From Sale Pending to Sold: What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

By Marni Jameson 

And the handwringing begins.

My house in Colorado, the one I haven’t lived in for six years, and, yes, the one that’s been on the market since before Adam met Eve, is at last under contract, or “in escrow” as they say in some states. That’s a fancy way of saying, I accepted a buyer’s offer.

But I’m not doing a happy dance in the end zone just yet.

“Once you’re under contract, the sale is as good as done!” said no one who has sold a house, ever.

Accepting an offer is to selling a house what getting pregnant is to having a baby. A lot can go wrong between conception and delivery.

Statistics show that, for reasons that make me want to stick my head in a bucket of sand, anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of pending home sales don’t close. That’s right, just when you think the deal is heading for the corner pocket, it bounces off the rail and smacks you in the eye.

Ever since I accepted the offer on the Colorado house last month, and indulged in a short-lived flutter of euphoria, I have felt house pregnant, as if I’m expecting a large house. I can’t sleep. I fret (what if there’s miscarriage, or the house is breech?), and constantly feel like I’m about to throw up.

As with any pregnancy, the first third is most worrisome. This is why during house pregnancy, you should curb your enthusiasm and not decorate the nursery until you’ve cleared a few hurdles: the first prenatal visits (lender approval and appraisal), lab tests and ultrasounds (home inspection, radon, roof, mold and sewer checks), and preauthorization from your insurance company (title searches).

Thankfully, I’m through those rocky first weeks. The nausea has slightly subsided. But as the due date approaches, I am practicing my breathing exercises, anticipating some pain, and hoping that in a month or so, I will smoothly deliver a house and be dancing in the end zone.

Meanwhile, here’s what Ed Hardey, broker and owner at Integrity Real Estate Group, in Denver, says that I and other sellers can do, besides wring their hands and pace, to help make sure their house sale goes from pending to sold.

  • Make sure the deal is real. “If the deal is shaky from the start, kill it early before too many emotions get involved,” said Hardey, who is not involved in my transaction. “I would rather a contract never come together than have it come together and fall apart in three weeks.” Unfortunately, if a buyer gets cold feet, and wants out, there’s little a seller can do. But sellers with astute agents can avoid buyers who come with red flags. We dodged two like that, including one whose offer was contingent on his house selling, thought it wasn’t even on the market yet.
  • Show me the money. Before buyers write an offer, they should have their lending approved for the price they’re offering. Not just prequalified, but pre-approved. “It’s an important distinction,” said Hardey. “You want to eliminate points of failure early on.”
  • Get it inspected early. The biggest hurdle for both buyers and sellers is the home inspection. Buyers should schedule the home inspection as soon as possible after their offer is accepted. “This is where most sales fall apart,” said Hardey. Sellers should be proactive, and repair items they know need repair before the inspection, and disclose other issues. They can also state up front that the sale is “as is” to discourage buyers from nickel and diming them on repairs after the price has been agreed on. If a major structural issue surfaces, negotiations can reopen. Buyers can choose to walk away, or sellers might need to lower their price.
  • Know the value. Because banks won’t loan more than the appraised value of a property, a low appraisal can kill a deal. Thus, from the start both parties need to be realistic about the property’s worth. “Neither the buyer nor the seller has any excuse for not knowing where the house should be valued,” said Hardey, who closed on 46 properties last year. “An appraiser can only look at the same data that the buyer and seller can see.” A low appraisal is more common in hot markets where the comps haven’t caught up to the houses selling for over asking. To prevent a low appraisal from tanking a deal, parties can get a second appraisal and hope it’s better, or the seller can lower the price, or the buyer can bring more cash to the deal.
  • Hand over the rule book. If the home is in a neighborhood that has a homeowners’ association, sellers should get a copy the covenants early on and make them available to interested buyers, who should review them before making an offer. “This eliminates the last-minute frantic search for HOA documents, and prevents a deal from breaking down when the buyer finds out he can’t park his boat out front,” said Hardey.
  • Clear the title. Before listing the property, the seller’s agent should pull the property’s title report to see if it’s clean, said Hardey. Sometimes old loans are lingering that need to be released, or a lien shows up. “Being sure the title report has no clouds eliminates another stress point.” Consider all this part of your prenatal care.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at