After touring several homes and finding one you really love, you’ve put in your best possible offer and can’t wait for the next steps. Not much to do now but wait on pins and needles for the seller to respond. How long until you hear back — minutes, hours, days, weeks…never?
Truthfully, it could be any and all of the above. The ball’s in the seller’s court now. So patience will be key.
To keep you sane in the meantime, let’s review the typical offer acceptance time frame, when it’s a good idea to put a shot clock on your offer, and which scenarios lead to a longer waiting period.
Your quick answer: How long is an offer valid on a house?
Sellers have no legal obligation to respond to your offer at all. It is possible (though unlikely if you made a great offer) that you won’t hear back. But here’s the good news:
“Buyers can expect to hear back on an offer within a couple of days — typically 48 hours,” says real estate agent Becky O’Brien, who HomeLight ranks as one of the top 1% of agents in Minnesota. “Most agents won’t wait too much more than that before following up.”
So even if the response is a big fat rejection, most sellers will have the courtesy to let you know that they aren’t interested or to put together a counter offer within a reasonable amount of time.
But what’s customary for your market could be different. For example, the California residential purchase agreement has specific rules that state an offer “shall be deemed revoked and the deposit, if any, shall be returned to Buyer” if the seller fails to sign the offer by 5 p.m. on the third day after the buyer signed.
In other areas, such as Houston, sellers typically respond to offers within 24 hours, according to a discussion on Houston Association of Realtors online forum. Partner with a local agent and ask about what’s normal for your area. Then account for how factors like your offer strength or market conditions could either shrink or stretch that window (which we’ll dig into more below).
Should you put an expiration date on your offer?
You do have the option of adding an expiration date to your written offer. In that case, if you don’t hear back from the seller by the deadline you set, the offer dies automatically. When the offer expires, you’re free and clear to go ahead and bid on another house.
However, you should chat with your agent about whether this is the best move from a strategic perspective.
According to O’Brien, buyers are better off simply withdrawing their offer on the first property if the seller hasn’t responded before making an offer on another home. You never know, your request to withdraw may be just the nudge the seller needs to accept your original offer.
“I don’t usually advise buyers to put an expiration date on their offer because they can pull it at any time,” she says.
What about making offers on multiple homes?
Let’s say you’re trying to buy a house in a competitive market and find yourself down on your luck. You’ve submitted an offer on several homes but lost out to another buyer every time. You feel that delays during the offer stages are causing you to miss out on bidding for other homes.
By the time the seller rejects you, the other house you had your eye on goes under contract.
In this case, your agent may recommend that you start to make offers on multiple homes at the same time — however, this strategy can backfire if you don’t follow protocol, and it’s not always legal (rules vary state by state).
According to a post by Patricia Arvielo, president and co-founder of mortgage company New American funding, our research of contract law, and insights from O’Brien (our top agent in Minnesota), here’s what you should keep in mind if you decide to go this route:
- Be transparent with the sellers about your plans.
Your agent should let the listing agents of any homes you bid on know upfront that you’re making multiple offers on different homes at the same time. Honesty is the best policy here.
- Write it into the purchase offer.
O’Brien recommends that you add a clause to your offer that makes it null and void if you get an accepted offer on another property.
- Check the regulations in your state.
Some states have what’s called a “good faith and fair dealing” covenant that applies to contract law, which could make bidding on multiple properties at the same time (that you couldn’t afford to buy at once) illegal. If this is the case, you should avoid a multiple-bidding strategy.
- Be prepared to lose (separate) earnest money deposits.
A buyer may be required to submit an earnest money deposit along with the offer. If this is the case and your offer gets accepted on multiple homes, you’ll face the possibility of losing the deposits for whichever homes you don’t end up buying.
What other factors will impact how long it takes to hear back on my offer?
Nailing down a standard offer acceptance window is difficult because of several influencers:
- Market conditions
- Offer quality
- Seller circumstances
- Type of home you’re buying
- How many offers are on the table
Whether you’re in a seller’s market where demand for housing outweighs supply, or a buyer’s market where the number of homes for sale exceeds demand, local market conditions often affect how eager a seller is to respond to your offer.
In a seller’s market, expect to wait longer to hear back on your offer.
A seller may have multiple offers on the table or choose to wait several days for more offers to pour in before making a decision when market conditions are in their favor.
“If it’s a brand new listing, and the seller has received five offers, expect that they’re going to take a few days to look them over, maybe even going through the weekend,” O’Brien says.
To get a fast response to your offer in a seller’s market, you’ll need to put your best foot forward and do what you can to stand out, whether it’s waiving certain contingencies (though, don’t skip the inspection) or tacking on a few hundred or thousand dollars over asking. Follow your agent’s advice here on how to get your offer to the top of the pile.
In a buyer’s market, expect a faster response to your offer (perhaps within a few hours).
