real estate

Can't sell? Try swapping your home for another

"It's relatively rare that you have two properties with exactly the same value," says Matt Battiata, owner of Battiata Real Estate Group in San Diego.

Then there's the matter of the actual sale. A home swap is essentially two closings that occur simultaneously. Swappers will want to make sure that their closing is contingent on the closing of the other property, Battiata says, so one party can't back out and leave the other on the hook for two homes.

Before contracting to trade homes, swappers should perform the same due diligence that they would if they were buying a home the traditional way. Home inspections and full disclosures of any structural deficiencies ensure that both parties know exactly what they're getting.

"It's the exact same thing as a regular real estate transaction," Battiata says. "Nothing else changes."

Battiata warns that a swap deal doesn't automatically release homeowners from paying commissions to their real estate agents. Most people who swap have already listed their home with an agent and may be obligated to pay them, even if they find the buyer themselves.

"Usually, that seller is still going to pay commission if he's under contract with an agent," Battiata says. "It all depends on the agreement with the agent. I have a program with sellers that if I list your home and you find a buyer, we charge you much less in the way of commission. But most agents charge a standard percentage, regardless of where the buyer comes from."

The listing agreement will usually outline what happens in case of a homeowner-arranged sale.

But if you haven't already listed your house with a real estate agent, it's up to you to decide whether to hire one. While Moskowitz says he doesn't tout DomuSwap as a way of bypassing agent fees, those that trade without an agent may have more wiggle room as far as negotiating prices.

"That commission is going to come off the listing price and make the house easier to move, or it's going to go in your pocket," he says.

Battiata, however, says it's unwise to proceed without some kind of expert help.

"Where people get into problems is when they're trying to do for-sale-by-owner transactions," Battiata says. "There's tons of liability when transferring property."

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At the very least, he says, an attorney specializing in real estate issues should be retained to make sure the sales agreements comply with local laws.

All of these concerns are moot, however, if you can't find someone to trade with -- and negotiating a successful trade can be tough. Runge says he's exchanged e-mails with many homeowners about swapping, but found that they only wanted certain types of houses, or homes in specific neighborhoods.

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