You've found the perfect house. You can already see yourself unpacking your books, pulling all the glassware out of crates, setting up the PlayStation 4. You're ready to make an offer. Nothing could go wrong now. Except, wait a minute. What if there are other offers? What if the seller doesn't like your offer? What if the seller doesn't like you?
Don't panic. There's a way to make an offer that can't be refused -- and the answer is better than "cough up more money." Way better. Use the science of human behavior!
Find their motivations
To seal the deal, you have to know the seller's motivations. Yes, we know that sounds like a self-help book gimmick, but it's true. We're all motivated by something, and seeing things from the seller's point of view can help you write a killer offer.
Sellers are usually primarily motivated by one of three things, according to Diana George, founder of Vault Realty Group in Oakland, CA.
- The bottom line (aka "money")
- A rush to move/don't want to drag the selling process out (terms)
- Emotional attachment
Of course, all sellers are at least a little motivated by cash (after all, they're not giving the house away), so that will usually overlap with the other motivations. Say, for example, the sellers are emotionally attached to their house. If you're in love with the property, too, you might have an in, but that doesn't mean you'll get it for nothing.
"The buyer who thinks they can come [below] asking and honestly believe they have a shot at winning is making a mistake," says George.
But money isn't all that matters.
To find out what is motivating the sellers, have your Realtor do some digging.
"I always call the real estate listing agent and speak to them directly to get a better understanding as to what is driving the seller," George says. In some cases, she finds out the sellers have written a letter about the history of the home for potential buyers (showing they're emotionally connected). In other cases, the buyers are in a hurry to move (and will be motivated by easy and fast closing terms). And sometimes they just want to get a lot of offers and pick the highest bid.
Your agent won't always be able to learn everything. "It all depends on how much the listing agent is willing to disclose," she says. But you can up your chances by asking your Realtor for something simple: Call the seller's agent and talk to her in person. Having that spur-of-the moment conversation can make all the difference.
"The buyer's agents who are communicative, persistent, and follow up by actually picking up a phone and calling the listing agent are most likely to discover the motivations of the seller," George says.
If they're motivated by money
If the seller is all about the Benjamins, you'll need to submit the highest offer to get the home -- and in a competitive market, the listing price may just be a starting point.
"We tell our buying clients in this hot seller's market to be prepared to bid over $100,000 depending on the area," George says.
To get an idea of what to offer, you and your agent should compare recently sold homes in the area. And if you get in a bidding war, don't expect the sellers to come back with their own offer.
"Nowadays, sellers send out offers asking for the buyer's highest and best offer," George says. "At this point the buyers have one or two chances to come in with their all."
If they're motivated by terms
If the sellers are motivated by terms, they want the deal over and done with -- as painlessly as possible. You'll probably have to give up some contingencies (the clauses that give you the option to back out of the deal if something doesn't go through). Even though those contingencies might help you, they can slow down the sale -- something the seller doesn't want.
But what do you give up? Usually, it'll come down to some peace of mind.
"Many sellers are disclosing the termite and home inspection reports in an attempt to persuade buyers to offer noncontingent," George says.
And if those reports are clean, you might be safe to waive your own right to inspect and cross your fingers nothing goes sideways.
Don't want to give up the inspection from the pro? Give in on another contingency to push things along.
"The other huge trend we are seeing is buyers waiving their appraisal contingency, meaning if the home comes in below the offer price the buyer has to come in with the difference," George says.
If they're motivated by emotions
If the sellers are attached to their house, they're going to have a hard time letting it go to just anybody. You can prove you aren't just anybody by writing a personal letter.
"Just be honest and be yourself," George says. "Many of the letters we read are very genuine and emotional."
But remember, you're writing a personal letter, not a resume. The seller is more likely to be interested in why you want the house and what your personal plans are for the future, than in what you do for a living.
The faster the better
Once you know how to approach the offer, consider the timing. Generally, the faster you can submit an offer, the better.
"Being the first offer in on a deadline means you just became the leverage offer," George says.
Even if the seller doesn't' accept your offer right away, your offer will become the yardstick against which other buyers are measured.
If you're not first, make sure your offer is solid and submitted in a reasonable time frame. Many sellers have a deadline for accepting offers before they start considering candidates, and you don't want to miss out because you sat on the fence.
Don't get cocky
It's tempting to submit a lowball offer just to see what the seller will do, but the seller may get irritated and just stop working with you altogether.
But on the flip side, don't get excited and blow past your budget.
"You need to figure out how badly you want this house," George says, "and how far you're willing to go."