Any home can spark a bidding war. That’s right—you can generate multiple offers on your run-of-the-mill, average single-family house in the city just as you can brand-new construction with a waterfront view and fancy features.
In fact, the most in-demand inventory (that’s real estate lingo for homes on the market) right now across the country is entry-level.
Think you’ve got a great home for one of those first-time buyers looking for an affordable gem? Well, you are in a prime position to bring in more than one offer.
Now, it helps if your house has good bones and a desirable location. If that’s the case, you don’t want to miss out on commanding the highest price for your house simply because you weren’t willing to put in the work.
We asked the innovative Mary Lobos, a top real estate agent in Baton Rouge, Louisiana who’s sold 76% more properties than her peers in the area, about how to start a bidding war on a house with smart prep work and a little creativity.
How to start a bidding war on a house with a big cleanout
Think of putting your home on the market like a production you prepare and practice for—say, the halftime performance of the marching band at halftime, or the debut of a play at the theater.
The audience never sees the painstaking hours spent marking time or rehearsing your lines. They only see the final product, which better be good.
So the moment you pull the curtain back on your house, every nook and cranny needs to be in position and ready for buyer scrutiny. Buyer interest will be at its pique in the first day (and even hours!) in which your home sale “goes live.”
You can only whip it into tip-top shape by putting in potentially months of sweat equity cleaning and decluttering every room.
Take one of Lobos listings—a hoarder house in the $100,000-$120,000 range that generated 12 offers the day it was listed.
What kind of magic did she wield to pull that off, you ask?
“We cleaned it,” Lobos says. And it really was that simple.
“It took a gentleman that I hired half a day to empty the attic because of things like Hungry Jack TV dinner wrappers,” Lobos says. “Seriously, I’ve never had a house like that. It was in a good location, it was a small subdivision with small houses. And the bones of the house were good. The yard was beautiful. It just took 6 months to clean it.”
The seller was out of state the day his home went on the market—he called Lobos and told her that every time he opened his email, there was another offer.
“I said ‘I know, they just keep coming,’” Lobos recalls. “He was blown away—because he helped me a lot to get it cleaned out.”
Bring in more foot traffic (and bids) with a ‘moving sale’
Sayonara, garage sale. You’ve been replaced with the much trendier “moving sale,” a marketing event that you can pair cleverly with an open house.
You see, when you sell your house, you have to juggle house showings with the moving and decluttering process—and a garage sale is a great way to get rid of a bunch of stuff at once.
This was the case for another one of Lobos’ seller clients, who had been stressing out over the timing and logistics of his garage sale when Lobos had an idea.
“I said, why don’t we call it a ‘moving sale,’ and have an open house and the house hitting the market at the same time over the course of a couple of days, starting on a Friday morning at 8 a.m.”
She scheduled a few other agents on her team to cover the open house in 3-hour shifts on Friday and Saturday so as people shopped at the moving sale, they also had the chance to tour the house right then and there.
At 8:15 a.m. on Friday, she had her first call about an offer. By Saturday at 4 p.m., Lobos had two offers in hand and two others were on the way, until the buyers decided to withdrawal and remove themselves from the bidding war.
Ultimately the home sold in less than 48 hours thanks to the increased foot traffic and a well-executed plan that led to multiple offers. Lobos tried the method again on another house, and it sold in less than a week.
There are a few reasons why this strategy works so well to start a bidding war: An open house pits buyers against each other in person—they can see their competition face to face, and that puts pressure on them to make an offer rather than wait around.
The moving sale, meanwhile, provides that extra incentive to hop in the car and go somewhere, bringing more people to your home en masse who might have otherwise stayed home.
One cosmetic change can launch a bidding war
Just as any home can start a bidding war—the seemingly most beautiful, perfect house can also linger stale on the market to everyone’s surprise.
This was the case for one of Lobos’ gorgeous 3,800 square foot listings that took a year and a half to sell and after 40 showings had not produced a single offer.
Finally, Lobos says she got permission to have the interior walls painted a light gray after she “couldn’t get the sellers to spend money” on prepping the listing.
This minor cosmetic shift from a darker, olive green color to a lighter neutral ended up being just the ticket—after the paint job, the home sold in about 3 weeks.
“It wasn’t that the original paint was ugly,” says Lobos. “You just didn’t realize how dark it was until you did the light. And then it was just a night and day difference.”
Trust your agent’s experience and intuition when it comes to the little touches that help a home sell—a few hundred dollars spent to sell an asset worth hundreds of thousands is chump change in the end.
Had the sellers been willing to make this small cosmetic tweak months earlier, they could have sold sooner or even generated multiple offers right away.
Your bidding war marketing blitz handbook
As much as you want to make a big impression when your home hits the market, putting it in front of the public just once is a wasted opportunity.
During the first two weeks, you should expect your agent to execute a multi-platform marketing blitz to promote your home locally and on the web.
These marketing action items can give your home that exposure boost it needs to reach the right buyer, and even drum up enough interest to start a bidding war.
- Hire a professional to take your listing photos.
With most home buyers beginning their search on the web, they’ll form their first impression of your home based on your listing photos, rather than a drive by. Smartphone photos will not cut it!
- Ask your agent to post your home to more than one MLS (multiple listing service).
The MLS stores all the information about homes for sale in your local market, but there is no single master MLS with all of this data in one place. So if your city attracts buyers from out-of-town, see if your agent has access to not just your local MLS but any of the ones serving your surrounding areas to boost your home’s exposure. For example, Lobos posts her listings to the MLSs for both Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
- Create a unique URL for your home’s listing.
It’s a given that your real estate listing should appear on all the top real estate websites, such as Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor, and get blasted across social media channels. Even better if your agent can put together a single-property website to show off all of its marketing collateral, such as your home’s virtual or 3-D tour, property video, listing description, and stunning photos.
At the end of the day, the more eyeballs you can bring to your listing online, or foot traffic to your door, the better your chances of starting a bidding war on any house. Reel in buyers with creative marketing promos and events—then knock their socks off once they arrive with a home in impeccable condition.
Once you have multiple offers on the table, put them all into a spreadsheet and review them with your agent carefully. Don’t get blinded by a high bid—as buyers might offer a great price but then nickel and dime you on the contract terms.