Competition drives sellers to respond quickly in a buyer’s market — because they know that there are more houses for sale than buyers out there. If a house has lingered on the market for weeks or months, a seller may be motivated to accept your offer quickly and get the ball moving toward closing.
The strength of your offer will either get a seller’s attention right away, cause them to pause and think about it, prompt them to reject you right away, or (worst case), leave you hanging.
“If your offer is too low, you might not get any response at all,” explains O’Brien. “In that situation, if you really want the property, you’re going to have to come up a little in your offer.”
Buyers who offer significantly above asking price can typically expect a quick response —unless you’ve written a lot of concession requests or contingencies into the offer.
One factor you have no control over is the seller’s personal circumstances, which can also impact how fast or slow they respond to you.
For example, a seller may be quick to respond to multiple offers when they’re under pressure to relocate for a job or they need to time the sale of their home with their next home purchase.
Or, a seller could be in the midst of a sticky situation which causes delay, such as financial difficulties leading to a short sale situation or a divorce. You can ask your agent to make discreet inquiries to see if there may be any extenuating circumstances holding up the response.
Foreclosures or bank-owned homes
“It often takes a while to hear back when you put in an offer on a bank-owned foreclosure — a week or two, and even longer if the buyer is willing to hang in there,” explains O’Brien.“It takes longer because you’re dealing with a corporation rather than a homeowner.
There are a lot more decision-makers involved and guidelines to follow when it’s a bank evaluating your offer rather than individual homeowner.
What about counteroffers?
If there’s a lot of back-and-forth between you and the seller as you hash out the finer details of the sales contract, it’s not uncommon for this to stretch beyond the typical acceptance window.
The clock starts ticking again every time you exchange a revised contract — even if the contract change is something as simple as adjusting the closing date.
Once a seller has made a counter-offer, however, it means they’re likely planning to accept your offer in the end, so that helps speed the process along.
“Once you get into a counter-offer situation, things move faster because both the seller and the buyer are looking to get the offer settled as soon as possible,” says O’Brien.
In some cases, the seller will respond to your offer — not with an acceptance or a rejection — but with a request for more time to consider all offers.
In this case they may simply wait for a better offer to come along or need to compare multiple offers on the table. When that happens, the seller’s agent will often request or suggest that buyers improve their original offers.
“When there are multiple offers, the seller’s agent will often notify all buyers’ agents that they need to prepare their highest and best offers,” explains O’Brien. “Then buyers will have a timeframe to make their best offer, typically a couple of days, depending on how many offers there are and how long the house has been on the market.”
Should you add an escalation clause to your offer?
Buyers who know they’re facing a bidding war scenario may be tempted to put an escalation clause into their offer in order to speed the process along.
An escalation is an addendum to your offer contract that sets escalation conditions and a sales price cap. The clause automatically increases your offer amount up to a predetermined limit should the seller get a better offer from another buyer.
The clause eliminates the need for the constant back-and-forth between the seller and multiple buyers, and the risk that they might accept another offer because they couldn’t get a hold of you in time.
Escalation clauses are pretty common in hot seller’s markets where bidding wars are common and homes sell in a matter of days or even hours.
However, adding an escalation clause to your offer isn’t always the smart move for buyers — because you’re basically showing the seller your cards, then bidding as if they don’t know what you’re holding.
The escalation clause works as an advantage for the seller for two reasons:
- It tells the seller that you are willing to pay more — which means they may hold out longer waiting for another offer simply to drive up your bid.
- If they get an offer from another buyer that’s over your escalation clause price cap, they may simply assume you can’t afford to outbid the other buyer, and may not offer you the chance to match or beat the other bid.
As you can see, instead of speeding up the offer acceptance timeframe as intended, an escalation clause risks lengthening your wait time as the seller delays or ignores your offer.
What do I do if the seller hasn’t responded to my offer after a few days?
Let’s assume that your seller has no valid reason for requiring a longer response period. If you haven’t heard back on your offer in a few business days, what do you do?
“When a seller is sitting on an offer, the buyer has three choices: wait it out, up your offer, or keep looking for another house,” says O’Brien. “Buyers who do choose to wait without offering more do risk losing the house if someone else comes along with a better offer.”
Don’t let waiting anxiety pressure you into making a mistake
The time in between submitting an offer and the seller’s response, is the most nail-biting, anxiety-riddled time for a homebuyer. But don’t let your frayed nerves and soon-to-be-a-homeowner excitement tempt you into upping the ante or folding too soon.
The last thing you want is for impatience to lead you to sweeten the deal too soon, put an unnecessary deadline on your offer that antagonizes the seller, or walk away without a deal.
Instead, keep a cool poker face and consult with your agent on how to play your cards right as you navigate the offer acceptance window.
Header image: Source: (fizkes/ shutterstock.com)