Buying and selling a home and the joys of waiting. How to stay sane.
Estragon: “I can’t go on like this.”
Vladimir: “that’s what you think.”
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Whatever side of the home sale transaction you are on, either as the buyer or the seller, the whole process is undeniably a bit stressful. Even the Dalai Lama probably gets a little stressed out buying a home, and you know how relaxed he looks all the time.
The most excruciating aspect of the whole process can be all that WAITING! Waiting for this to happen, waiting for that to happen. HURRY UP already! The house offer waiting game can feel like it goes forever.
It will seem like the laws of quantum physics and the space/time continuum are being violated. Just ask Stephen Hawking about when he bought his first home!
There are periods of rush, rush, go, go…rush to go see a new listing, rush to make a decision whether to make an offer, rush to get an offer submitted, followed by....periods of deafening silence which feel like they drag on forever. Whoever said patience is a virtue obviously never bought or sold a home before.
When it comes to buying or selling a home there are several periods of waiting, some longer than others and some potentially more excruciating than others. Allegedly, all good things come to those who wait, but first you have to, um, wait!
Real estate waiting periods: The Classics!
The wait between submitting your offer and waiting to hear back if it has been accepted. How long after making an offer on a home do you hear back? Waiting for the seller to respond to an offer is probably the most stressful wait of all. You finally find THE HOME, it meets all your criteria and you really, really want that home! Unfortunately, so do four other buyers. You put your best foot forward and submit your best offer.
This is usually the shortest waiting period but also the most excruciating (assuming you genuinely want the home). You might even hear back by the end of the same day but it can seem like a lifetime of waiting. The clock appears to be going backward. All sorts of possibilities will go through your mind and you will drive yourself mildly insane second-guessing yourself as you wait for the seller to respond to your offer.
Here's an example from yours truly from when I bought my own home...
I bought my home in 2003 before I became a Realtor. The home had been on the market for 5 weeks without receiving any offers. It was dated with few upgrades but I loved it. A 1932 red-brick Tudor with original floors, leaded windows, coved ceilings, a great backyard with tall NW evergreens. I finally had my downpayment saved up and was ready to make an offer. I wanted THAT home and I wanted it NOW!
I made my offer on Friday afternoon expecting to get a rapid response from, I assumed, the desperate sellers. Next thing my agent informed me: “The listing agent said the sellers are out of town camping someplace in the Pacific Northwest with no phone or internet and won’t be back until Tuesday!’
“What, FOUR whole days!! Noooo!!” (followed a massive blood pressure surge).
And so started one of THE most stressful few days of my life. Up there with breaking up, where you’re the dumpee, not the dumper (unless you were hoping to get dumped).
And to make matters even worse, the listing agent held an open house that Sunday probably telling everyone “we have an offer” and trying to leverage it for a better offer. Grrrrr!!
I parked across the road watching buyers go in and out of the home while screaming in silent desperation: “What are those people doing in MY home!” Yes, I was actively realestalking the place.
The never-ending weekend dragged on, and then molasses Monday and finally trembling Tuesday arrived, but I would have to wait until that evening to get a response to my offer. Yes indeed, a few adult beverages and comfort foods (cheesecake works wonders) were consumed those four ridiculously long days.
And then at 9pm, I got a call from my agent: "You got the home, there were no other offers."
All that stress for nothing. I could have been busy at Home Depot picking out paint swatches as normal buyers do on Saturday evenings in the early stages of becoming a renovations addict.
But don't forget the seller side: unless it’s a strong sellers' market, the seller will be stressed from waiting for an offer to come in the door. In a slow market, pre-listing optimism can quickly evaporate as the seller waits for the call they want to hear from their agent. "Waiting for an offer on our house" can be very stressful for home sellers.
The wait between submitting your inspection response and hearing back: you the buyer do your home inspection including a sewer scope for older homes and have just spent around $600. You found some smaller items but also some significant, potentially costly repairs like the home needs a new roof, the electrical panel is not to code or the sewer line is collapsing.
You want to ask the sellers to fix all the bigger items but you agonize between pushing for too much and the sellers completely refusing. You have to decide what are reasonable home inspection repair requests. Or you might want to push for a price drop. You still want the home. You submit your inspection response with the requested repair.
