Some Offers Are More Equal Than Others

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The phrasing in parallel with Animal Farm is intentional. Sellers need to understand this, and so do buyers, especially in a hot real estate market like San Diego has currently become. Some offers are more equal than others, and knowing how to choose between competing offers on the selling side is critical. On the buyer's side, understanding this and anticipating it so as to make your offer attractive to a seller with a good agent is critical to success in making offers.

Even if they are for the same number of dollars or even for larger amounts, some offers are much less likely to actually consummate than others. If they don't consummate, all that happens for sellers is that they wasted their time, their money, and came up with nothing. Furthermore, once you have a fully negotiated purchase contract, the chances of renegotiating it so the seller gets more money are nil. Most purchase contracts, the seller needs to make concessions due to things discovered to be suboptimal with the property. Sad to say, there are even some very shark-like real estate types that go around making offers with the intention of using every little thing to renegotiate the contract in their favor. They make their offer look superficially attractive and then once they have a purchase contract start demanding concessions right and left.

There are currently three major things likely to prevent a transaction from actually going through. The first is the Home Valuation Code of Conduct sticking the transaction with an appraisal that's lower than the purchase price. Last month I had an appraiser choose two completely trashed lender owned beaters down the hill as comps for my client's beautifully maintained property in a more desirable location, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it even though there were better comps. When this happens, all the issues in When The Appraisal Is Below The Purchase Price for Real Estate come into play. If the loan standards are eighty percent Loan to Value Ratio and the buyer only has 20% to put down, when the appraisal comes in low, the cash isn't there to make it happen and the transaction will fail. In some cases, private mortgage insurance can maybe extend it to ninety percent currently, possibly 95% in a few cases, but 100% financing is out of the question for anyone but veterans, and adding private mortgage insurance often means the buyers don't qualify on the issue of debt to income ratio. Most often, if the appraisal comes in low it means that either the transaction is going to fall apart, or there is going to be a mixture of the buyer adding more cash to the deal and the seller lowering the price. If the buyer doesn't have more cash to add to the deal, it doesn't take much predictive ability to see that things are going to boil down to the seller deciding whether they'd rather find another buyer or take less money.

The second thing likely to prevent a transaction going through is issues with the property. Something is discovered during the buyer's due diligence period that causes them not to want the property, or to want . It could be anything. These issues are always with us. The only way not to be surprised by them is for the seller to be honest with themselves and do their own due diligence beforehand.

The third major deal-killer is buyer inability to qualify for the loan. Either they represented themselves as having more cash than they do, they really don't qualify for this loan on this property, or some miscellaneous loanbuster issue pops up. This is why I insist that every qualification letter I write and every letter I'll counsel my clients to accept be a pre-qualification written for that specific property and that specific offer. A generic "They qualify for $300,000" letter is wasted paper. The person writing that letter must also make specific representations as to why the buyer qualifies on the basis of debt to income ratio, loan to value ratio, credit score, and Cash to Close. For my listing clients, it the offer doesn't do this, I send the buyer back to try again. I tell them what the letter must cover, and I will counsel my clients never to accept an offer that doesn't include this information.

Running an automated underwriting program is easy and popular, but never acceptable for this purpose. Automated underwriting results are only valid if they don't change anything from how it was submitted. Let me tell you something that happened to me not long ago: I got an automated underwriting accept and priced and locked the loan and sent the file through on that basis. My processor, for reasons beknownst only to them, took it into their head to run automated underwriting through again on precisely the same file and got a lesser acceptance that raised the cost of the loan and cost me most of the money I would have made on that loan, and it could easily have changed to an outright rejection of the loan. This was for a refinance where nothing of consequence changed except for a precise appraisal amount that was still well within guidelines. What do you think is likely to happen when the purchase price changes or the the precise loan amount or any of dozens of other factors changes by a little bit? I never accept automated underwriting results for a purchase offer. Manual underwriting rules, however, are universally good, particularly in the A paper world. If something happens at one lender that causes it to have trouble, somebody else will take it if the manual underwriting standards are met.

I should also stress that sellers live in a world where net proceeds are what is important. If the transaction doesn't close at all, the net proceeds to the seller are negative regardless of what was offered. Even if the transaction closes, an offer for $200,000 requiring them to pay $5000 for seller paid closing costs is in actuality $5000 and some change less net money to them than an offer with no such requirements. A good buyer's agent is going to make careful consideration of this.

