here are some tips for checking out an area:

  • Decide what’s important before you start your research: schools, transportation, commutability, crime, resale value, area history, location, recreational opportunities, etc. Then look at the different types of neighborhoods.
  • Pick the neighborhood that matches your lifestyle.
  • Look at home listings on by filling in the zip code under Search Property Listings. You’ll see a great selection of homes in every price range, amenities generally available in that area and neighborhood maps.
  • Contact real estate companies in the area and ask questions. They should provide more neighborhood-specific information.

Step 3: Pick your priorities.

Leslie Tyler, vice president in charge of marketing for ZipRealty, headquartered in Emeryville, Calif., says the fewer requirements you have in a home’s amenities, the better your potential choices. “Things will move faster if you focus on what really matters to you; the shorter that list, the faster it will go.”

If you can’t live without a garage but can make do with one less bathroom, that flexibility could play to your advantage.

Tyler advises homebuyers in a hurry to:

  • List the features you want and rank them in order.
  • Prepare to compromise on the less crucial things on your list.
  • Stay realistic about what your money will buy: The same amount will purchase more in one location, less in another.

Step 4: Look for the motivated seller.

ZipRealty’s Leslie Tyler says a motivated seller can cut the time it takes to close. With many cities top-heavy with homes for sale, more and more sellers will make concessions to close a deal.

Here are some indications that suggest a more receptive seller:

  • Concentrate on homes that are aggressively priced for quick sales.
  • Check out places that have been on the market for a long time.
  • Don’t forget vacant homes, which can not only mean a motivated seller, but also a faster move-in.

Step 5: Be willing to negotiate repairs.

You can move in faster if you turn a repair job into a negotiating point, plus save money when you close, says Connie DeGroot, a Beverly Hills real estate broker with Coldwell Banker. After obtaining estimates, (DeGroot recommends at least two) ask the seller for a credit instead. Most will gladly leave the repairs up to you and you won’t have to wait until they’re completed to move in.

Step 6: Have a Plan B

When moving, remember no matter how well you plan, things can still sour: Maybe the home inspection turns up structural flaws that aren’t simple fixes  or a title search reveals the owner doesn’t have clear title. Suddenly, you’re back to square one.

Avoid starting from scratch by having a backup property or two. It’s impossible to over-prepare when you’re moving against the clock.

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