Most people take a studied, detailed approach to buying a home. But sometimes, even the most diligent planning takes a back seat to good old serendipity. That bit of luck was how Gina Bellavia and her husband ended up living in their dream house in New Rochelle, NY, and literally swapped homes with their seller.
A casual approach to buying a home
In the summer of 2015, Bellavia felt that her small family was outgrowing apartment living. They loved their two-bedroom duplex and surrounding community, but as their toddler’s toys started taking over, she began to think ahead. She wanted her daughter to have dedicated play space outside the living room — and a backyard. She persuaded her husband, Andrew Guignard, to “just look” online, and they ran some numbers. They enlisted the help of her friend’s mother, who works as a real estate agent. They warned her that they were a few years away from selling the beloved duplex and wouldn’t be making any immediate moves. The agent agreed to take them on some casual showings to get a feel for their budget and preferences, and be prepared when the time was right.
Finding “the one”
They saw a few houses, but each one, says Bellavia, had some sort of issue. Either it was already in contract, not in the right location, or needed a lot of work. Then the agent sent an online listing that Bellavia immediately rejected. “Right off the bat, I tell her, ‘absolutely not,’” she says. “It’s ugly. The kitchen is gross. It’s stuck in the ’80s and I’m just not feeling it.”
But according to the real estate agent, it was a great house with great bones in exactly the right location. She urged the couple not to make an emotional decision before seeing it in person. “She tells us just to come out and see it … and asks me not to judge a book by its cover,” Bellavia says.
When they stepped inside, it was love at first sight. Bellavia even had to be talked into waiting two days to show her parents the house instead of making an offer on the spot. Her parents fell in love with it too.
The contingency catch
The home also happened to be in New Rochelle, where Bellavia grew up. That meant having childhood friends with kids nearby and a school system she knew well. Plus, the town’s burgeoning restaurant and cultural scenes were exactly what she wanted in a community.
But because Bellavia and Guignard had planned to casually look for a new home, they weren’t quite ready to buy — and certainly not without selling their duplex first. The couple submitted their offer with a home-sale contingency, despite the agent’s warning that sellers typically “don’t do contingencies.”
A very lucky break
The couple understood that they might as well prepare to have their offer rejected. That was on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, the real estate agent called with unbelievable news. What Bellavia thought was a call to tell her they didn’t get the house took a twist. The sellers were divorcing. And the wife was looking for a two-bedroom place — in the apartment complex where Bellavia lived. “I was practically yelling,” she says. “‘I have that!’ I said. ‘She can have it if she’ll give me her house!’”
The couple was determined to have their duplex make a good first impression. After a weekend spent cleaning and staging, and two quick looks, they received a full-asking-price offer — from one-half of the couple selling the home they hoped to buy. “That fall, we had a dual closing and quite literally swapped houses,” says Bellavia. “We even used the same moving company.”
The house swap? Not typical
Of course, such a fortuitous real estate transaction is rare. But as this couple’s experience proves, sometimes the best way to achieve success in the real estate market is simply to remain optimistic. You might get lucky (or improve your chances) by being able to change your time frame or devising a novel offer. Look for creative ways to solve some of the logistical challenges that can arise during the home-buying process. Consider unconventional tactics, like finding an agent who’s willing to take you on as a “casual” buyer. It also doesn’t hurt to look past the listing photos sometimes. Should you make a contingency offer? That’s up to you. Contingency offers can potentially kill home sales, but they’re meant to protect buyers. Tap your real estate agent’s expertise to weigh all possible approaches. Finding out why the homeowner is selling can also help you tailor a standout offer that works for you and the seller.