Understanding the Offer Process


By Mark Nash

Article highlights:

  • Drafting the purchase contract
  • Price bidding and best offers
  • Engaging in a bidding war

Making an offer on the home you want can be like asking that girl or boy you had a secret crush on in high school for a date — intimidating. Although there’s little risk of making a fool of yourself during the bidding-process, you should play your cards right before you tip your hand. That way you can emerge the lucky buyer who got the most home for his buck.

Once you’ve decided on the home you want to buy, your real estate agent or attorney will draft a purchase offer or contract in your name, which he or she submits to the seller’s agent, attorney or directly to the seller (if the home is a For Sale By Owner). The seller can respond in one of three ways: accept the offer, counter it with a higher asking price or reject it.

Below-price bidding

Bidding for a property below its asking price is almost par for the course during what’s called a “buyer’s market.” When there’s a glut of houses or condos on the market, for which there are not enough buyers, a prospective buyer can confidently try to skim 10 percent off the asking price off the property. But if you bid 20 percent below what a seller wants, you may be out of luck. Many experts advise against subtracting more than 10 percent from the owner’s asking price. However, you can sweeten a relatively low offer price by guaranteeing the seller a quick closing and a large earnest-money deposit. Or, if you accept the present state of the home without demanding free upgrades, you could sway the owner in your favor over other bidders.

Highest and best offer

Sometimes sellers or their agents get restless during negotiations and ask you to quote them your highest and best offer for the home. Don’t go out on a limb if you are not 100 percent sure you want this particular property. You can always reconsider if you feel you made a mistake, after comparing other properties to the one that forced you to make a blind bet on its value.

Full price offers

There’s no shame in agreeing to pay the seller’s full asking price without bartering. If the home you’re pining for is worth its price tag and you really want it, offer to pay the full asking price. Do you want to see your dream home slip through your hands because you want to pay $1,000 less for it? Another buyer may show up five minutes after you, eager to pay that difference.

Bidding wars

Engaging in a bidding war for a property with other interested buyers is not for the faint of heart. Be warned that you may end up paying too much for that dream home and regretting it. As one of an unknown number of rivals in a bidding war, you’re competing against each other blindfolded. Neither you nor your agent will know how many offers the seller has on the table, because real estate license laws allow listing agents to keep such information confidential in the seller’s interest.

You may end up having to cough up a lot of extra cash for the down payment, if you’re the winner with the highest bid. Instead, you could keep your cool and stay off the multiple offer- and counteroffer-carousel. Sometimes, all rivals for your dream home may throw in their towels and call the bidding war quits. Who knows, the seller may then come knocking at your (old) door to ask you to submit your purchasing offer. In that case, you’ll end up the real winner, possibly holding the power to barter with the seller for a lower purchase price.

At all stages of the buying process, keep a written record of negotiations between you and the seller, as well as changes to agreements made with any involved parties. In the heat of the home buying process, you may not remember that you wanted the seller to throw in his basement refrigerator, or check on the size and location of your high-rise condo’s storage unit.

Next article: Why You Should Hire a Real Estate Attorney >>

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Deciding to Buy

Finding a Home

Getting a Mortgage

Making the Deal

Buying a Foreclosure

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