How to Overcome Challenges as a Second-Time Homebuyer

Moving up from a starter home or downsizing from a family house? Expect changes in the homebuying process.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Overcome Challenges as a Second-Time Homebuyer

Parents and child in new home(Getty Images)

There’s a lot of advice out there for first-time homebuyers, mostly young people who are new to the process of buying a home.

But what about second-time homebuyers? What obstacles do they face, and what do they need to know?

“The whole landscape of real estate has changed,” says Andi DeFelice, associate broker at Exclusive Buyers Realty in Savannah, Georgia, and the president-elect of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. “You just have to be ready to roll with the flow. It’s not all about you. The days of the deal are gone right now.”

Second-time homebuyers, whether they’ve moving up to larger homes or downsizing to smaller ones, will find their greatest challenge the same one facing first-time buyers: a lack of homes for sale in lower and medium price ranges, creating a fast market that requires quick decisions and offers little room for negotiation on price.

“They’re not used to this type of market with the multiple offers,” says Larry Kendall, chairman of The Group Inc. Real Estate in Fort Collins, Colorado, and author of “Ninja Selling.” He terms the current real estate atmosphere a “mosh pit market.” “You jump in and there’s a lot of pushing and shoving, and you hope you come out with a contract.”

While some challenges – such as the lack of homes for sale – affect first-time and second-time buyers equally, others are unique to the second-timers. Many, for example, need to sell their current home in order to buy a new one.

“It’s always scary to put your home on the market before you know where you’re going to go,” DeFelice says.

In a slow market, you might be able to make an offer on a new house contingent on selling your old home. In this market, such contingencies won’t fly – though you may be able to write a contract making the sale of your old home contingent on you finding a new one.

Kendall advises move-up buyers to work with their lenders to see if they can get a home equity line of credit on their current home for the new down payment, then qualify for a mortgage on a new home while keeping their old home as a rental for a few years.

Other alternatives are to sell the old home but rent back from the buyers for a few months or move into a temporary rental between homes.

Those who have not bought a home since before the recession may be surprised how much the process has changed, from the role of online services in the home search to the amount of paperwork you must provide to get a mortgage.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you’re spending,” DeFelice says. “The lenders have specific criteria you have to meet.”

Some second-time buyers are also surprised at how much they have to spend to get the property they want, especially if they insist on a home in move-in condition. “They’re stepping up in home price [but] the money that they bring to the table is not going to go as far as they thought it would,” says Richard Harty, broker-owner at the Harty Realty Group in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. “Everybody’s looking for turnkey. People are so busy now. You’ve got to pay more to get that condition.”

Here are seven tips for second-time buyers to survive this competitive real estate market:

Have a plan if your old home sells before you find a new one. That could include finding a buyer who will let you rent back, moving into a temporary rental or doing some house sitting while friends and relatives are on vacation.

Expect lots of mortgage paperwork. Mortgage lending guidelines created after the recession require lenders to document that you can actually afford your mortgage. That will require you to document all your income and debts. Before you start looking at homes, consult a mortgage lender or two to find out what you can afford. Your chance of actually getting the home you want increases significantly if you are preapproved for a mortgage.

Be open to homes that need work. There may be less competition for homes that have not been updated. While scraping popcorn ceiling is a messy job, it isn’t that expensive when you look at the price of the home. The same goes for other projects, like changing dated window treatments or removing ugly wallpaper. Even updating kitchens, replacing roofs and changing flooring may be worth doing if it means you can get a good home at a decent price.

Embrace technology. In a fast-moving market, homes often go to the first prospective buyers that get in to tour them. “They have email alerts, and they know about them as soon as they hit the market,” DeFelice says. You can also use the internet to research ahead of time what homes are selling for, what kind of homes are available and what neighborhoods you will consider.

Search at a slower time. In many parts of the country, spring is the top homebuying season, and more buyers are competing for the available properties. Around the holidays and during the winter, fewer buyers are in the market. “If they can wait until late August or September, there start to be more listings available,” Kendall says.

Make your offer strong. Kendall recently received 15 offers on a client’s home, 10 cash offers and five with financing. But none of the financing offers included preapproval letters, and only one of the cash offers included proof of funds. The sellers took that offer, even though it was not the highest. “That buyer had done their homework,” Kendall says. “It wasn’t the best price, but it was the best offer.”

Be flexible on closing terms. Price is only one element of the equation. Sellers also care about whether you can close quickly (or are willing to wait), whether you’re likely to pull out after an inspection and whether you’re approved for a mortgage. Not only does closing approach help to make your offer as strong as possible, you might beat competing offers if you’re willing to work within the seller’s timetable.

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