Today’s buyers do more legwork than any other generation of home buyers, on everything from mortgage rates and programs to neighborhoods and schools, to comparables for the home they want, because so much more of this information is freely and easily accessed online. But none of that information diminishes the anxiety around making the final decision what number to ink onto an offer for a home. In fact, this inundation of information can shift a normally sane buyer into overwhelm and overload, and actually interfere with smart decision-making.
And the decision of what to offer to pay for a particular home is particularly high-stakes – one you don’t want muddled by panic or irrelevant inputs. On this one number hinges whether a particular home becomes your home – or not. It also represents a near-final step in one of the biggest financial commitments you’ll ever make.
If you feel like the final dollar amount selection is a little bit of a stab in the dark, on a subject you’d rather be able to handle confidently and with precision, let’s talk. Here are five questions you should ask yourself to collect the targeted and essential information you need to pinpoint your exact offer price:
1. How close/recent/similar are the comps – and what story do they tell? Your agent will present you with the recent sales prices of similar homes near your target home (assuming you’re in an area where there are recent sales). This information, in conjunction with the listing price should begin to narrow your thoughts on offer price into a ballpark price range. But once it’s time to pin down a precise offer dollar amount, it behooves you to look beyond the sales prices of the comparables and to work with your agent to suss out the story they have to tell – and what implications that story has for your own offer price.
In particular, you’ll want to look at the listing details and even the photos of the comparable properties to understand which ones are truly similar – or dissimilar – to the property you’ve targeted, beyond the basic specs. If a home that has the same number of beds, baths and square feet as ‘yours’ had archaic, out-of-date kitchens and bathrooms and a massive electrical pole in the front yard when it sold six months ago, it might not be as good a comparable as a home that just sold 3 weeks ago with similar upgrades and updates to your target property, even if the latter comp has one less bathroom than yours.
Also, look for the bigger picture story that the comps are telling you. Did all the most similar comps sell for more than, less than, or right at the asking price? If they all sold for 5-10% over or under asking, that suggests the direction you might need to move from the list price. How long did it take for them to sell, and how long as your target property been on the market, by comparison? If everything is selling in 30 days, and the house you’re trying to buy has been on for 75, the takeaway might be that you can be more aggressive in offering a price below asking than you might if the place has only been on 20 days.
I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to collaborate with your agent when it comes to gathering this fuller picture and story from the data on recently sold nearby properties and applying it in the course of setting your own offer price.
2. What kind of shape is the place in? Fixer-upper homes may not qualify for low-down payment FHA financing. That can force you to come up with a larger down payment or evaluate the feasibility of obtaining a rehabilitation loan. On the other hand, if you had planned to put a large amount of your cash savings down on a home that needs a lot of fixing, you might want to conserve some to fund repairs. In these cases, it’s very helpful to review any disclosures or reports the seller has made available. It’s also essential to include your mortgage broker in the offer-price setting conversation, as condition issues might impact the loan programs available to you and, thus, the down payment, closing cost and monthly payment required at a given offer/purchase price point.
I’ve seen buyers that had planned to buy a fixer shift their offer price upwards because they knew a home was in move-in condition, and vice versa – people who had planned to buy a non-fixer end up coming down on their target price to hit the rehab loan guidelines and/or conserve down payment cash and redirect it to post-closing repairs.
It’s wise to have a quick conversation with your mortgage pro before you decide upon your final offer price in any event, but it’s particularly necessary if the place has obvious condition issues.
3. What’s the competition like? If you’ve ever watched an auction on television, you’ve gotten a glimpse into the difference between making an offer on a home where you’re the only buyer, and making an offer on a home where even 1 or 2 others are vying to get it. And that difference can usually be measured in thousands of dollars. It’s a simple, but profound truth: if you know there are other buyers competing for a property, you’ll likely want and need to offer more for it than you would if the players were limited to just you and the seller.
And the more buyers are bidding, generally speaking, the higher the victorious offer price is likely to be.
How will you know what your competition is like? Ask your agent – and they’ll likely give the listing agent a ring, let them know you’re serious about making an offer and feel out whether there is competition or not, and how fierce it is.
The most frequently asked question I get about how this works is this: don’t listing agents just lie and say there are more offers than there are? It’s possible, but improbable. Every agents know that some buyers can’t or won’t bid more than asking on a given home. Accordingly, every listing agent I know would rather have a sure offer from a buyer who loves the place than risk running that buyer off by fabricating multiple offers that don’t exist.
4. How much do you want it? Your personal desire and motivation level to get a particular property is an absolute must to factor into the offer price decision-making mix, especially when you get close to putting a final number of dollars and cents on the table. Of course, your home is an asset and a major investment, so your offer price is a decision about which you want to be smart, logical and deliberate. But we’re also talking about the place that will serve as the backdrop and environment for your everyday life, and your family’s lives, too. To ignore the emotional impact and logistical implications of the place you live when you’re deciding what to offer is to make the decision based on an incomplete portfolio of information. (And that’s also how so many buyers who lose properties end up regretting their offer price, wishing they had offered just a smidge more for “the one that got away,” sometimes for years on end)
The need to tweak your offer priced based on your motivation level (within the range of what you can afford, of course) is particularly true when it comes to multiple offer situations. Would you regret it if another buyer got the place at X price? Then you should offer X price. Would you be disappointed, but totally comfortable with knowing you’d offered as much as the place was worth to you, if the seller turned down your offer at Y price? The price at which you can answer that question with a ‘yes’ is a good boundary for the absolute max you should offer.
When you are actively bidding in multiple offer situations, you might never get the opportunity to nudge your price upwards or go back and forth with the seller. Asking yourself these questions can help you pinpoint your precise, best offer so you can make it, then let the chips fall where they may, without regrets.
5. What can you truly afford? No, really. It’s not that you haven’t asked yourself this question, worked through your monthly financials, pored over the numbers with your mate, your financial planner and your mortgage broker ad nauseam. It’s more that a lot of time can elapse between that deep financial dive and the time you actually have to decide how much to offer on a particular home. And in that time, lots of variables might have changed:
· Interest rates might have changed.
· You might have decided you need to move your price range up, because you can’t find anything that works in a lower range.
· You might have realized you need to offer more than the asking price, due to the competition.
· Your expenses might have changed, because you had to put a kid in daycare or start some new service up.
· Your cash cushion might have changed, because you had to repair your car or fix something at your existing house.
· Your cash needs might even have changed, as you realize the home you are trying to buy needs a lot of work that will take a lot of cash.
And so, throughout the course of a house hunt, it’s not at all bizarre to experience price range creep. The best practice is to walk through the comps with your agent, determine their story, get as much information as you can about your competition and the home’s condition and get clear about how much you want the place then, just before you finalize your offer price, touch based with your mortgage broker or banker and tell them what you’re planning to offer. Ask them to give you an updated set of numbers, including what your down payment, monthly payment and cash to close would look like at that price, based on today’s interest rate.
Then, you’ll be in a position to make that offer confidently. I can’t promise you’ll have no anxiety at all, but you’ll certainly feel less like you’re taking a stab in the dark and more like you’re positioned as well as you possibly could be.
Agents: What questions and considerations do you walk through with your buyers, before finalizing an offer price?
Buyers/Homeowners: What pre-offer questions came up for you, and what information did you tap to resolve them?
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson