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A first-time homebuyer's secret weapon

By Liz Keuler

January 2019
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Are you a month-to-month renter thinking about making the leap to homeowner? If so, you could have a secret weapon in your campaign to make a successful offer on a house: a flexible closing date.

When it comes to a closing date, sooner isn’t always better

You might think that all sellers would want to close as quickly as possible, but that isn’t always the case. “A flexible closing date is often very important to sellers when they receive an offer,” says Chris Muellenbach, a real estate agent in Milwaukee.

I found that to be true when my husband and I purchased our house in 2012. We found the perfect house with the perfect closet space (joy!); there was a competing offer (horror!); and we had to boost our offer or risk missing out (crippling anxiety!). With advice from our real estate agent, we sweetened our offer by:

  1. Increasing the offer by a couple thousand dollars 
  2. Offering more earnest money to show how serious we were 
  3. Allowing the sellers to set any closing date in the next 120 days, as long as we had 30 days’ notice 

Why #3? The house had only been on the market one week. We knew the sellers were moving up to a bigger house to accommodate their growing family, and they needed time to find their next home. That gave us an edge over move-up buyers who may have been trying to juggle their own buy-and-sell situations.

It turned out that the sellers needed that extra time. Our offer was accepted May 3, and our closing date wasn’t until July 27, but the house was worth the wait.

Sellers may have all kinds of reasons to want flexibility

Chris says move-up buyers aren’t the only sellers for whom flexibility is a boon: “I recently sold a house for two adult children who unexpectedly lost both of their parents within six weeks of each other. The sellers appreciated the extended closing date to take care of their parents’ affairs and clean out the home.”

A seller could have any number of reasons to want or even need flexibility for the sale of their home. You can’t know the seller’s circumstances from the listing or the showing.

There’s only one way to find out

Ask! Chris suggests buyers preparing to write an offer have their real estate agent call the listing agent to ask about the seller’s preferences. If you’re a first-time homebuyer with a month-to-month rental agreement (or maybe even a super flexible parental rental agreement), your flexibility with timing could be the extra incentive that leads to an accepted offer.

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Liz Keuler is the editor of Readynest. She spent a decade meandering through radio, nonprofits and the corporate world before convincing MGIC to hire her based on her staunch grammatical convictions. She lives in a charming 100-year-old bungalow on Milwaukee’s East Side. Her interests include old Ernst Lubitsch films, new action movies, 60s girl pop, Regency romance novels, word games, sewing and shallots.