When Keely and Dan Gengo put their Stoneham home on the market this winter, they had multiple offers and sold it within days.
Eh. They didn’t have anywhere to go. They found a new place in Scituate, but there would be a gap between when they had to move out of their old home and when they could get into their new one.
Their real estate agent suggested a use-and-occupancy agreement on their Stoneham home. The deal allowed the sale to move forward — the buyers would take ownership, and the sellers would be paid — as long as the Gengos and their 1-year-old son could stay in the home up to 45 days after closing.
“We worked it out so that we would close by the end of April and rent out our house for the next month,’’ Keely Gengo said. “Thankfully, the buyers were extremely flexible. They left the ball in our court in terms of closing. They were willing to do whatever we asked.’’
There is a housing-inventory shortage in Greater Boston, real estate experts contend, citing the number of homes still underwater or with little equity, the
record-breaking winter, a shortage of affordable new construction, and people content to stay where they are. The homes that do go on the market are snatched up quickly. While it’s good news for sellers on the front end, the low inventory is making it difficult for them to take that next step.
According to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, the months’ supply of inventory in February for single-family homes was 3.4, down from 4.5 that month in 2014 and from 5 in 2013. “The number tells you how many months it would take for all the current homes for sale on the market to sell, given a monthly sales volume,” according to the real estate site Redfin.com. “Four to five months of supply is average; if the number is smaller, this means that buyers are dominating the market and there are relatively few sellers.”
Jared Wilk, a realtor with Benoit Mizner Simon & Co. in Weston and Wellesley, said many of his clients are worried they won’t be able to find a new home. He’s been advising them to get their house ready to sell, find a new place, and then put their property on the market.
“No one wants to live in a hotel or move multiple times and put their stuff in storage,’’ Wilk said. “I have one client, a grown adult, who was couch-surfing with friends for a month. One of the most important things to me is flexibility with dates.’’
When the dates don’t match up, some sellers are moving in with relatives, crashing with friends, or seeking out short-term rentals. But more and more sellers are staying put, living in their old homes for up to 90 days after closing through use-and-occupancy agreements like the one the Gengos signed.
“I’ve never seen this as prevalent as I have in the last 18 months,’’ said Greg Kiely, a manager at Century 21 Commonwealth in Newton. “We see sellers stay up to 90 days.’’
Because inventory is low, Kiely said, sellers are in control and buyers are willing to do almost anything to close the deal.
Not only does it help the seller, but the buyer who is willing to go along with the agreement gains a competitive edge over other bidders. Doing “this is one way to make your offer stand out to a seller who is trying to figure out their complex move as well,’’ Kiely said. “These temporary agreements have become popular and powerful for all parties.’’
But buyer — and seller — beware.
These agreements can be legal landmines, according to Andrea Hickey, a Cambridge lawyer. Most mortgages require the new owners to make the home their primary residence within 60 days after closing, she said, and questions about liability and insurance also arise.
“There are lots of things to consider,’’ she said. “Buyers and sellers say they’ll work it out, but it’s fraught with the possibility of issues. It puts the risk on the buyer.’’
Hickey advises her buyers to steer clear of the agreements.
“I am seeing them more and more,’’ she said. “The market is so competitive right now with inventory being so low [that] sellers are in the driver’s seat. They can say yes, we’ll sell to you, but these are our terms. Buyers are being forced to consider or accept these use-and-occupancy requests. I advise them to live with relatives or make other arrangements, but many times clients don’t take the advice.’’
Marshall and Shauna Ottina sold their old home in Waltham quickly, but it took some time to find a home in their desired location — Whitman. The Ottinas, who have 3-year-old and 9-month-old boys, put most of their belongings in storage and will move into Marshall’s parents’ Milton house until they can live in their new home.
“Our house got snapped up quickly, which was a double-edged sword because we didn’t have anywhere to go yet,’’ Marshall said. His parents were open to the idea of them moving in, he said, and it seemed to be the least disruptive option for the kids.
“It was what was available to us,’’ he said. “It was the only place that could accommodate us and the two boys. We also didn’t want to throw the kids off that much. Rather than move into a new place and another new place, it just made more sense.’’
It’s been “weird” moving back in with his parents, Marshall said, but he is grateful it has worked out. “The biggest thing we’ve had so far is getting the kids to adjust — taking the older one away from friends and having two sets of rules to live by.”
The transition might not be as challenging for the Rupprecht family.
Rolf and Kathy Rupprecht are building a home in Shirley. So are their son and his wife. Rolf and Kathy’s lease doesn’t expire until February 2016. But that’s not the case for their son, who is building a home, too — right next door. The lease on Chris and Kate Rupprecht’s Westford apartment is up in July, which means they will either try to extend it or move in with Chris’s parents for several months. (They won’t have far to go; they live in the same apartment complex.)
“It’s not ideal, but you put your stuff in storage and we’ll bunk together,’’ Rolf said. “We’ll make it work somehow.’’
Rolf, whose wife watches their two grandchildren (ages 5 months and 3 years) during the day, said the 2,000-square-foot living space might become a bit cramped, but he doesn’t mind. The kids are already there during the day, he said, so it will just be an adjustment during the evening hours.
“There is a word in the dictionary that’s called ‘compromise,’ ’’ he said. “It’s a scary thought, but the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train; it’s the exit to paradise. If it’s two to three months of inconvenience, it will be well worth it.’’
Come late fall, the two families are slated to be in new homes in neighboring lots.
Rolf is pleased.
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.