Buyers, get into negotiating position

Crafting purchase offer takes strategy

Inman News

Bridging the price gap between home buyers and sellers can be a challenge in today’s market. Sellers, many of whom have a hard time accepting that their home has lost value, often expect to sell for more than buyers are willing to pay.

Buyers, on the other hand, are concerned that home prices could drop further. So, they’re making sure that they don’t overpay.

There are exceptions to the rule. Very desirable homes in the best locations sometimes sell for over the asking price, particularly if there isn’t much inventory of similar homes on the market. Some foreclosure properties at bargain prices are attracting multiple offers. Prices are rising in select areas. Overall, however, it’s a still a buyer’s market in most parts of the country.

There’s not much you can do to convince an unrealistic seller that he should accept your market-price offer. Many of the listings on the market belong to sellers who will sell only if they get a certain price. They may not be able to sell for less because of the size of the mortgage(s) secured against the property. In some cases, sellers bought at the peak and then improved the property. They can’t bear to take the loss they would incur if they sold at market price. In other words, these sellers would like to sell, but they won’t sell unless they get their price.

Before you make an offer on a listing that’s priced over market, try to find out as much as possible about the sellers’ motivation, and if there’s any flexibility in their price. A lot of time and emotional energy goes into making an offer. Save your efforts for listings where the sellers are motivated. That is, they don’t just want to sell — they need to sell.

Some sellers want to test the waters at a price that’s higher than the market will support. They usually feel that someone will appreciate the added value their home offers and pay more for it. However, these sellers will often negotiate with a legitimate buyer who offers a price that is less than the list price.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: To put yourself in the best negotiating position, make sure that your financing is in order and that you are able to show the seller that you are capable of closing the deal. The fallout ratio is high in the current market. Many of these transactions fail to close because the buyers couldn’t get financing.

It’s always a good idea to be preapproved for the financing you’ll need to buy a home before you make an offer. Preapproval involves making a formal loan application, having your credit checked, as well as verifying your funds for down payment and closing costs, and validating your income and employment. Lenders often want to know that you have enough surplus cash to make house payments (mortgage, property taxes and insurance) for two to three months.

Buyers who make an initial low offer and who aren’t in competition should make as clean an offer as possible. This means omitting anything that’s not necessary. However, you should include contingencies for loan and appraisal approval and an inspection contingency.

It’s a good idea to include a copy of your preapproval letter with your offer. If you are approved for a higher price than you are offering, ask your lender or mortgage broker to issue a preapproval letter for the price you’re offering.

THE CLOSING: Then be prepared to negotiate. It may take several rounds of counteroffering back and forth to reach a mutually acceptable price.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.