Vacations are supposed to be a time to relax and recharge, not a period of anxiety and wondering what could have been.

Most everybody knows to make arrangements for the mail, newspaper and family pet before taking time away. However, what should you do if you’ve had your eye on a terrific home in the neighborhood that suddenly hits the market when you are on vacation?

Recently, a widow, Margie McGovern, decided to sell her home and move across the country to be closer to her son, a section editor for a south Florida newspaper. The place had been extremely well kept for years and the flower and vegetable gardens were the envy of the block. The house was the perfect “last time” home for a couple, moving down from a larger, traditional family home after the children had moved away.

“We had talked with the owner one day after church, just in casual conversation,” said Howard Long, a fireman who painted homes, including Margie’s home, during his time away from the station. “I guess I thought we would always have a shot at it, but it just goes to show you that there’s very little you can predict.”

While the Longs were vacationing at a mountain lake out of state, Margie’s home was listed for sale. But by the time the Longs got word of the listing, the home had three solid offers.

“We just took so much for granted,” Long said. “I was really eager because I got to see what kind of shape the place was in when I was painting. It was the type of place you always say to yourself ‘when this home comes on the market, I’ll be interested.'”

Interested, yes. Around? Not necessarily.

According to real estate attorney Alan Tonnon, it’s always best to let a real estate professional know what homes in the area you would really like to purchase.

“Even if you are not focused on moving at the time,” Tonnon said. “If there is a home out there that you will kick yourself about later, it’s best to make your interests known. Choosing somebody who can represent you in your absence makes a lot of sense. If what you are considering is a home, go back to the Realtor you like best and tell them all about it.”

Tonnon also cautions against being on vacation when it’s time to close a home purchase. It’s best to schedule closing at least 10 days before you depart, or wait until you return from vacation.

Why? Closings often get delayed – for a variety of reasons. Third-party providers (appraisal, credit, escrow) sometimes can be swamped, especially at a busy time like the end of the month. Factoring in some flexibility could save a lot of stress.

Escrow is an arrangement in which money and/or documents are held by a third party on behalf of the buyer and seller. The purpose of escrow is to ensure that all parties to the deal are satisfied. It sees that the seller receives the purchase price, the buyer receives clear title to the property, and the lender gets the proper security interest in the property.

Escrow also enables the parties to avoid face-to-face contact during the deal. This is often a highly emotional time when all parties don’t necessarily agree on all conditions – things such as work orders, loan charges, condition of property.

Escrow may be “opened” by either buyer or seller and typically occurs when the real estate agent delivers a copy of the purchase and sale agreement to the escrow agent. Escrow can technically open when the lender delivers a copy of the loan commitment to the escrow agent. An escrow agent may be a bank, some other financial institution, a title insurance company, an independent escrow firm, a mortgage broker or an attorney.

And, remember, the deal isn’t really over when you sign. The documents have to be reviewed and approved by the lender and then sent to the title company for review and recording. Once that is done, the lender issues a check or wires funds to the escrow officer. The escrow officer verifies that the funds are good and that the amount is correct and enough to pay all obligations.

But it’s difficult get all this done while you are out of town. Faxes are great once you get rolling but they don’t do much good if you have the third or fourth offer. Do all you can – even if you are headed out of town – to start in first place.

Tom Kelly’s new book “How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95) was co-written with John Tuccillo, former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors and is now available in local bookstores and online. He can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.

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