You’ve received an offer (maybe several) on your home and a big decision awaits. With so much money on the line, you need to give careful consideration to your next move, whether it be rejecting the offer, making a counteroffer, or signing the agreement. While you don’t want to give away the farm, it’d also be a shame to let an amazing offer slip by.
So how long does a seller have to respond to an offer on a house — and what if you need more time? The short answer is you’ll usually have a window between 24 and 72 hours to get back to the buyer before an offer expires. But let’s take a look at the factors that determine the amount of time a seller has to respond to an offer, and a few key considerations that can offer clarity as to the right path forward.
Look for an expiration date
In many states, the residential purchase agreement has a blank spot for the buyer to insert their own expiration date on the offer. “In Florida, the buyer sets the deadline on an offer with an offer expiration date,” explains Patty Da Silva, a top real estate agent in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Sometimes the buyer’s agent sends an offer without an expiration date, but most commonly they give the seller 24 or 48 hours to respond.”
Check the contract for your state
While some states allow the buyer to set the offer expiration date within their offer, others have residential purchase agreements with built-in language that gives the seller a deadline. For example, the standard California residential purchase agreement states that the offer “shall be deemed revoked and the deposit, if any, shall be returned to Buyer” if the seller fails to accept the offer by 5 p.m. on the third day after the buyer signed the offer.
However, in some areas of California, residential purchase agreements may be written to extend that expiration date, in some cases up to 60 days. Your real estate agent is your best resource to discover if your state has rules or the offer contract has language that puts a clock on how long you have to respond.
Know the etiquette
Sellers are under no obligation to respond to offers that they receive. However, your agent may encourage you to respond to all offers promptly out of courtesy to prospective buyers. While not legally required, it’s often expected that sellers will provide a response within 24 hours to three days to interested buyers to let them know where they stand.
Hesitate at your own risk
Let’s say you’ve received a great offer on your house, but you’re hoping that a hot market will net you an even better one. So, you wait out the expiration date on the offer in hand, but no better offer comes in. Should you miss the expiration deadline, you can go back to that buyer and ask that they honor the terms of their original offer. They might agree, but they don’t have to, and your hesitancy could raise red flags.
“Sellers who take too long deciding on whether or not to accept a great offer run the risk that the buyer will get turned off and walk away — because a buyer who’s serious and makes an incredible offer upfront will start to feel like the seller is being greedy or unreasonable,” warns Da Silva.
“For example, I had a listing where we had 16 offers come in, and two of them were cash offers for $10,000 above asking. But my sellers tried to play games with them both to get an even better offer and both cash offers walked. So we had to go to the third best offer to see if they were interested in increasing their offer, but at that point it had been five days, so they knew my client must have played games and lost with other offers. We wound up selling it to that third buyer at asking price.”
Accept, reject, or make a counteroffer
When an offer comes in, you can respond in one of three main ways:
Accept the offer without any changes:
Should you receive a spectacular offer that gives you the price and contract terms of your dreams, it could be worth signing on the spot.
Send over a counteroffer:
Some offers may be close to what you were looking for while still containing a few deal breakers on your end. A counteroffer lets you adjust the terms and/or offer price to meet your needs while keeping the conversation going. The ball is then in the buyer’s court to accept or reject your counteroffer by your expiration date.
Reject the buyer’s offer in writing:
“In a seller’s market, it’s not uncommon for us to receive 15 to 20 offers, but really only 3 or 4 are viable,” explains Da Silva. “Our office is unique in that every offer is going to get a response, even if that response is, ‘No thank you.’ It’s just good business to reject offers in a timely manner so that those buyers can move on to another property.”
On one hand, rejecting an offer in writing is the polite thing to do. On the other hand, should you reject an offer in writing, that buyer will likely move on to another property. This makes it more difficult to extend that buyer a counteroffer should your original accepted offer fall through.
Ignore the offer:
Some agents send out a “no thank you” in response as a way to politely reject offers while letting buyers know where they stand. However, in a bidding war situation, you also may opt to strategically “ignore” your backup offers for a short time until you are under contract on your preferred accepted offer.
Recognize when you need more time
There are a number of valid reasons why you might need more time than the buyer initially provides with their offer expiration date:
- You’re waiting to hold a public open house or a brokers’ open house: It’s difficult to know you’re getting the best offer on your house if hardly any buyers have seen it. If you have an open house scheduled in the near future, it may be wise to wait until after the event to increase your chances of receiving the best offer.
