Like in the movies, this is the iconic moment — we’d forgive you if you imagined, say, putting a hand on your agent’s shoulder and whispering (in your best Vito Corleone) that you’re going to make them an offer they can’t refuse.
In reality, it’s not that simple (or dramatic). Your offer marks the beginning of a back-and-forth between you and the seller, typically with real estate agents advising you both.
The more intentional you are about your offer, the better your chances of making a successful bid. Follow these 10 steps, and you’ll be well prepared.
#1 Know Your Limits
Your agent will help you craft a winning offer. You can trust your agent’s advice on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The more collaborative you are with your agent, the more quickly you’ll be able to move.
But ultimately, it’s you who decides what the offer will be — and you who knows what your financial and lifestyle limits are. Buying a home means mixing strong emotions with business savvy, so now is also a good time to reflect on your “musts.”
#2 Learn to Speak “Contract”
Essentially, an offer is a contract. If you’re in doubt a real estate attorney can explain the documents to you so you’re familiar with their vocabulary when you’re ready to pull the trigger on an offer with your agent. Your agent will have offer forms for your state.
#3 Set Your Price
Homes always have a listing price. Think of it as the seller’s opening bid in your negotiation to buy a home.
As the buyer, your offer will include an offer price. This is the first thing home sellers look at when they receive a bid.
Your agent will help you determine whether the seller’s listing price is fair by running comps (or comparables), a process that involves comparing the house you’re bidding on to similar properties that recently sold in the neighborhood.
Several factors can also affect your bargaining position and offer price. For example, if the home has been sitting on the market for a while, or you’re in a buyer’s market where supply exceeds demand, the seller may be willing to accept an offer that’s below the list price. Or if the seller has already received another offer on the home, that may impact the price you’re willing to offer. Your agent will help you understand the context here.
#4 Figure Out Your Down Payment
To get a mortgage, you have to make a down payment on your loan. For conventional loans (as opposed to government loans), making a 20% down payment enables borrowers to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), a monthly premium that protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan.
But 20% isn’t always feasible — or even necessary. In fact, the median down payment in 2019 for buyers overall was 16 percent, and 6 percent for first-time buyers, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Your lender will help you determine what the best down payment amount is for your finances. Depending on the type of loan you get, you may even be able to put down as little as 0% on your mortgage.
You might qualify for one of the more than 2,400 down payment assistance programs nationwide. Many of them make funds available to households earning as much as 175% of area median income. In other words, middle-income households. And the savings can be substantial: Home buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766 over the life of their loan, according to real estate resource RealtyTrac. Find out more about down payment assistance programs in your state.
You can use an online mortgage calculator to see how different down payments would affect your mortgage premiums and how much you’ll pay in interest. Ask us about our lender partners.
#5 Show the Seller You’re Serious: Make a Deposit
An EMD — short for earnest money deposit — is the sum of money you put down as evidence to the seller that you’re serious (read: earnest) about buying the house. If the seller accepts your offer, the earnest money will go toward your down payment at closing. However, if you try to back out of the deal, you might have to forfeit the cash to the seller.
A standard EMD is 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home (so, that would be $2,000 to $6,000 on a $200,000 loan). But depending on how hot the market is where you live, you may want to put down more earnest money to compete with other offers.
In most cases, the title company is responsible for holding the earnest money in an escrow account. In the event the deal falls through, the title company will disperse the funds appropriately based on the terms of the sales contract. Title companies also check for defects or liens on a seller’s title to make sure it can be transferred cleanly to you.
#6 Review the Contingency Plans
Most real estate offers include contingencies — provisions that must be met before the transaction can go through, or the buyer is entitled to walk away from the deal with their EMD.
For example, if an offer says, “This contract is contingent upon a home inspection,” the buyer has a set number of days after the offer is accepted to do an inspection of the property with a licensed or certified home inspector.
If something is wrong with the house, the buyer can request the seller to make repairs. But most repairs are negotiable; the seller may agree to some, but say no to others. Or the seller can offer a price reduction, or a credit at closing, based on the cost of the repairs. This is where your real estate agent can offer real value and counsel on what you should ask the seller to fix.
