When you hear “bidding war,” visions of rapid-fire auction chanting might come to mind: One dollar bid, now two, now two, will you give me two … sold! This sort of bidding war at auctions is all about the dollars. But when you enter a bidding war for a home, other factors besides money can come into play. The important thing to keep in mind is not to offer to pay more than what you can afford. Here are six ways to win a bidding war without overspending.
1. Know what you can really afford
As far as emotional purchases go, buying a home ranks right up there with choosing a wedding dress — only the financial stakes are much higher. Unless you know ahead of time exactly how much house you can afford, you could easily be sucked into spending too much. Your lender or financial adviser can help you determine that number. Then it’s time to play ball.
“Submit your best and final offer early,” says Skyler Irvine, senior partner at Myriad Real Estate Group in Phoenix, AZ. “If $1,000 keeps you from pulling into the driveway of your dream home just because you wanted to play hardball, then you might regret this more than you can imagine.” But the flip side is also true. “If you get outbid because someone offered more than you were comfortable with spending, then you didn’t lose anything and made a smart financial decision.”
Here’s a real-life strategy from a client of Naples, FL, agent Gordon Campbell on how to submit the best offer in a “best and final” situation without going too high: “They simply added a clause stating that they would pay $1,000 more than the next ‘best and final’ capped at the original price as seen in the MLS.” The outcome? “They got the property for slightly more than the other bidder.”
2. Talk with the listing agent
You can put in an offer, but unless your agent makes the effort to speak with the listing agent, your offer, in a multiple-offer scenario, will probably not stand out. Gary Hughes, a Virginia agent, recently received 13 offers for a property he listed. “Twelve were just emailed, and the buyers’ agents did not speak to me,” he says. But one agent called and had the lender follow up. “The lender and the buyer’s agent were able to address a concern in a way that assured me it would get to settlement. It wasn’t the highest offer, but it was close. Those conversations made all the difference.”
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3. Propose a shorter closing
It’s always beneficial to find the seller’s motivation for selling (if you can). Let’s say they just accepted a new job in another part of the country. This seller is probably highly motivated to sell quickly. “If you can close the deal in two or three weeks, you may win over the higher offer that comes with a six-week closing period,” says Eric Bowlin, a real estate investor.
But just how do you go about closing faster? Here’s one way: “Tighten up your inspection time frame so sellers know that they can get through to a closing date quicker,” says William Golightly, a Florida agent. And California agent Tracey Hampson says, “Ten days is more than enough time to get a termite and home inspection done.”
4. Rent the house back to the sellers
Some sellers aren’t interested in a short closing at all. In fact, the opposite could be true. Sellers who don’t have to sell quickly but who are just making a change, such as downsizing or upsizing, might want a long closing or some sort of flexible deal to give them time to find their new home. “Being able to rent back the property to the seller for a few months while they solidify their next purchase can go a long way into not needing to overbid on the property,” says Aaron Norris, a California real estate investor with The Norris Group.
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5. Submit an as-is offer
The fewer conditions you put on buying the house, the more attractive you look to sellers. Consider offering to buy the house as-is. Miami Beach, FL, agent Jill Hertzberg says, “You can opt out of conducting inspections.” But since this is an extremely risky proposition, Hertzberg suggests instead of waiving the inspection altogether, decrease the inspection period to two days maximum. Lilia Biberman, a Boca Raton, FL, agent says to only waive the inspection “if you have a firm grasp of all the possible defects a property may possess and the costs associated with remedying those defects.” Also, if you’ll be paying in cash, you don’t need a financing contingency, which protects buyers who don’t secure financing in time.
6. Pay more in cash
In a bidding war, the value of the house (the price people are willing to pay) doesn’t always match the appraisal, which could come in lower. If you can throw in the extra cash to make up for a low appraisal, don’t keep that piece of information a secret. “If you are willing to bring cash to close — such as adding the difference between the appraisal value and sales price to your down payment — make sure to put that in writing,” says Tiffany Alexy, a North Carolina agent.