- You want to review all offers at once: It’s a good idea to wait until all offers are in before responding to buyers. Let’s say you’ve shown your home five times in one week and four of the buyers indicate that an offer is forthcoming. Your agent will advise those buyer’s agents to set their expiration dates accordingly so that you have time to consider all pending offers.
- You’re asking buyers for their “highest and best”: Giving buyers’ agents a heads up that they’re in a bidding war situation not only slows the timeline down, but it also encourages the contenders to sweeten the deal by raising their price or waiving contingencies to compete.
How to buy more time if you need it
While offer expiration dates can be intimidating, they are not set in stone. Buyers may be amenable to extending the deadline — especially if they know that their offer is being seriously considered. Here are a few ways to cushion your timeline:
Use weekends and after-hours as off-time:
Should you get an offer in the middle of the week or later, you can ask to extend the expiration date into the next business week, giving you two extra days over the weekend to consider. Similarly, if you send a request for an extension after hours on a weekday, that should buy you another day just to get the paperwork for extension sorted. Offers made around federal holidays can buy you a little extra time, too.
Set expectations for delays with buyers:
Sometimes circumstances make it impossible to respond to an offer in a timely manner, such as a family illness, unexpected travel, multiple owners, or other issues. Should life events prevent you from responding before an offer expires, you can discreetly let the buyer’s agent know about your personal situation, while also communicating that you received the offer and aren’t playing games.
“If an offer expires or the acceptance period is too short, we can request an extension. “For example, I recently had an offer on an inherited house with four owners, but the offer phase was only 24 hours,” recalls Da Silva.
“That was too short for me to get approval and signatures from all four owners who have different schedules and live in different places. So, I told the buyer’s agent that the sellers were agreeable to their closing date and price, but they needed to resubmit the offer with a longer timeframe to get all of the paperwork signed.”
Ask directly for an offer extension:
Sometimes, the best way to get what you want is to ask for it outright. Whether you need extra time for logistical reasons or you simply want more time to consider the merits of the offer, have your agent ask the buyer if they will extend their expiration deadline.
Strategies to pick an offer without stalling
Selling a house is a major financial decision and a huge commitment, so it’s only natural to drag your feet a bit when deciding on which offer to accept. Stall too long though, and you may wind up losing out on the best deal.
Here are two ways to help you be ready to accept the best offer when it comes your way:
1. Commit to the sale before you list
Cold feet aren’t a phenomenon you only see at weddings. Avoid the unpleasant experience of losing out on a great offer by working through any pangs of seller’s remorse before you hit the market. Give yourself the time and space to reflect on the memories of this home and how it’s served you, while focusing your attention on the future and how this could propel you forward.
2. Work with an agent to navigate offer terms
Committing to a home sale is a lot less stressful when you have a real estate expert by your side. Partner with a top real estate agent with verified experience to help you pick the “best” offer, not just the highest one.
“Sellers often focus solely on the offer price when picking which one to accept, but sometimes the highest offer isn’t the best offer. The highest bid buyer may be selling a home that’s not even under contract yet, or set a closing date that’s three months away, or even have a mortgage lender that’s difficult to work with,” advises Da Silva.
“I create a spreadsheet for my sellers that has all the information on it that they need to know about each offer, including the offer price, closing date, requested inspection period, earnest money, and anything else they need to know to pick the best offer.”
3. Silence “what ifs” with pro/con lists
A spreadsheet is an ideal way to clearly see the benefits and drawbacks of all offers on the table — but it cannot make the decision for you. At some point you need to pull the trigger and pick an offer. If you find yourself hesitating because of all the “what ifs” that arise from the unknowns, create a pros and cons list for each offer to help you see through the uncertainty.
Let’s say your best offer has a hard 30-day closing period, but you’re moving into a new build that might not be ready in time. Your second-best offer has a flexible closing period, but it’s for $10,000 less than your best offer.
With the first offer, you may need to put your belongings in storage and live out of a hotel for a month before your new home is ready. With the second offer, the flexible moving date eliminates the double-move concerns, but you’ll be netting $10K less.
Working through the pros and cons here creates a more binary choice between convenience or money.
Respond to offers with confidence
The pressure of the ticking clock when you receive an offer on a house is enough to make any seller anxious. First, make sure you know what the expiration date is. Then, to navigate the pressure of this deadline, work with your agent to recognize a great offer when you see one or craft a counteroffer when a buyer misses the mark. Know when you have leverage with multiple offers, and take the time to review all offers before you make a decision. As always, clear communication goes a long way.
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