Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Art of the LOWBALL offer on Real Estate—How Low is it Safe for a Home Buyer to Go?

So you have scoured the internet for the perfect home and you found it! But it is tens of thousands overpriced compared to similar homes. Is there an art to submitting a lowball offer in this changed real estate market? Where do you start? 10% less? 20% less? 50% less? And is it the percentage less than the original list price or the current asking price?

Welcome to the reality of the real estate market today! There is no one-size-fits-all answer on this one. It really depends.

® working in the north and east Twin Cities metro for several years, I have seen my share of sellers who were insulted by a buyer’s offer. And not just in a market where buyers have the upper hand either. A decade ago, anything but a full priced offer was insulting. Buyers were afraid to request a few thousand toward closing costs lest the sellers would balk and accept the next offer in line. So buyers would skip inspections and write offers thousands more than asking just to get into their "dream" home.

Those days are but a memory now...Sellers throughout Anoka, Washington and Chisago Counties are anxious to sell. They know that they are competing with short sale sellers (those who have to sell and owe much more than their home is currently worth) and foreclosed homes. Few traditional home owners with “for sale” signs in the yard are naive enough to expect a full priced offer in this changed market.

The problem is that there are naive buyers who believe sellers are desperate to take ANY offer. But in reality most sellers can't or won't accept just “ANY” offer. An offensive lowball offer could put the buyers’ dream home purchase in jeopardy.

How to Coming up with an Acceptable Starting Point:

  • Ask Your REALTOR® to do a Market Analysis for the Home. In this market, I always pull the comparables to see what has sold recently in the neighborhood before my buyers decide what to offer on a home. Many sellers are listing homes at or below current market value. If the home is properly priced, anything less than 15% of the current asking price could be considered an insult. Currently, in the Twin Cities market, most homes are selling for about 990-95% of asking price. This percentage does not include seller paid closing costs either which does reduce the net offer. By looking at the neighborhood comparables, my buyers better understand what offer will be considered reasonable.

Keep in mind that if you are working directly with the listing agent who is under contract with the seller, they cannot ethically prepare a market analysis for a buyer. As a dual agent (working for the buyer and the seller) they must remain neutral regarding price negotiations.
  • Consider the Original List Price. If someone has come down 25-30% or more from when they originally put their home on the market, they have made improvements since listing to the condition and now the market analysis shows the home is priced fairly, writing an offer over 10-15% less could be insulting. If this truly is THE home for my buyers, we discuss whether it makes sense to offer closer to the asking price rather than hitting the seller with a lowball offer.
  • The Overpriced Home. If the market analysis shows the home to be significantly overpriced and the offer will be more than 20-25% less than current the current asking price. I provide the comparables to the seller. Sometimes when the offer is accompanied by documentation to back up the offer, the seller is less offender especially when it is explained that these are the same comparables that will be used by an appraiser. If the home doesn't appraise, the offer will have to be renegotiated in most circumstances.

  • Buyer’s Plans to Remodel and Update. Be careful when using documentation for changes that reflect cosmetic and personal taste. Many sellers will be insulted when a buyer’s offer indicates that they are offering tens of thousands less due to paint, carpet and other cosmetic changes that a buyer wants to make. If the updates are necessary due to age or wear, make note of the fact and consider whether the home is currently priced to reflect the condition or not. Slamming a well maintained and updated home to justify a low offer is insulting.

  • Avoid Considering Price Paid for Home. Many buyers think that if someone purchased a home a decade ago they mus have tons of equity. This could be true but it is not a hard and fast rule. Many sellers have taken the equity out of their home for improvements or for other reasons. Keep the negotiations focused on the fair market value of the home.
Most sellers are in waiting impatiently for that non-contingent buyer to write an offer on their home. In most cases, they understand the market and have worked hard to prepare their properties to entice an offer. But buyers must think through their offers; the perfect starting point for negotiations must contemplated thoroughly. Discussions can go south very quickly between buyer and seller when the initial offer is deemed rude. If you want to try a lower offer to see how low a seller will go but are prepared to pay more, make sure a note or letter accompanies the offer saying this is a starting point for negotiating on the beautiful home and property...a little kindness often goes a very long way.