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Trading spaces: Swapping homes could benefit buyer, seller in tough market

House-swapping has advantages and disadvantages but is an option for home owners looking to sell. Graphic by Anthony Ring/Daily (Buy photo)

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Stephanie Seely has it all planned out, and from the outside looking in, it sounds pretty good.

She wants to uproot her family of six, which includes four children ranging in age from 7 months to 11 years, from Melbourne, Fla., and move to the Front Royal area, where there is a strong homeschooling presence. Her husband, who is graduating from nursing school, can find work, as can she, possibly with the company she left in October that has headquarters in Falls Church.

Ultimately, this puts Seely closer to her 11 brothers and sisters, all of whom are scattered about in Front Royal, Ohio, Connecticut and other spots more accessible from Virginia than Florida. Her husband doesn't mind, she said, as there is hardly a difference in traveling between Virginia and New Mexico, where his family is, and Florida and New Mexico.

"I'm the more vocal complainer," Seely said of not living near relatives.

Besides, she said, her mother-in-law is an artist and will just as likely have a show in Washington, D.C., as she would Miami or Orlando.

What's the hang up to this plan? It's executing the final, most important, part -- selling her three-bedroom house and 0.29 acre in Florida. But Seely not only wants to sell, she wants to swap with someone around Front Royal. Seely prefers "buildable acreage zoned to permit farm animals," according to the listing on www.goswap.org.

The idea of house swapping is that two sellers who are unable to find buyers broker a deal themselves, literally trading living quarters. It's a simple concept under "normal circumstances," as long as both parties are qualified, both properties are appraised at approximately the same value of the contract price and there is an escape clause in the contract stating that each party is relieved in case of one person not being able to go through with the trade, Go Swap states.

One of the fallbacks, however, is a swapper cannot be picky. Seely said that is an even bigger problem for her, since she has a specific location in mind. There has been interest from people in North Carolina, Alabama, Hawaii and overseas, she said.

The pros and cons of the house swap go beyond flexibility, however. On www.bankrate.com, real estate adviser Steve McLinden states that benefits include the savings on two sets of agent fees and the fact that it is not uncommon for swappers to save even more by using the same moving and title companies.

On the downside, he writes, one house will "almost invariably" be worth more than the other, meaning someone will have to pay the difference. McLinden adds that a swapper will also have to be approved for new mortgage loans.

In a 2008 story for ABC News, Wendy Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist, warned about getting involved with sellers who owe more on their home than it's worth because that person could have trouble getting financing. She also cautioned swappers about "deceiving" online photos, and insists on having a simultaneous closing, which usually means, as McLinden notes, using one title insurance company and having a contingency in the contract that the deal is not complete until all parties sign off on it.

"That way no one has to worry about getting stuck if they buy another family's home but that family pulls out of the deal to buy their home," Bounds states.

R.J. Turner, principal broker of Turner Real Estate LLC in Winchester, said the financial and tax implications of swapping make it difficult. Although he deals with commercial development, he said his discussions with real estate agents and brokers indicate that the area has not had any house swapping through the years.

A number of local agents and others who work with real estate concurred, stating that they had no experience with the practice.

But the presence of sites like Go Swap goes to show it can be accomplished. Seely said she does not remember what turned her attention onto the idea, but the opportunity to "preserve the value" of her house -- and at a cost of only $30 to advertise for a year on Go Swap -- was too good to pass on.

The Melbourne house, built in 1956, is 1,300 square feet, five miles from the beach and has a terraced backyard with an "overgrown jungle look," the Go Swap listing states. The lot backs up to an undeveloped parcel and is visited by rabbits and quail, "if you want them," it states. The listed value is $120,000.

Seely has lived there for 15 years and is simply tired of not having family close by. There has to be someone around Front Royal, she guesses, who is equally tired of working and is ready to retire to Florida.

Sounds like a plan, but it takes two to swap.


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