Exercise patience, flexibility if buying or selling a home

Trying to buy or sell a hurricane-damaged home? Be patient, flexible and prepared, real estate agents say.

"Buying and selling a home is stressful under normal circumstances," said Linda Lafferty, a regional senior vice president for Coldwell Banker in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. "In this type of environment, it's almost unbearable for some people."

Hundreds of deals across South Florida were postponed as Hurricane Wilma damaged roofs and knocked down screen enclosures.

As a result, buyers insisted on reinspections, and sellers had to pay for the repairs or make other arrangements before the deals could close.

Most lenders required the roofs to be fixed before they signed off on the loans but were less concerned about screen enclosures, said Donn Roebke, office manager for Illustrated Properties in Wellington.

"Buyers and sellers and the brokers involved really need to be on top of the situation because each situation can be a little bit different," he said.

In some cases, sellers didn't fix the damage but put money in escrow for the buyers, who then could pay contractors after the sales closed. A licensed contractor, generally paid for by the buyer, can inspect the property and help determine how much money should be put into escrow.

"The seller has to realize if they want to sell the home, they have few choices in the matter," said Bob Melzer, a real estate agent in Boynton Beach.

Sellers also have to negotiate assessments for damage to condos. A motivated seller should offer to pay at least part of the bill, said Hap Pomerantz, a broker for the Keyes Co. in Coral Springs and Parkland. "The amount of the assessment, in many cases, is minor compared to the price of the house," he said.

As frustrating as it might be, sellers of damaged homes should consider lowering their asking prices, said Beverly Rothstein, an agent for Exit Team Realty in Coral Springs.

One of Rothstein's clients listed her home for $450,000, but it drew little interest because it needed a new roof and other repairs.

The seller, a widow, agreed to make some repairs, "but buyers are looking at the home like it was in shambles," Rothstein said. "I'm hoping to convince the seller to reduce the asking price of the home so that we can procure a buyer."

Rothstein had another client who wanted to sell her hurricane-damaged North Lauderdale home for $295,000 but couldn't reach an agreement with the buyer.

At the last minute, the seller agreed to fix the roof and make other structural repairs while the buyer took care of cosmetic issues, such as landscaping. They closed the deal two weeks after Wilma for roughly the same price and without having to set aside any money in escrow.

"As agents, we want to see happy endings," Rothstein said. "It takes a buyer and a seller and a sales agent to make a deal. Nobody does it alone."

Paul Owers can be reached at or at 561-243-6529.