In a hot real estate market where you keep losing out to other buyers, you might fantasize about taking a hint from The Godfather and making the next seller an offer they can’t refuse. But since you live on the right side of the law (and don’t want your next residence to be the slammer), you need to play fair. The good news is that you can submit an offer on that Columbia, SC, home that seals the deal … without breaking anyone’s legs. Learn how to make an offer on a house that gets the job done with these eight tips.
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1. Be preapproved before making the offer
Being preapproved shows the seller that you have your financial ducks in a row. Even better is to have your lender pre-underwrite your file, a more thorough process in which you provide all pertinent documents to your lender. Doing this puts you in the same league as all-cash buyers. “This will allow you to offer a shorter time to close because you have already cleared all of the financing hurdles, aside from appraisal, before you write the offer,” says Morgan Franklin, a Lexington, KY, agent.
2. Don’t lowball
If you haggle for produce at the farmers market, offering asking price (or above) right out of the gate might not be in your DNA. But attempting to negotiate on a house probably won’t help you get to the closing table in a hot market. “I would go in at listing price or higher if the comparables support a higher offer price,” says Tracey Hampson, a California agent.
3. Decrease your contingencies
Although you should go in with a strong offer, money isn’t everything, and it doesn’t always buy a seller’s happiness. If money’s been your only focus until now, change your game plan by waiving some contingencies. If you’re preapproved for a mortgage and have — or can get a hold of — some extra cash, you can waive the financing contingency, an agreement that lets you out of the deal if you can’t get financing. “This is a strategy for those who have extra cash or are using banks that do not require repairs,” says Mark Ferguson, a Colorado real estate agent and investor. But keep in mind, “If the appraisal comes in low, you must come up with the difference in cash.”
Another contingency to consider waiving is the home inspection. This is typically not recommended, however, as it removes your ability to ensure that the home is sound. “This should only be done by experienced homebuyers who know what they are doing,” says Ferguson. A safer approach is to shorten the inspection period. “Don’t ask for 14 to 30 days,” says Alex Cwiakala, a Massachusetts real estate agent and investor. “Call inspectors and have them ready to go in 24 to 48 hours.”
4. Add an escalation clause
If you think a seller will get more than one offer, you can help ensure yours will be the one picked by having your offer automatically increase by a predetermined amount. Note that “if the escalation clause is triggered, sellers generally have to disclose the competing offer to keep things honest,” says Anne Miesen, a Texas agent. Let’s say you offer $400,000 for a home with an escalation clause of $5,000 capping at $430,000. If someone else offers $410,000, your offer will automatically escalate to $415,000, beating that other offer. But if another offer comes in higher, such as $450,000, and your cap is $430,000, you would be out.
5. Offer to pay for closing costs or home warranties
Negotiations can include more than just the sale price of the home. There are costs involved with the closing process, and in a hot market, you can use those costs to your advantage by offering to pay them yourself. And here’s another option: “Don’t ask for a home warranty,” says Tracey Hampson. “That is, on average, a $500 savings to the seller. And who wouldn’t appreciate that?”
6. Write a personal letter to the sellers
Even if the sellers have a bidding war on their hands, it can still be difficult for them to part with the home they love, the home where they have made many happy memories. Sellers with an emotional attachment often want to know that the new owners will cherish the home as much as they did. “Many times, buyers can appeal to the sellers on a personal basis, acknowledging the care the owners have taken with the home and expressing their desire to continue along that same path,” says Marc Carver, an Atlanta, GA, agent. “I’ve seen this done via handwritten letters, video testimonials, and face-to-face interactions.”
7. Get creative
When trying to get your offer accepted, it can pay to be creative. “Are you an artist? Maybe paint a picture of the house and give it to the seller with your offer,” says Jake Goodson, a Portland, OR, broker. “Out-of-the-box stuff always hits home. But at the end of the day, your offer has to stack up financially too.”
8. Be willing to wait
When you get too invested in one particular home, you might overbid. Sometimes it’s best to step back and evaluate the situation. “There are thousands of homes; there is not a perfect one,” says Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta, GA, real estate agent and attorney. Plus, if you wait for all the excitement to die down, you might just get the house anyway. “Many high bidders back out during inspection. The lower bidders may get a second chance at a more appropriate price,” says Ailion.