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Possession Options

When can you actually take possession of your home and move into it? That depends on the terms of your contract. Here are your usual options:

Move in the same day of closing

This is fine if the sellers have already moved out. If, however, the sellers haven't moved yet and don't want to deliver possession until they're absolutely 100 percent certain of closing, you have a logistical problem. For two moving vans to occupy exactly the same driveway at exactly the same time borders on the impossible. Moving into a house while someone else is moving out is something you'll never attempt more than once. There are easier ways to go crazy.

Move in the day after closing

We recommend this alternative if the sellers won't deliver possession until closing. Let the sellers have the day of closing as their moving day. After all, the sellers are still the owners until title transfers. Moving day is stressful, even under the best of circumstances. Why create unnecessary stress for yourself by trying to move in as the sellers are leaving?

After the sellers vacate, but before your movers bring your belongings into the house, check your new home carefully for damage that may have been caused by the sellers' movers. When movers are involved, accidents can happen.

Whether you move into your home the day of closing or the following day, you start paying for utilities and homeowners insurance effective the day that it closes. Don't forget to coordinate phone installation and resumption of utility services, if necessary, with the proper companies a couple of weeks prior to the scheduled closing.

Move in after a seller rent-back

It's not uncommon for sellers to remain in their house for several weeks after closing while waiting to get into their new home. In that case, you sign a separate rent-back agreement with them that becomes part of your purchase contract. The rent-back agreement covers such things as who pays for utilities and maintenance, what happens if there's property damage, how much rent the sellers pay you, and what the penalties are if the sellers don't vacate the property on the date specified in the rent-back.

It's customary for the sellers to pay rent equal to what you're paying for principal and interest on your mortgage, plus property taxes and insurance, so that you don't have out-of-pocket expense on what it costs you to own the house during the term of their rental. The amount equaling principle, interest, taxes, and insurance (known as PITI) is prorated on a per-day basis from closing until the sellers vacate.

If the home you're buying is vacant, you may be tempted to ask for permission to start fixing the house up before closing. After all, painting or waxing floors, for example, is much easier and faster when the house is empty. Don't do it. If the deal falls through, you've spent your time and money fixing up someone else's house. If the house catches fire, you don't have insurance to cover your losses. The risk exceeds the reward. Instead, allow some time to do these tasks after closing and before moving in.