Q: I’ve made offer after offer on bank-owned properties. The last time I was outbid, I was really disappointed because I loved the house! I was really hoping it would fall out of escrow, so I kept an eye on the listing, thinking there was a small chance it would come back on the market. Instead, it just disappeared.
I asked my agent to follow up on it about 45 days later, and she told me that it sold, but the sale price was less than I offered! I’m not sure if this was an inside job (e.g., the listing agent sold it to her own client to get a double commission), but I’m thinking of calling up the listing agent and giving her a piece of my mind. What did I do wrong?
A: The answer to your question is not super-clear-cut. However, there are some issues you might want to reflect on and revisit, and there’s one big mistake you’re on the verge of making that I’d like to save you from, if at all possible.
Like many buyers, you are clearly caught in the competitive, auction-esque atmosphere of multiple offers resulting from all the other first-time homebuyers who are trying desperately to close escrow by Nov. 30 to qualify for the $8,000 federal tax credit, plus an influx of cash investors who sense that prices might have bottomed out.
Our analysis of what went wrong must start at the time you realized you were competing for the property. Did you go to your absolute top dollar for that property? If not, you were setting yourself up for wannabe buyer’s remorse later on.
On the flip side, did you look at the recent sales prices of comparable homes in the neighborhood? Many banks have gotten clued in to the fact that so many buyers fake them out by offering to pay a price way higher than the appraisal "comps," just to come back when the property doesn’t appraise and request a price reduction.
In private conversation, my colleagues who list bank-owned homes have marveled at how zealously the asset managers to whom they report have started to vet purchase offers for "appraisability," some even going to the extreme of looking suspiciously at offers way higher than the asking price.
So, if you offered some amount bizzarely beyond what the place could appraise for, your offer might have gotten caught in the ultimate homebuyer’s Catch-22: You want to offer a high price, but too high might red-flag your offer as a possible bait-and-renegotiate.
The only way I know to ensure that you beat out other offers without tripping the asset manager’s nonsense detector is to make your offer with no appraisal contingency — something you don’t want to do unless you’re either (a) very certain the property will appraise at the purchase price, or (b) comfortable coming up with cash to close the gap between the appraised price and your offer price. …CONTINUED
If there’s a clear-cut answer to what you might have done wrong, I’d tag your conspiracy theorizing. Is it possible that the listing agent tossed your offer in the circular file (or, more likely these days, sent it straight to her "Trash" folder) in favor of her own client’s offer? Sure, it’s possible. But, in my experience, it’s more possible that an all-cash offer, or an offer otherwise perceived as more likely to close, trumped yours.
With the banks these days, cash is definitely king, and banks often accept cash offers (read: sure to close, and close fast) at prices lower than offers they feel are less likely to close. No matter what the rationale, unless you made an all-cash, quick-close offer with no contingencies, you have no way to know that your offer was "better" than the prevailing offer. Sellers have the right to their own priorities, and for many, the bird in the hand (cash) is better than the over-asking offer in the bush.
Next time, triple-check to see that your agent sells your offer — hard. He or she needs to let the listing agent know every single thing about you and your offer that renders it highly likely to close. That might include sending over comparables; it could be mentioning your strong credit and job tenure; and it might even go so far as including copies of your bank account statements (minus the account numbers!) documenting that you have sufficient funds to close the deal on hand.
Whether you did all this on the last go-round or not is irrelevant now. But stalking the property and wondering what happened is an unwise use of your time, energy and emotion at this point. You have a brief window of time to cash in on the tax credit (of course, it might be extended, but no one knows at this time whether that will happen).
In this atmosphere, I advise my clients that once you make an offer and are informed that you were not the victorious offer, consider that ship having sailed and keep on house hunting. You need to stay focused on finding your house. If the home of your dreams comes back on the market, you’ll see it when you receive your agent’s automatic e-mail notifications or during your hourly, obsessive perusals of local listings online (assuming you’re anything like my beloved clients).
Other than getting distracted by this property, you might actually have done nothing really wrong just yet. However, calling the listing agent and giving her a piece of your mind would be an error of epic proportions, so don’t do it. Foreclosure listing agents often list lots of bank-owned properties in the same area. That means when "your" house comes on the market, there’s a not insignificant chance that the listing agent you tell off will be the listing agent on that property. Do not burn that bridge. Enough said … good luck!
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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