Buy First or Sell First?

Q: I’m in the process of getting my primary house ready to sell in order to downsize. Its value is around $400,000. I owe about $150,000 on it and have no other debts.

I won’t be finished with prepping my house for sale until next summer. I found a house in South Carolina that is an estate sale that meets my needs with a price around $150,000.

Should I forget about this house in South Carolina and work on selling my primary house first? Or should I consider doing a cash-out refinance and using those funds to buy the second house?

I’m still employed with stable income, and plan to retire when I sell my primary house.

A: The real issue is how much money you have and how much you’re prepared to spend in order to secure the house of your future, in South Carolina.

If you are prepared to own two homes for an extended period of time, you could buy the new house in South Carolina and simply wait until you sell your primary residence.

But if you’re just waiting to find the right house so that you can retire, owning two homes could be a substantial setback to your plan. And if you can’t really afford to own the two homes simultaneously, you might be better off making sure you have a buyer for your current home before trying to buy a home in South Carolina.

The problem is that you might own these two homes for some time to come. To understand how much of a liability you face, you’ll have to do an indepth study of homes that have recently sold and those that are on the market.

You can do this by looking up the prices of homes that have closed. But if you are unsure of where the real estate market is in your area, you might want to talk to a couple of local real estate agents and get their thoughts on the market and how to position your home for sale.

Since you may not have your home ready to sell for almost a year, the market today could be very different from the market next summer. If the real estate market in your area is better now, you might want to consider selling soon. If the real estate market in your area is poor now, it may or may not get better next summer.

Your decision to buy hinges on whether you can see into the future to determine where the real estate market might be. Unfortunately, I don’t have that crystal ball and can’t tell you. But I do know that owning two homes and having the expenses for those two homes is a big burden to bear particularly when you are trying to retire and scale down your home and your way of life.


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