South Florida's housing recovery is sneaking up on some sellers.
Their homes are flying off the market in days or weeks, and the severe shortage of inventory is keeping them from quickly finding a new place.
Once they sign a contract, sellers typically have only 45 to 60 days until closing -- not nearly enough time to turn around and buy in a blistering market.
Jon Klein, a real estate agent in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said he tells sellers they have to start looking the minute they sign a contract on their existing residence.
"I had one client say to me that she had to go to the gym first," Klein said. "I had to tell her, 'What's more important? The gym or buying a house? You're going to be homeless.'"
The region's housing market has turned dramatically in the past year. Investors and other buyers are competing for a dearth of homes, leading to bidding wars, rising prices and fast sales.
As of the end of February, it took a median 38 days for a Broward County home to go under contract, down from 51 days a year earlier, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors. In Palm Beach County, the median was 87 days, compared with 101 a year ago, said the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.
The median is the midpoint; half the homes go under contract sooner and half take longer.
Meanwhile, inventories of single family homes for sale have declined sharply. Homeowners either can't sell because they're "underwater" on their mortgages or they're choosing to hold off while prices continue to increase.
"As prices continue to rise, I think and I hope that more sellers will be motivated to get into the market," said Scott Agran, president of Lang Realty in Boca Raton.
In the meantime, here's how three South Florida homeowners are dealing with the challenging market:
'In limbo right now'
Jill Busch is selling her three-bedroom Coral Springs condominium. She closes May 24.
Her plan is to buy a smaller condo in the 55-and-over Kings Point complex in Tamarac. She found one unit but was out-bid and now is awaiting word on another.
If that deal falls through, Busch's Plan B is to ask the buyer of her condo to let her stay and rent for a month or two. Or she might be able to camp out in a friend's empty condo.
"I'm in limbo right now," she said. "I'm getting nervous."
Celebrating the deal that didn't happen
It took only a few weeks to find a buyer for Tracy Sachs' five-bedroom Parkland home, but she immediately grew disillusioned when she started looking for homes to buy.
"We started panicking that we had nowhere to go," said Sachs, a 46-year-old teacher.
Just as she and her husband, Mark, were seriously considering offering money to the buyer to let them out of the contract, they got a call from Klein, their real estate agent. He told them the buyer's financing had fallen through, and the deal was off.
"I was truly relieved," Sachs said.
The couple immediately took the home off the market. They're redoing the floors, painting inside and out and making other improvements. They want to wait at least a couple years for the housing market to settle down.
Refusing to make a quick decision
Edwin Donahue reached a deal earlier this month to sell his home in Parkland's Heron Bay, but he has to be out by April 29.
The already-difficult search is even more challenging for Donahue because he wants to stay within the Heron Heights Elementary school district so his 8-year-old daughter won't be displaced.
After touring a few properties, Donahue, 50, determined there was no way he could buy so quickly. So he decided to rent a townhome in the Heron Heights district, taking the pressure off and allowing him to look at a more leisurely pace.
"It's better for me to take my time," he said. "I don't want to make a rash decision. Anytime you make a quick decision like that, you end up regretting it in the future."
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