So keeping these in mind, which offer is the most attractive to a seller, assuming the same number of dollars and desirability of the offer?

All cash offers are always going to top this list. If the buyers don't care what lenders think, if they don't need a loan or a loan contingency, don't have to be concerned with loan standards, that eliminates an entire layer of complexity that includes most of the likely reasons why things fall apart. An all cash offer without an appraisal contingency is the Gold Standard. They are saying "The property is worth $X to me - I don't care what an appraiser thinks" They can still be intending to over-negotiate every little thing revealed by the inspection, but there is less to go wrong from a "nothing you can do in the initial contract" standpoint.

The next category on the list is offers where there buyer has significantly more cash than lender standards require for the contemplated loan type, particularly if they're planning to use it for the down payment anyway. This means that the buyer has the option of continuing the transaction even if the appraisal comes in low. Since all the incentives right now are for appraisers to come in low on the appraisal, this is happening a lot right now and there is nothing anyone can do about it except repeal those ridiculous new appraisal standards. If the buyer has more cash, when the appraisal comes in lower than the purchase price the viability of the transaction doesn't depend upon the seller deciding whether to take less money or put the property back on the market. If the buyer has more cash than absolutely necessary, the parties can meet in the middle rather than the seller being the only one with room to give. Conventional financing purchase offers of thirty percent cash or more and VA loans where the buyer is putting down cash even though they don't have to fall into this category, and even FHA loans where there is a cash cushion. I always want to address the question of "How low would the appraisal have to come in before this transaction has difficulty because of it?" Offers where the buyer has this cash cushion means that if the appraisal comes in slightly low, it isn't just the seller deciding whether to take less or put it back on the market.

I would rather have conventional financing than government. Government involvement puts a bottleneck, or single point of failure on the transaction - if the government won't put their seal of approval on it, we're done. It also takes longer. That said, I need to say that both VA and FHA are unfairly tarred in many agent minds because until a few years ago they were costly bureaucratic nightmares for the seller. The bureaucratic issue has largely changed, but it is still an issue even if it is a much smaller one, and a VA loan in particular does not permit a buyer to pay a lot of very real and necessary costs, so the VA loan needs to be for a higher number of dollars to break even on this point with conventional ones.

If a buyer wants a government loan but can go conventional, that will delay the transaction if they start out government but need to change to conventional, but it should still close. There is a fallback position. This is a critical difference and makes such an offer superior to one where they have no choice but a government loan, particularly some special or limited funding government program like the mortgage credit certificate or locally administered first time buyer programs

Both when writing an offer and evaluating one, I always want to address the question of what circumstances or combination of circumstances could cause this to fall apart. As a buyer's agent, I want to show the listing agent that my client wants the property and I have considered how to get around potential failure points. As a listing agent, I have a fiduciary responsibility to help my clients evaluate offers and make an informed choice on which offer to accept based in part upon likely failure points. Comparatively few agents meet that responsibility (one reason we've got such extreme transaction fall out now) but the good ones are all among them. A good listing agent is always looking for evidence in an offer that the buyer's agents have considered possible failure points and how to get past them.

Waiving the appraisal contingency is always an argument in favor of an offer. It can be symbolic, but it says "The property is worth $X to me, and I'm willing to pay that whether or not the appraiser agrees". Nonetheless, if there is a loan contingency attached to such an offer it's not an unlimited blank check. If the appraisal comes in lower than the difference the buyer can cover, the transaction is still going to fall apart. If the buyer has no extra cash, waiving the appraisal contingency accomplishes nothing. But a prospective buyer having $10,000 extra cash and no appraisal contingency should be something that is very valuable to well informed listing agents and their clients.

What if your offer is less desirable in these terms, quite likely because you have no choice? Well then you need to offer more money to sweeten the deal and give the sellers a reason to choose your offer over any others. When I'm acting as a buyer's agent, I always discuss how much competition we're likely to see from other offers if my buyers like a property. It's not a perfect science, and I never trust a listing agent telling me how many other offers they have (Unless the answer is "none") or for what dollar amount, but it's like gravity: if you don't take it into account, you're certainly not going to get where you want to go.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on July 13, 2009 7:00 AM.

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