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Sell My House? Or Buy a New One First?

by Debra Karplus


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You've outgrown your house. Maybe you want to live in an area with a better school system. Possibly your neighborhood isn't what it used to be. Or perhaps you're of a certain age and ready to downsize to a smaller residence. You've heard that now may be a good time to sell your home. You've been to some Sunday afternoon open houses and have visited the kind of house you'd like to own, learning that your dream home may be quite affordable. Now you must decide whether to sell your current home first and then buy, or buy a new home and then sell your residence.

Buy first and then sell.

It's easier to sell a house that nobody lives in. Staging a home has become a quite popular in the past decade. Staging involves removing clutter and depersonalizing the home from "your home" to a more generic-looking place that appeals to the masses. You've gotten rid of your favorite army green-colored recliner that's ugly but perfect for snoozing in front of the television and your collection of plates from every state you've visited. Replace these treasures that scream your name with a cute patio table holding a bouquet of flowers and a tea set that's so inviting. According to HGTV.com, staging your home downplays its weaknesses and appeals to the greatest possible pool of perspective buyers.

Another advantage of selling an empty house is that you're not currently living in it. If you work much of the time and have no children or pets, that's not a big deal. But try keeping a house looking perfect when a family lives there. If you buy first and then sell, you won't have the inconvenience of maintaining a spotless house, getting rid of the onion smell from the vegetable stir-fry you made for dinner, finding a place for Fido, and leaving home each time a realtor brings a prospective buyer to scrutinize the place where your family lives. It can become quite disruptive, especially if it takes a while to actually get the house sold.

Additionally, the process of moving can be much more leisurely, especially if your new house is relatively nearby, and therefore presumably less stressful. If you're doing renovations and remodeling in your new house, it is much easier to transition if you own the two houses simultaneously.

Selling your home before you buy a new one could save money.

But what happens if the housing market in your area falls into a slump or if your home (that beautiful home where you raised your wonderful family and packed with so many memories) is not quite the treasure of a house to the general public. Perhaps the closets are considered to be too small or the family room is in a less than optimal spot relative to the location of the kitchen or bathroom.

If that "For Sale" sign sits on the lawn of your old house for longer than expected, plan to have both fixed and variable costs of owning a home. The longer your house sits empty, the longer you will be making monthly mortgage payments on it as well as real estate taxes and homeowners insurance. But there are other costs to owning a house, even an empty one, and that is keeping the utilities turned on. Sure, you can cancel your telephone land line and cable television service, but you still need to keep the gas and electric on and also the water. With little usage, there is still a base fee to these services. If you try to be cheap, turn off the heat, and live in an area with a winter season, you risk freezing and bursting the water pipes. You'll have a great big mess, and it will be costly to take care of all that damage. It's definitely not worth the risk.

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One man's house sat empty for over a year while he had it worked on to make it easier to sell. During that time, he had to rake a lot of leaves because of the huge maple trees on the block, shovel snow after numerous heavy snowfalls, and have the lawn mowed. His troubles didn't stop there. During the time his home sat vacant, someone with a medical problem drove right into his house causing serious damage to the front porch, sunroom, vinyl siding, electrical system, and more. Once the insurance company paid for those to be fixed, he had another problem. A basement window had been broken, temperatures dropped, and a water pipe burst. He was delighted when the house ultimately sold.

Should you buy or sell a house first? It can be a tough decision sometimes.


Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the university of illinois cooperative extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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