One of the main reasons for the lack of homes for sale is that people don’t want to give up their low-interest-rate mortgages. Another reason for the low inventory: Folks are leery about being able to find a suitable place to replace the one they have now.

Buyers can’t do anything about loan rates, which at this writing were at their highest point in seven years – but still reasonably priced at less than 5 percent. But there are ways to make would-be sellers more comfortable about finding another house.

They’re called seller contingencies, a catch-all phrase that covers any number of ways to allow owners a sensible amount of time to move on. If the seller is unsuccessful, the contract becomes null and void and the buyer has to continue their own search.

One contingency that has become more popular of late allows the seller to remain in the house for 30, 60 or even 90 days while shopping for a new place. Renee Cox, broker-owner of Acorn Real Estate Professionals in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a market she says is “going gangbusters,” has successfully used this clause several times.

Typically, Cox says, sellers are allowed 30 to 60 days to shop. But if this is the house you really want, she adds, you can always give the seller more time.

The drawback to such a tactic is that the buyers don’t really know if they have a deal or not. It’s the reverse of a sale that is contingent on the buyers selling their house in order for the deal to proceed. In that case, the seller doesn’t have a strong contract, either.

Also, buyers may not want to tie themselves and their money up for long periods of time. With so few houses for sale, they may miss out on other top-of-the-line places that come on the market while they’re waiting – and waiting, and waiting.

Other issues pop up, too. Lenders may not be willing to work with buyers whose contracts are so iffy. For example, they may not want to lock in the interest rate for longer periods, especially in a rising-rate environment such as this. Or maybe they’ll demand a somewhat higher interest rate.

“What’s good for the seller is usually bad for the buyer,” says David Gibson, an agent with Long and Foster Real Estate in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Still, if this is the place you absolutely, positively have to have, it’s worth a try. You just have to be patient. And you might even be able to negotiate a somewhat lower price by being extra patient.

Bruce Ailion of RE/MAX Town and Country in Atlanta, another hot market, says this contingency is a lot like a short sale in which the buyer is betting the deal will be cleared by the seller’s lender. And it can be used in all kinds of situations.

In one deal Ailion worked on recently, the buyer was going to tear down the house and build a more modern one. “The buyer didn’t have to get into the house right away,” he says, “so he gave the seller 90 days.”

Another way to give sellers time to find new digs is to rent the house back to them at a reasonable fee, perhaps just enough to cover your mortgage on the place. Gibson finds this option far more attractive, explaining that at least “the buyer knows he bought the house that he wants.”

David Burke, who hangs his shingle with Evers and Co. in Washington, DC, likes this option, too. In a seller’s market like this, he says, buyers “really have to be creative.” To persuade reluctant sellers to move on – “to sweeten the deal” – Burke suggests allowing them to stay free of charge for two or three months while they search for another house, or offering to pay their mortgage for a couple of months while they house-hunt. And if it takes an extra 30 days, then offer to pay their loan for the extra time.

With this kind of contingency, he says, “I’ve never had a deal go south.”

Of course, in this market, the absolute best way for a seller to be certain they find suitable housing elsewhere is to buy first, then sell the current place. With so few houses up for grabs – a seven-month supply is normal, but the current supply is under four – sellers shouldn’t have much trouble getting top dollar.

Absent that, though, it may take some prodding to get a potential seller off the sidelines. One seller contingency or another may do the trick.


Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 30 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at