So you’re pre-approved for a mortgage, you’ve found the perfect house, and your agent has helped you write an irresistible offer … now what?
Buying a house can feel stressful in the best of circumstances, and more so when you’re not quite sure what’s happening behind the scenes. While a good agent will do their best to make sure you understand the process every step of the way, it’s totally normal to have questions — especially when it comes to who actually delivers the offer to the seller.
To help take the mystery out of what can be a nerve-racking waiting game, we’re breaking down exactly what goes into an offer and how that information gets to the seller of your hopeful next home. We’ve also spoken with Jennifer Young, a top agent based in Cincinnati, Ohio, with 19 years of experience, for her tips and insight.
Let’s dig in, starting with a quick recap of the essential elements of a transaction:
Who are the key players in a real estate offer?
Aside from the buyer (that’s you!) and the seller, you’ll typically find two real estate agents: one for each side.
The buyer’s agent is the expert working with you to help you find a home, write the offer, negotiate an agreement, and finalize your path to the closing table. Similarly, the seller’s agent represents the person(s) selling the property, helping them to list their house, market strategically, and negotiate with potential buyers.
Depending on your location, dual agency may also be possible. This is when the same real estate agent works with both the buyer and the seller. Due to the delicate nature of the relationship, an agent acting dually becomes more of an arbitrator than an advocate for one side or the other. Dual agency is not legal in every state, but when the option does arise, both buyer and seller must consent to shared representation.
What goes into an offer?
Writing an offer is exciting, and it’s important to carefully consider each component. After all, this is your first opportunity to make a good impression on the seller — which is especially important in a competitive market — but it’s also essential to make sure that your own needs will be met.
A comprehensive offer usually includes:
- The proposed purchase price
- Any contingencies, which may include, but are not limited to:
- Any requests for the seller, such as:
- A dollar amount toward closing costs
- Leaving behind certain appliances
- Fixing or replacing visibly worn or damaged materials (think old carpet, deteriorating door trim, and so on)
- Including a home warranty plan
- Important dates, like:
- When you expect a response to your offer
- When you intend to close on the house
- When your current home will close (if there’s a sale contingency)
- When the seller would need to vacate the property
In addition to the contractual offer, your agent may invite you to include a personal letter to the seller. Particularly in a situation where multiple offers are likely, if there’s something you feel that the seller should know about you that may tug on their heartstrings or otherwise further incentivize your offer, a letter is your chance to add a personal touch.
So, who delivers the offer to the seller?
When the details have been hammered out and your offer is written up, it’s go-time!
If you’re working with an agent…
Your agent will deliver the offer to the seller’s listing agent. This often happens via email, but can also take place face-to-face.
If competition is stiff and multiple offers are expected, your agent may quickly call or text the listing agent to let them know that there is an offer in hand and to expect the paperwork shortly.
The listing agent will then review the offer and share it with the seller, and together they will decide how to respond.
If you’re not working with an agent…
In the event that you’re going at this alone, you’ll be the one to deliver the offer to the listing agent, who will then pass it along to the seller.
If you and the seller are working with the same agent…
You guessed it — in a dual agency situation, it’ll be the same agent who helps you write the offer before turning around and giving the offer to the seller.
What happens next?
Since your offer will have included a deadline for the seller’s response, you can expect to hear back no later than the specified time. In a stable market with sufficient home inventory, 24 to 48 hours is typical to grant the seller time to think and, if applicable, prepare a counter offer.
In a competitive market like we’re experiencing in 2020, however, things can look very different.
“Right now we’re getting contracts that have literally a two- to four-hour turnaround time,” says Young, noting that coronavirus precautions have changed how homes can be viewed by potential buyers. In the Cincinnati area, only one agent and their clients are allowed inside per viewing time slot.
“Not everybody who wants to see the home is able to if we accept an offer on that first day,” notes Young.
“In order to get the best offer with the strongest financing, I’ve been leaving my offers open for three days.”
Whether you’ve given the seller three hours or three days to respond to your offer, it’s important to be patient and trust that your agent will convey any updates as soon as they have something new to report.
If you receive a counter offer…
If the seller has prepared a counter offer, the delivery process will reverse. The listing agent will pass along the new offer to your agent, who will then review and discuss the details with you.
The seller may counter with a higher purchase price, or they may ask to remove some of the contingencies you’ve set forth. In either case, it’s worth staying flexible if you’ve decided that this is the house for you.
“So many people get hung up on the purchase price and what they want to pay for a house,” says Young. But when mortgage interest rates are low, that can be a wrong-headed approach. When rates are low, “I always ask my clients, ‘Can you afford the payment? Because interest rates are so low right now; it’s really more about the payment.’
“You don’t want to lose the house over $1,000, or something that is only making a four-dollar difference to your monthly payment,” she adds.
To help tip the scales in favor of an offer acceptance rather than a counter offer from the seller, Young recommends having enough money saved so that you don’t have to ask for seller-paid closing costs. She also advises reconsidering your request for any extras.
“Any of these negotiable items, you just need to take out [of your offer] and be willing to pay for those yourself,” says Young.
If the seller accepts your offer…
Congratulations, you’re under contract!
Your offer is now the purchase agreement and a binding legal document. The ball is back in your court, and it’s time to get to work on scheduling a home inspection and securing financing.
Ready to make a deal?
Now that you understand exactly how an offer is delivered to the seller, you may be feeling ready to move forward with your house-hunting process.
To make things easier on yourself (and your agent),Young suggests making a list of your top three or four non-negotiable must-haves, then expanding on that with a ranked list of needs and wants.
“This way, when we go to a house and it meets all the non-negotiables and maybe has a few of the top needs or wants, we’ll know that we need to consider putting in an offer right away,” says Young.
She’s also been encouraging her buyer clients to look for houses priced $10,000 to $15,000 below their maximum threshold. This gives wiggle room for making a higher offer and improving your chances of winning over competing buyers.
Above all, keep a level head — especially if you’re in a frenzied market.
“I’m just telling people that they’ve got to understand that this is a business deal,” says Young. “Don’t get emotionally attached to any property, because we just don’t know if we’re going to win it or not.”
Header Image Source: (Ryul Davidson / Unsplash)