The Basics of What Should A Buyer Offer (and Should You Even Make An Offer)?

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Dan,

Okay, so now I'm in the process of just making an offer on a house and it's already getting confusing despite all my reading. It would have been worse has I not spent all this time reading but just when I think I have a solid grasp of this process something else springs up.

The agent is saying that with the offer we have to say who the lender is and if we change lenders we have to ask the seller for permission, basically, since it's a part of the offer. Is that normal?

It's a short sale (seems like everything we look at is!) and on the home there are two loans. This is what I heard from the sellers agent. The first lender signs off on just about any offer (and so far I'm told there are offers all the way to $189k) because for the most part they're going to get all their money back. The second lender has not signed off on any offer so far but the sellers agent says if you offer X (it's $199k in this case) they'll take it. First of all, how can the sellers agent even go into details like that? (And he told ME because I called him after I talked to our agent because I couldn't believe she knew all those details about first and second loans and what the second lender would settle with.) Second, how would he know how much they would settle for and third, why would that lender tell anyone what the lowest they would take is? Seems to me this is all speculation on what that second lender might do.

Okay, so the asking price is $199k and my agent knows we have about 3.5% saved, that's it! So we go and get pre-approvals from lenders for $200k. So far so good. Then we find a house we like and the asking price is $199k. And we lean that if we offer the asking price chances are it'll get accepted (usually we learn that there are 3 offers already and we need to offer more . . . yes, even in the down market!). Once I finally get over the fears and decide to do it the agent tells me we should offer $204,500 to cover closing costs. WHAT? I'm confused again.

Any light you can shed will be greatly appreciated.

I don't know much about your local market and its current state. Some things are appropriate in some buyer's markets, but will only get the door slammed in your face in seller's markets. On the other hand, some things are necessary in seller's markets, but are giving away far too much in buyer's markets, and there is an entire continuum between buyer's markets and seller's markets. Handling offers and negotiations in a manner inappropriate for the current market will pretty much guarantee failure, either by asking for something so outrageous that the door metaphorically gets slammed in your face, or by giving away all sorts of things including money that there is no need for. To know what is and is not appropriate, you need an agent who knows your local market, who's willing to really work on your behalf, not just fax offers back and forth.

As far as the lender goes, I have NEVER named a buyer's lender in a purchase offer, and I'm not about to start, for precisely that reason - and the fact that it's none of the seller's business. But it might conceivably be part of the standard contract in your state, for reasons I don't understand, being a California boy. Some state laws are a bit, shall we say, different? On the other hand, some lawyers I'm aware of could build a serious case that this particular item is a RESPA violation, which is federal law and applies everywhere in the US.

It's easy to figure out approximately how much they owe. The original dollar amount of existing liens is public record, everywhere in the US. From there, you can make a pretty good estimate of how much they owe. Not that it's generally a good idea to focus on what is owed. Whether it's free and clear, or upside down, the property is only as valuable to you as it is. You're not going to pay $400,000 for a property that's only worth $200,000 if they're upside down. Neither is there any reason to be willing to pay less if they own it free and clear. It's still worth what it's worth, and failing to understand that, by either the seller or the buyer, is a recipe for failure. Buyers do not care what a seller "would like to get," and sellers don't care about what a buyer can afford except as it applies to the question, "Can they afford this property?"

A short sale is a short sale is a short sale. Unless there are reasons like "pretty much everything is a short sale", buyers should avoid short sales. Even done right, it's a month and a half or more process of the lender trying to beat everyone up for more money by wielding a VETO. If you do decide that you want that particular property badly enough to fight through the short sale process, I wouldn't start by accommodating the lender. They're still going to try to beat you up, only they're starting from a better point for them and a worse one for you.

As far as over offer to cover seller paid closing costs: We do live in a net world. Are you asking for seller paid closing costs? You shouldn't if you don't need to, but if you are, it's kind of like an equation. If X, a price they will accept on an offer without seller paid closing costs, equals $200k, then X plus $5000 for closing costs is $205k. Actually, since they pay commissions on the higher amount, you should feel lucky if they agree to a price that doesn't add anything more than the closing costs cost them. Some markets, however, are priced to include a certain amount of sellers paying buyer costs, and if that's not needed in your case, you should be able to get an offer that's lower by about that number of dollars to be accepted.

The critical questions I usually ask are: Suppose you get it at that price. Happy or sad? Suppose you don't get it at that price, but someone overbids you marginally and does. Angry, or don't care? Finally, how many real competitors for your business are there? Is this property head and shoulders above everything else with a comparable asking price, or are there hundreds of other properties just as good, that you could just as easily make an offer on and be happy with? The answers to these questions will help a good agent determine what a good offer is, and what it isn't. A bad offer can poison the well, and a too good offer gives away too much. You want the property on the best terms possible, but you do want the property or you shouldn't make an offer. If you're a flipper looking to score on a low ball offer, you don't care if you poison the well (you're pretty going to walk away if they're not desperate enough to take the first offer or something close), but pretty much everyone else does.

From your email, I'm getting suspicious there's some tendency on behalf of that particular agent to inflate the price so they get paid more, and possibly even collusion. But there's no way to be certain, and no way to tell that it's even the way to bet without knowing more about your market. Only another agent in your market would know about that, which is one reason why any specific negotiating advice you're going to read in a forum with a national audience is so much wasted breath at best. There are possible exceptions to everything I've written in this article, and I know what they are and where they would be applicable, but it all has to do with a given local market at a given temporary time or specific situations where you're going to be getting something extra in exchange for giving up something that isn't normal. For anything beyond a particular local market under particular market conditions that apply in a very time limited fashion, detailing these would be so much wasted space on the page. All of this is one more reason you want a good buyer's agent on your side before you start looking at property. Dual Agency is a recipe for disaster for buyers (and for the sellers too!).

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 20, 2013 7:00 AM.

Negotiations After the Purchase Contract: Seller's Allowances and Fixing Problems was the previous entry in this blog.

What If You Cannot Refinance Later? is the next entry in this blog.

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