Deciding how much to offer a seller for a home you’d love to own is rarely easy. Ideally, your offer price should not be above what you think the property is worth or what you can afford, but tempting enough to the seller that he can’t refuse to accept.
Arriving at that perfect offer price is harder in some markets than others, and it depends on a lot of factors that are beyond your control. For example, in buyers’ markets where there is a lot of inventory, you may find more realistic sellers who understand that they need to be flexible if they want to sell. In sellers’ markets where there are more buyers than sellers, you may have no choice but to offer more than the asking price if you hope to be the successful bidder.
The first step to arriving at an effective offer price is to find out how much properties similar to the one you’re interested in have been selling for recently. Look at the relationship between the list and sale prices of each listing. Did they sell for more or less than the asking price? How long did it take them to sell? Your real estate agent can provide you with this information. Ask for a Comparative or Competitive Market Analysis (CMA) for the listing in question.
Then ask your agent to talk to the listing agent and find out how much attention the listing is receiving. Are there any other buyers serious about writing offers? If so, you’ll have to offer more than you will if there is no other serious interest.
How much you need to offer to pique the seller’s interest will depend a lot on how long the listing has been on the market. A seller may snub a less-than-asking-price offer if the listing is new on the market. However, if the listing is weeks old and there are plenty of new listings coming on the market each week, you may be successful with an offer for less than asking.
How much a seller will negotiate usually depends on several factors: how long the property has been on the market, whether the seller is motivated (that is, he really needs rather than just wants to sell) and how realistic the seller is about the current value of his home.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: You can save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by asking your agent to have a heart-to-heart talk with the listing agent before you make an offer, particularly if you intend to offer significantly less than the list price. If the seller is adamant about his price, and there are plenty of other similar listings on the market, devote your energies to a seller who is willing to sell at market value.
Some buyers wonder if they should pay over asking in a strong market that could lose steam over the next year as interest rates rise. That depends on how the listing is priced. If it’s priced below market value, it could attract multiple offers. If the property will suit your long-term needs, it may be reasonable to pay more than the list price as long as it’s not more than you can afford now and for the long term. You won’t lose money unless you have to sell during a down market.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate if you’re not in competition. Some motivated sellers still can’t resist trying for a higher price. Several rounds of counteroffers back and forth could bring about a successful conclusion.
THE CLOSING: But, promise yourself to walk away if the seller doesn’t see the light.
Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.