Got the Need for Speed? 10 Timely Tricks for Buying a Home in a Hurry

By Jamie Wiebe

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Ostrid/iStock

Buying a home can be a mind-numbingly slow process, broken up by periods of confusingly frantic activity. It goes something like this:  Look at a zillion homes before you think you’ve found one. Hurry up and get in your offer … and then wait. Submit a million letters to the underwriter … and then wait. And don’t even get us started on closing. The average time for closing on a loan is 50 days, according to Ellie Mae, and the process can often take even longer.

But sometimes you don’t have the luxury of waiting. Maybe you’re moving from another state and need a place to live now. Or maybe your current home sold significantly faster than expected—and if you don’t find a new place, the deal will die.

Regardless of the reason, if you’ve got the need for speed, real estate transactions can fly through quickly. But you’ve got to have a little luck and a lot of preparation. Here’s what you need to know before kicking off the buying sprint.

1. Pick your Realtor® carefully

The No. 1 secret to purchasing a home super-quickly? Find a Realtor intimately familiar with your preferred area—one who knows which homes are about to hit the market.

“This will give you a head start in finding out if that listing is right for you,” says Adriana Mollica, a Realtor in Beverly Hills, CA.

2. Ask questions early

The home-buying process can be mind-blowingly confusing—especially if you’re a first-time buyer. You shouldn’t feel guilty about peppering your agent with questions, but getting the most important ones resolved early on will expedite the process.

“When you fall in love with a home in a competitive market, you need to be prepared to sign the offer fast and submit it before the deadline,” Mollica says. “There may be some questions you want to ask your lender, lawyer, or accountant. If you wait until the offer to ask these questions, you may miss the deadline.”

3. Get pre-approved (not just pre-qualified)

It’s a good idea to get pre-qualified for a mortgage before starting your house hunt—but a pre-approval is a necessity if you’re eager to close quickly. The two are vastly different beasts: A pre-qualification requires little more than a quick conversation with your lender and perhaps a peek at your credit score.

A pre-approval basically front-loads the entire underwriting process. (Be warned: It might not eliminate all underwriting concerns.)

It “makes your offer look stronger,” Mollica says. “It also minimizes any surprises that may delay or force a cancellation during escrow.”

4. Be narrow-minded

Agents often tell buyers to stay open-minded about homes that don’t fit their wish list precisely. But if you’re in a rush, it’s best to be particular about the homes you see. Just don’t bring a super-long list of attributes you think you need. Define your absolute, must-have features and only look at homes that fit that list.

But first, “consult with your Realtor to determine if your wish list is possible in your area and price range,” says Michael Shaffer, a broker associate with LIV Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwood Village, CO. If you run out of homes to see that check all your boxes, you may want to review your criteria.

5. Look for slow sellers

Often, the sellers who are most motivated to move quickly are those who haven’t been able to sell their home for a while.

“Ask your Realtor to look into homes that have been on the market for a long time,” Schaffer says. “In some markets, that may be a week or two. In others, it could be a year or more.”

6. Make a strong offer

Now isn’t the time for underbidding—even if you’re convinced that all that ratty wall-to-wall carpeting should lower the asking price.

“Make sure your offer is as strong as possible, with your Realtor’s expertise and guidance,” Schaffer says.

That doesn’t just mean offering a lot of money. You can also offer a larger down payment and more earnest money. And that fast closing date will definitely help. Remember: Sellers who aren’t worried about the buyer backing out are more likely to accept an offer.

7. Be prepared to waive contingencies

When you’re buying a home, it’s standard to throw in some contingencies. (A contingency is a clause in the offer that allows you to walk away from the deal under certain circumstances—with all of your cash in hand.)

But if you’re looking to buy in a hurry, you might have to take a deep breath and bypass some of those bad boys. Just beware: Waiving certain contingencies can spell trouble down the line—and possibly land you in a money pit. Choose your battles—and your concessions—carefully.

8. Have your paperwork in order

Even with a pre-approval—the buying process requires reams of paperwork. Get everything together beforehand: At least three months of bank statements, pay stubs, letters of explanation for any weird or unusual expenses. If your mom’s giving you cash for the down payment, make sure the payment is documented.

When you think you’ve provided enough proof of everything, double it. The more documentation, the better, when you’re trying to buy fast.

“In most cases, things get held up because paperwork and information isn’t readily available,” says Raena Casteel, a Realtor with the Casteel Little Real Estate Group in Tucson, AZ. Even the smallest omission could end up delaying your closing for a week.

9. Write a letter

If you can’t eliminate contingencies or offer more money, and the sellers aren’t moved by a quick closing, consider writing them a personal letter. Tell them about the children you plan on raising in the house, or about your love for the home’s vintage ’20s details.

“Sellers often want the highest price, but oftentimes, offers come in very similar,” Mollica says. “Your letter could be the edge in getting the seller to choose your offer.”

Keep it short—nobody wants to read your autobiography. (Sorry.) One or two paragraphs are all you need to prove your worth.

10. Don’t tell the seller

Beyond writing a quick closing date into your contract, don’t hint to the seller you’re desperate for a home.

“When [buyers need] to buy fast, they are at a disadvantage in a negotiation,” Schaffer says.

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