Just remember to keep your eye on the big picture. If you and the seller disagree over a $500 repair to the hardwood floors, keep in mind that’s a drop in the bucket in relation to the size of the bid.
In addition to the aforementioned home inspection contingency, other common contingencies include:
In other words: A chill offer is an attractive offer. But keep in mind you have to be comfortable with the risks that come with this strategy. If you don’t have a financing contingency, for example, and you can’t get a mortgage, you’d likely lose your earnest money deposit since you’re on the hook.
#7 Read the Fine Print About the Property
The sales contract states key information about the property, such as the address, tax ID, and the types of utilities: public water or private well, gas or electric heating, and so on. It also includes a section that specifies what personal property and fixtures the seller agrees to leave behind, like appliances, lighting fixtures, and window shades. The seller provides prospective buyers with a list of these items before they submit an offer. This can be another area of negotiation.
Carefully reviewing the property description also helps you know, for example, if the seller plans to take that unattached kitchen island with them when they move. (Stranger things have happened.)
#8 Make a Date to Settle
The sales contract you submit to the seller must include a proposed settlement date, which confirms when the transaction will be finalized. The clock starts as soon as the purchase agreement is signed. If you don’t close on time, the party that’s responsible for the delay may have to pay the other party compensation in the form of “penalty interest” at a predetermined rate.
A 30- to 60-day settlement period is common because it gives the typical home buyer time to complete a title search and obtain mortgage approval, but settlement periods can vary. Some sellers, for example, prefer a longer period so they have more time to move or look for their next house. Being flexible, with respect to the closing date, could give you more negotiating power in another area of the deal.
One thing that’s the same no matter where you live is that you’ll have a three-day period prior to settlement to review the Closing Disclosure, or CD — a five-page form that states your final loan terms and closing costs.
Once the sales contract is signed, the parties can change the settlement date if they both sign an addendum specifying the new day.
#9 Write a Fan Letter to the Seller
Want to make a truly compelling offer? Pull on the seller’s heartstrings by attaching a personal letter to the bid documents. Tell a compelling story about your family and your connection to the area. Get deep about your roots.
Also, sincere flattery can go a long way. Compliment the seller on how their kitchen renovation looks, for instance, or how the succulents in their landscaping remind you of a resort. The objective is to write a message that really speaks to the seller, and it may very well seal the deal.
#10 Brace Yourself for a Counteroffer
If you’re making a low ball bid or going up against multiple offers, the seller may decide to make you a counteroffer — a purchase agreement with new terms, such as a higher sales price or fewer contingencies.
At that point, it’s up to you to accept the new contract, make your own counteroffer to the sellers, or walk away.
Don't panic, your real estate agent it's there to guide you.
Whether you want to buy or sell a home locally or globally, I can help you finding or selling your home so you can create the life you love! ☎️ 706.530.1114 or email us.
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It’s not always about the money (except when it is).
The day will come — and it will be a wonderful, joyous, do-a-happy-dance day — when you receive an offer, or multiple offers, for your home.
And on that day, you’re going to face a question you may not have previously considered: How do you know if an offer is the best one for you?
Your listing agent will be a big help here. They will understand and help you suss out the merits and faults of an offer because — believe it or not — it’s not always about price.
One buyer’s beautifully high offer might not look so good anymore, for example, if you discover that it’s contingent upon you moving out a month earlier than planned. Or, conversely, you may prefer speed over price, particularly if you’re moving to a new city.
Your listing agent will have a sense of what you want financially and personally — and can help you determine whether the offer at hand satisfies those goals.
Before the first offer rolls in, here’s what you need to know about the offer evaluation process, including the main factors that should go into making a decision — accept or reject? — with your agent.
5 Important Things — Other Than Price — to Consider When Evaluating an Offer
Want to fetch top dollar for your home and walk away with as much money in your pocket as possible? Of course you do. You’ve gone through the time-consuming process of setting your asking price, staging your home, promoting your listing, and preparing for open houses — and should be rewarded for your efforts.
Your first instinct may be to just pick the highest bid on the table. But the offer price isn’t the only thing worth considering.
When vetting offers, evaluate these five areas in addition to price:
1. The earnest money deposit. One important consideration when weighing an offer is the size of the earnest money deposit. The EMD is the sum of cash the buyer is offering to fork over when the sales agreement is signed to show the person is serious (i.e., “earnest”) about buying your home. This money, which is typically held by a title company, will go toward the buyer’s down payment at closing.