And now you wait and start agonizing as to how the seller will respond. Depending on the terms of the contract you agreed to, the seller might have up to 3 days to consider your repairs request. Some sellers will reply the same day but many will use that full 3 days before they get back to you.
On the other side of the fence, the sellers have been anxiously waiting to see what you will find during the inspection and what list of items you will come back with. Most sellers, despite living in their homes every day, might be oblivious of needed repairs and code violations. The sellers hope you found nothing but they are probably lying awake at night worrying that you will find something major that might kill the deal.
The real estate time-bending phenomenon: when 3 days is more than 5 days! What? For real estate contracts, time periods of 5 days or less do not include weekends or holidays. So, say the buyer has 3 days to do an inspection which starts on a Thursday and Monday is the 4th of July, then the buyer actually has all the way through the end of the following Tuesday. Now 3 days has magically become 6 whole days. Pretty impressive, eh?
Waiting for appraisal results (one of the longest waits): you have cleared the inspection phase and now it's time for the appraiser to make you wait. The lender orders the appraisal and in a busy market, it can be a week before the appraiser actually gets to visit the home and then another whole week before the buyer gets the appraisal report. That could be two whole weeks of perfecting your waiting skills.
This waiting for appraisal results period is just as scary for the sellers as it is for the buyers. Low appraisals can torpedo a home sale in double quick time (once the actual report comes in that is). You've come so far and now have this to deal with. Approximately 9 times out of 10 the appraisal will pass but it's that chance of not passing and that 2-week wait that can drive buyers and sellers climbing up the walls.
Probably the most frequently asked question I get from both home buyers and sellers are: "is the appraisal back yet?" Yes, it's up there with kids in the rear seat asking every 5 minutes "are we there yet?"
Waiting for the loan to be approved (a less anxious wait): after the appraisal step, you are about 90% guaranteed to close but you still have to wait for loan approval and the closing process.
"But wasn’t I pre-approved already?" You were pre-approved for a loan for a hypothetical home in your area. Now that you are buying a specific home, you need to be approved for that particular home and part of that process was the appraisal. After the appraisal, you are still about two whole weeks from closing. Your loan has to go through the underwriting process before the loan is approved. Yes, it's another 2 whole weeks but you are looking good at this stage and can get busy packing.
Waiting for closing (happy waiting phase): Good news, your loan has been approved! You are almost over the finishing line now but still have a few bits of business to take care of now involving escrow, reviewing closing disclosures and statements, attending a signing appointment etc. But who cares, you're 99% of the way there and can almost feel the front door keys in your sweaty little hands.
Tips on how to stay sane during real estate transactions
Ask your Realtor to plot out a timeline on a calendar with the various steps and time periods clearly mapped out. Print it out and stick it to your fridge. You might not be able to bend time or make it speed up but at least you will be able to see the deadline for completion of each step. You can gleefully watch the days go by as you edge ever closer to that magic day when you will close.
Have a firm grasp of how the purchase process works AND how the mortgage process works rather than just completely relying on your agent or mortgage broker for updates. Buyers and sellers who are knowledgeable about the process tend to be more relaxed about the transaction because they know what's coming next and understand why each step is necessary. However, doesn't mean that they won't be immune to stressing waiting for appraisal results or the likes.
Many buyers will have a decent handle on the home buying process but when it comes to the mortgage process, well it's just not as fun! However, once you understand the mortgage process you will know what's going on in the background (while you're busy waiting) and maybe you'll be more willing to accept why some steps of the process appear to take so long.
And then you hit that last week before closing and you’re ready to be done with the whole thing. But wait there's more! And to help you through those last few days here’s a great guide to the closing process and the things you need to do that last week before you get those keys to housing Nirvana. Hey buyers, don't forget to do a walkthrough of the home a day or two before closing.
And now, some completely useless tips to keep you distracted and reduce your stress levels.
- Try to train your cat on the meaning of loyalty.
- Increase your alcohol or "medicinal" marijuana intake (WA and CO only please!).
- Look for those missing odd socks that's you've always wanted to investigate or that one missing piece from that 2000 piece Matterhorn jig-saw.
- Take up smoking (but promise yourself you will quit on closing day).
- Watch the complete Twin Peaks series in one single sitting (best TV series ever!).
Vladimir: “that passed the time.”
Estragon: “it would have passed in any case.”
Vladimir: “yes, but not so rapidly."
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot