Given the unrelenting doom and gloom in the media, it's no wonder you feel like you've got the upper hand when you're looking for a new home. Visions of lowball offers, grateful sellers, and bargain basement prices dance in your head.
But real estate is local and even today you may find yourself in a competive market where houses sell quickly and still get multiple offers.
There have been a number of multiple offers in my market recently and it can take newcomers by surprise. Some houses, clearly well priced, get half a dozen or more offers the first day on the market. So here's a game plan to take you through the crazy, stress-producing process of buying a home when you've got competition.
What's a savvy buyer to do when there are multiple offers?
For starters, don't be discouraged and don't be afraid. It is possible to "win" and get the house of your dreams and it doesn't necessarily mean you have to break the bank to do so. Our clients have bought three of the four properties in multiple bid situations - and they have been happy with every house - no regrets!
Get A Buyers' Agent
You need to be working with a buyer's agent who will represent your interests in the transaction. Sometimes buyers think that going directly to the seller's agent will give them a leg up. But the seller's agent's responsibility is to the seller, not to you as a buyer. And it's quite likely that the seller will still owe the same commission to the listing office even though only one agent is involved in the transaction. And most important - in a multiple bid situation the listing agent's responsibility is to get the best offer for the seller - regardless of whether you've submitted an offer directly to him or her. The sellers' goal is to get more money in their pockets - not the agent's.
You need somebody on your side. A buyers' agent will be able to:
- Pull comparable sales info to enable you to decide on a reasonable but competitive offer price
- Advise you about real estate activity in the neighborhood for similar houses
- Strategize about how to put together a compelling offer that has a strong chance of prevailing in a bidding war
How Does the Seller Decide Which Offer To Accept?
When the seller looks at several offers there are only so many points to compare. You want to shine on all points:
Price - Go over the comparable sales information with your agent. Don't get stuck on the asking price - the house may be purposely priced low to generate excitement - and that strategy worked! Carefully go over the stats and decide on a price that makes sense and seems competitive. Your agent will have experience in the market and be able to offer advice but ultimately you're deciding on an offer price that is comfortable for you and reflects just how much you want the house.
Don't assume that multiple bids means the offers will go sky high - sometimes all the offers can be under the asking price. Other times it does seem the sky is the limit. The comparable sales info and the amount of activity for the listing should give you some sense of how the offers might go.
Dates - Your agent will find out what dates work best for the seller - do your best to meet them. Maybe you'll have to move in with your parents for a few weeks or move more quickly than you had hoped but remember - you'll be moving into the house you love. The temporary inconvenience will be quickly forgotten.
Contingencies - The typical offer contingencies are financing, inspection, and in the case of condominiums, satisfactory review of the condominium documents. You need have a letter of preapproval from your lender before you start or proof of funds for cash sales . Be aware that some buyers may very well drop any and all of their contingencies. You have to decide if you are comfortable eliminating any contingencies. Perhaps you have cash on hand from a previous sale or your parents will back you up and you're open to the idea of dropping a financing contingency. Or you had the chance to go through the property with an inspector prior to submitting your offer.
Everyone's situation will be different and everyone's risk tolerance varies as well. Decide what if any contingencies you're comfortable eliminating. And if you are including contingencies discuss with your agent how to minimize the impact - by tightening dates, increasing the dollar value of repairs you're willing to take on, etc.
Deposits - Expectations for deposit amounts vary in different states and regions. Talk to your agent about the norms in your area and consider increasing the deposit. This doesn't cost you anything since the deposit will go towards your down payment. From the sellers' perspective, however, it shows evidence of the seriousness of your offer.
Respect the Emotions Involved In Selling A Home
Don't forget that selling a home is often an emotional transaction. Honor that. The sellers want to feel good about passing on their home to its new caretakers.
Now is not the time for pointed questions or asking for repairs - though that time may come if you've allowed for an inspection. Remember - you're being compared with other buyers. Don't stand out as a pain in the neck - it's not to your advantage if you want the house.
Keep extraneous issues out of the offer. You're buying a house - not the furniture. Focus on the goal and talk about extras later.
And one no-cost but often very effective tool is a letter to the sellers. Write about who you are, why you love the house, and how you'll take good care of it. Mention any special things that stood out to you. If you can tell the sellers took good care of the house say so. If you like their decorating, mention that. Sellers will often remember and remark about the letter weeks after receiving it.
Ultimately the seller wants the best price and the fewest hassles. And if they can feel good about the new caretakers of their family home, all the better.
What Happens Next?
There aren't any rules for how the seller chooses an offer. You may get an opportunity to better your offer and resubmit at an agreed upon time. Or the seller may choose one of the offers on the spot. It's typically to your advantage to submit as strong an offer as possible in the first round. But it also might not a bad idea to have a small buffer so that you can increase your offer by a few thousand if given the chance. But remember - you might not get that chance. Plan accordingly and put your best foot forward.
Go For It!
Some buyers are tempted to walk away from a multiple offer situation without even making a bid. But if you've found the house you really want - give it your best shot. A multiple bid situation is not insurmountable. And you can't assume that you'll have to write a sky high offer to get your offer accepted. So - work with your agent, craft your bid, and know that you've done your best. And maybe, just maybe - you'll be the happy new owners. Good luck!
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