Trading Up: What to Keep in Mind when Dealing with Home Sellers Looking to Trade Up


One of the biggest segments of the today’s expanding real estate market requires a special touch.

We’re talking about clients trading up.

Unlike first-time buyers, clients trading up don’t need an agent to hold their hands when it comes to closing and working with banks, home inspectors and others. Instead, they need us to help them think through the process of uprooting their lives and moving from one property to another.

Agents today would be foolish to ignore them.

A recent National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) survey profiling home buyers and sellers found that almost half of recent sellers were also buying larger homes for a higher price. And 59 percent bought newer homes.

It makes sense that these “trade up” clients are now surging into the market. NAR found that typical sellers today have been in their homes for nine years, compared to six years in 2007. Thirteen percent of sellers also had to delay moving out because their homes were worth less than their mortgages – this is what’s kept these individuals from giving us business.

Now times have changed, and we’ve outlined a few thoughts to keep in mind when working with clients trading up.

Buy and sell, or sell and buy?
Find out why clients want to trade up. If they’re looking to remain in the vicinity but want new digs, they’ll need to coordinate two real estate deals simultaneously. That can be stressful.

In lieu of being lucky or clever enough to sell and buy properties at the same time, the best scenario is to sell their current home first, then close on another property. Otherwise, they’ll be under pressure to sell their old home quickly — a mistake that can lead to accepting a lower price — or they might wind up owning and paying for two homes.

Selling their current property first also allows them to pursue a cash deal on their new home, assuring a speedier closing.

Ask about their In-laws
Of course, when clients sell their current house before they buy another one, they face another problem: where to live. Can your clients stay with relatives temporarily? Do they have the resources (and willingness) to live in a hotel or apartment while they finalize the purchase of their new home? Remind them that they’ll likely need to put their belongings in storage, too.

Ask about their credit
Another option to handle the dilemma of when to buy versus when to sell is a home equity line of credit. For a relatively minor fee, clients could purchase a new house with a credit line, move into it, sell their old house and pay off the bank. Here, REALTORS® have a responsibility to make sure their clients have realistic expectations about the price they can fetch with their old home and the amount of time it will take them to sell. Again, they need to be wary about owning and paying bills on two homes.

Sell first, work a deal
If your clients want to sell before buying, you’ll need to devise a strategy for moving forward, especially if they’re staying in the area and you want to represent them when they buy a new home. Be creative about illustrating the value of the deal or even sweetening it with some extras to help close. Will prospective buyers be willing to wait a bit longer than usual to move into the house, giving the sellers time to find a new home? If so, what do the buyers get out of it? The sellers might need to offer incentives — reducing the asking price, paying legal costs, repairs, taxes, etc. — to reach a deal.

Be prepared to wait
A word of advice: Home buyers that are looking to trade up are often willing to wait longer to buy than first time home buyers. According to the study, typical buyers spend 12 weeks shopping for homes. That’s an average, meaning the time can stretch for much longer.

But we all know the problem: Inventories of pricier homes are low today because of sluggish building during the Great Recession. Since these clients are looking for nicer homes, the lack of new ones means they often don’t find what they’re looking for in the first few weeks of searching. After all, they have a home already.

The bright side of the NAR study is that these folks are clearly eager to buy. It’s our job as real estate professionals to help them imagine the future and then identify and purchase the right new home for their lifestyle and financial situation.

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