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BASICS OF MAKING AN OFFER

A buyer should always be clear on how to make the best possible offer for a home. When a home is listed, attention is always drawn to the listing price and whether it matches comparable prices in the area. But when a buyer makes a proper offer to buy a home, matching the seller’s list price isn’t the only concern.

In some cases, terms included in the offer can represent thousands of dollars in additional value (or additional costs) for buyers. These terms are important and should be carefully reviewed. Here are some other important items to consider for an offer to buy a home:

What is in an Offer?
The purchase offer you submit, if accepted as it stands, will become a binding sales contract (known in some areas as a purchase agreement, earnest money agreement or deposit receipt). So it’s important that the purchase offer contains all the items that will serve as a “blueprint for the final sale.” The purchase offer includes items such as:

  • address and the legal description of the property
  • sale price
  • terms: for example, all cash or subject to you obtaining a mortgage for a given amount
  • seller’s promise to provide clear title (ownership)
  • target date for closing (the actual sale)
  • amount of earnest money deposit accompanying the offer, whether it’s a check, cash or promissory note, and how it’s to be returned to you if the offer is rejected – or kept as damages if you later back out for no good reason
  • method by which real estate taxes, rents, fuel, water bills and utilities payments are to be adjusted (prorated) between buyer and seller
  • provisions about who will pay for title insurance, survey, termite inspections, etc.
  • type of deed to be given
  • other requirements specific to your state, which might include a chance for an attorney to review the contract, disclosure of specific environmental hazards or other state-specific clauses
  • a provision that the buyer may make a last-minute walkthrough inspection of the property just before the closing
  • a time limit (preferably short) after which the offer will expire
  • contingencies, which are an extremely important matter and that are discussed in detail below

Contingencies – “Subject to” Clauses
If your offer says “this offer is contingent upon (or subject to) a certain event,” you’re saying that you will only go through with the purchase if that event occurs. Here are two common contingencies contained in a purchase offer:

  • The buyer obtaining specific financing from a lending institution: If the loan can’t be found, the buyer won’t be bound by the contract.
  • A satisfactory report by a home inspector: for example, “within 10 days after acceptance of the offer.” The seller must wait 10 days to see if the inspector submits a report that satisfies the buyer. If not, the contract would become void. Again, make sure that all the details are explicitly stated in the written contract.

Negotiating Tips
You’re in a strong bargaining position, that is, you look particularly welcome to a seller, if:

  • you’re an all-cash buyer
  • you’re already have a preapproved mortgage and you don’t have a present house that has to be sold before you can afford to buy
  • you’re able to close and take possession at a time that is especially convenient for the seller

In these circumstances, you may be able to negotiate some discount from the listed price.

On the other hand, in a “hot” seller’s market, if the perfect house comes on the market, you may want to offer the list price (or more) to beat out other early offers.

It’s very helpful to find out why the house is being sold and whether the seller is under pressure. Keep the following considerations in mind:

  • every month a vacant house remains unsold represents considerable extra expense for the seller
  • if the sellers are divorcing, they may want to sell quickly
  • estate sales often yield a bargain in return for a prompt deal

How much should you offer?

Oftentimes, you’ll hear the amount of your offer should be a certain percent below the seller’s asking price or an amount less than you’re reallywilling to pay. In practice, your offer depends on the basic laws of supply and demand: If multiple buyers are competing for a home, sellers will likely get full-price offers and a house may go for over asking price. If demand in your area is weak, an offer below the asking price might be a savvy strategy.

How do you make an offer?

The process of making offers varies around the country. In a typical situation, you’ll complete an offer sheet that your realtor will present to the owner and the owner’s representative. The owner may accept the offer, reject it, or make a counter-offer.

Because counter-offers are common (any change in an offer is considered a counter-offer), it’s important for buyers to remain in close contact with realtor during the negotiation process so that any proposed changes can be quickly reviewed.

How many inspections should an offer include?

A number of inspections are common in real estate transactions. They include checks for termites, surveys to determine boundaries, appraisals to determine value for lenders, title reviews, and structural inspections.

Structural inspections are particularly important. During these examinations, an inspector comes to the property to determine if there are material physical defects to the home and whether expensive repairs and replacements are likely to be required in the next few years.

Such inspections for a single-family home often require two or three hours, and a buyer should always attend. This is an opportunity to examine the property’s mechanics and structure, ask questions, and learn way more about the property than is possible with an informal walk-through.

Sellers: Calculating Your Net Proceeds
When an offer comes in, you can accept it exactly as it stands, refuse it (seldom a useful response) or make a counteroffer to the buyers with the changes you want. In evaluating a purchase offer, you should estimate the amount of cash you’ll walk away with when the transaction is complete. For example, when you’re presented with two offers at the same time, you may discover you’re better off accepting the one with the lower sale price if the other asks you to pay points to the buyer’s lending institution.

Once you have a specific proposal before you, calculating net proceeds becomes simple. From the proposed purchase price you can subtract the following costs:

  • payoff amount on present mortgage
  • any other liens (equity loan, judgments)
  • broker’s commission
  • legal costs of selling (attorney, escrow agent)
  • transfer taxes
  • unpaid property taxes and water and other utility bills
  • if required by the contract: cost of survey, termite inspection, buyer’s closing costs, repairs, etc.

Your present mortgage lender may maintain an escrow account into which you deposit money to be used for property tax bills and homeowner’s insurance. In that case, remember that you will receive a refund of money left in that account, which will add to your proceeds.

Sellers: Counteroffers
When you receive a purchase offer from a would-be buyer, remember that unless you accept it exactly as it stands, unconditionally, the buyer is free to walk away. Any change you make in a counteroffer puts you at risk of losing that chance to sell.

Who pays for what items is often determined by local custom. You can, however, negotiate with the buyer any agreement you want about who pays for the following costs:

  • termite inspection
  • survey
  • buyer’s closing costs
  • points paid to the buyer’s lender
  • buyer’s broker fees
  • repairs required by the lender
  • home protection policy

You may feel some of these costs are none of your business, but many buyers – particularly first-timer buyers – are short of cash. Helping them may be the best way to get your home sold.

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