When you're buying a home, the escrow period — that time between having your offer accepted and having the keys in your hands — can drive even the most zen buyer to the brink of insanity. "After you agree to do everything under the sun for the seller, offer far more than you want to pay, and promise your agent that you'll be 'easygoing,' the real fun begins," says Realtor Alison Gilbert. But there are ways to make the process less stressful. Here, real estate agents share their top tips on getting through escrow without losing your mind.
1. Trust your real estate agent
Hopefully you have a real estate agent you trust. (But once you're in escrow, that ship has sailed!) "You're going to be leaning on them during inspections and negotiations and you don't want to find yourself second guessing their advice or explanations," says Jeff Markus a California Realtor with Clark Living. Trusting them to do their job can bring you a lot of peace of mind. And if you're still anxious, you can certainly check in. "Not every day, but at least once a week check that you've done everything you need to," recommends Realtor Tanya Gradet of Pinnacle Estate Properties. "It's a good way to make sure nothing falls through the cracks."
2. Be flexible
In general, stay flexible and focus on the big picture, whether that applies to choosing a home, or negotiating. "Remember your first home likely won't be your only home ever, and your dream home may be a step or two away," says Markus, who notes this is especially important advice in a sellers' market. "Lean on your Realtor for a strategic plan to eventually land exactly where you'd like to be."
Once you're in escrow, keep that flexibility. "Part of the process is asking for credits or repairs," notes Gradet. "Don't dig in so deep that you reject anything less than exactly what you want. A few thousand dollars means nothing in the big picture."
3. Create a timeline
"When you open escrow, ask your Realtor to give you an overview of the timeline," says Gradet. Personally, I color-coded a special calendar that I made just for the escrow period. Am I a bit neurotic? Yes. But mapping everything out visually was very helpful for relieving (some of) my anxieties. "Knowing when you've hit each milestone can help you feel like there's progress, rather than just a month of anxiety and frustration," adds Gradet.
4. Keep on top of the paperwork
The main thing a buyer can control during escrow? Their paperwork. "Sign your paperwork immediately; any delay in getting your paperwork back to your lender can mean a delayed escrow," says Keller Williams' Sara Skelton. "A lot of times, buyer response time is what slows down escrow," agrees Gradet. "It seems like there's not much going on from the buyer's perspective but the truth is, the lender and escrow company are working very hard to make sure the sale closes and even a one-day delay in getting them something they need can slow down the works significantly." With so many moving parts, you don't want the delay to fall on you.
If you're working with an experienced lender, you should rest easy, assures Gilbert, who helped my husband and me buy our homes. "They will hound you for paperwork, bank statements, income tax information, letters of explanation for xyz, but if you provide what is needed in a timely manner you'll keep the process moving along."
5. Create a to-do list
All the chores involved with buying a home seem endless. But it's okay to ask for help prioritizing. "Sit down with your Realtor and come up with a to-do list," says Skelton. "Schedule inspections (Realtors often do this for clients), shop insurance companies, learn about the neighborhood, arrange for utilities to be switched over, get the locks changed, etc." I had a binder where I kept my to-do list and calendar, along with relevant paperwork. Remember to use pencil, because a lot can change.
6. Brace for inspections
Gilbert says to pack all your inspections into one devastating day (because there will no doubt be some bad news). "No house is perfect and yours will be no exception," she says.
But don't let the prospect of bad news scare you away. "Be there in person for your inspections," Markus advises. "Written reports will always sound more daunting, and inspectors will speak more freely than they'll write." Information is your friend during this process, and the more present you are, the more information you'll get.
7. Watch your finances
It might seem obvious, but you don't want to throw off your loan financing by making large purchases during escrow, when lenders and underwriters will be scrutinizing your accounts. "Don't make any financials changes while in escrow," says Skelton. "Do not lease a new car, do not buy thousands of dollars of furniture or appliances on a credit card, do not quit your job or do anything that can make a lender nervous." Just leave everything alone, try not to spend, and hang tight.
8. Know that your closing date could change
Pencil it into your timeline, but don't assume that your closing date is set in stone. Think of it more as a target. "This is the date everyone is aiming for but sometimes delays do come up, despite everyone's best efforts," says Gradet. "Do not book movers for that day or you may find yourself stuck with all your stuff in a moving truck and nowhere to put it." This happened to us. Our escrow got pushed back, but luckily, our friends let us park our U-Haul next to their house until we could move in a week later.
"Breathe. Meditate. Go to yoga or go for a run," advises Markus. "Turn off your phone before bed." Do what you can to facilitate a smooth escrow period, and then just stay calm. You'll be moving in before you know it. When those nerves start to kick in, remind yourself why you're taking this step. "Every time you start freaking out about the commitment of a mortgage just remember that if you are renting you're already paying a mortgage. It's just someone else's," says Skelton. "Call your homeowner friends and ask if they have any regrets. Most of them will tell you they wish they would have bought sooner."
No matter how crazy it gets, "you'll look back at this and laugh," Gilbert told me during my own stressful escrow period. Two years later, I can laugh. And my family is very happy in our home; all that stress was worth it in the end.