A standard EMD is 1% to 3% of the cost of the home (so, that would be $2,000 to $6,000 on a $200,000 house). If a buyer tries to back out of an offer for no good reason, the seller typically keeps the EMD. Therefore, the higher the earnest money, the stronger the offer.
2. The contingencies. Most offers have contingencies — provisions that must be met for the transaction to go through, or the buyer is entitled to walk away from the deal with their earnest money. Contracts with fewer contingencies are more likely to reach closing, and in a timely fashion.
Here are five of the most common contingencies:
That being said, contingencies are always negotiable. (The caveat: Mortgage lenders require borrowers to have appraisal financing contingencies, or they won’t approve the loan.) It’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable agreeing to, and your agent can help you make that decision.
3. The down payment. Depending on the type of mortgage, the buyer must make a down payment on the house — and the size of that down payment can affect the strength of the offer. In most cases, a buyer’s down payment amount is related to the home loan they’re taking out. Your chief concern as a seller, of course, is for the transaction to close — and for that to happen, the buyer’s mortgage has be approved.
Generally, a larger down payment signals the buyer’s financial wherewithal to complete the sale. The average down payment, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, is 10%. Some mortgage products, such as FHA and VA loans, allow for even lower down payments.
If, by chance, the appraisal comes in higher than your contract’s sale price, the buyer with a higher down payment would more likely be able to cover the difference with the large amount of cash they have available.
4. The all-cash offer. The more cash the buyer plunks down, the more likely the lender is to approve their loan. That’s why an all-cash offer is ideal for both parties. The buyer doesn’t have to fulfill an appraisal contingency — whereby their lender has the home appraised to make sure the property value is large enough to cover the mortgage — or a financing contingency, which requires buyers to obtain mortgage approval within a certain number of days. As always, having a sales contract with fewer contingencies means there are fewer ways for the deal to fall through.
5. The closing date. Settlement, or “closing,” is the day when both parties sign the final paperwork and make the sale official. Typically, the whole process — from accepting an offer to closing — takes between 30 and 60 days; however, the average closing time is 42 days, according to a report from mortgage software company Ellie Mae.
Three days before closing, the buyer receives a closing disclosure from the lender, which he compares with the loan estimate he received when he applied for the loan. If there are material differences between the buyer’s loan estimate and closing disclosure, the closing can’t happen until those amounts are reviewed and approved. But this is rare.
Some transactions can take more time, depending on the buyer’s financing. For example, the average closing time for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan is 43 days, according to Ellie Mae.
Whether you want a slow or quick settlement will depend on your circumstances. If you’ve already purchased your next home, for instance, you probably want to close as soon as possible. On the other hand, you may want a longer closing period — say, 60 days — if you need the proceeds from the sale to purchase your new home.
When Should You Make a Counteroffer?
Depending on the circumstances, you may be in the position to make a counteroffer. But every transaction is different, based on the particular market conditions and your home. In some circumstances, you can be gutsy with your counteroffer. In others, it might serve your goals better to give in to the buyer’s demands. Your agent can provide helpful insight about when and why a counteroffer will be the right thing for you.
For instance: If you’re in a seller’s market — meaning that homes are selling quickly and for more than the asking prices — and you received multiple offers, your agent may recommend you counteroffer with an amount higher than you would have in a buyer’s market.
If you choose to write a counteroffer, your agent will negotiate on your behalf to make sure you get the best deal for you.
A caveat: In many states sellers can’t legally make a counteroffer to more than one buyer at the same time, since they’re obligated to sign a purchase agreement if a buyer accepts the new offer.
When Does an Offer Become a Contract?
In a nutshell, a deal is under contract when the buyer’s offer (or seller’s counteroffer) is agreed upon and signed by both parties. At that point, the clock starts ticking for the home buyer’s contingencies — and for the sweet moment when the cash — and home — is yours.
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The information on this site is intended to be a free resource to provide general information to the public. The information is intended to supplement instruction from your legal, financial or real estate adviser. The information contained on this site should never be taken as a substitute for legal or financial advice from a licensed professional.