One of the more stressful aspects of being a first-time homebuyer is that you can go through all the steps to prepare to buy a home and make an offer, only for the seller to choose another bid.
If you’re wondering how to make your offer stand out, here are 14 creative ways to improve your odds of making a successful offer.
- Listen to the seller and try to understand what they want so you can tailor your offer to their needs.
- Writing a personal letter may be effective, but many real estate agents and states are starting to discourage the practice.
- Factors aside from the price that make the deal easier for the seller can make a big difference in getting your bid accepted.
Understanding the reason why the owners are selling makes it easier to tailor your offer to their needs. Asking questions can tell you if the sellers are looking only for the highest offer, if they need a short or long escrow, or if they’d like their home to be sold to a family with children.
“You want to work with a real estate agent who can have a frank discussion with the listing agent … about the seller’s circumstances and motivation,” says Casey Fleming, a mortgage advisor at Silicon Valley Mortgage in San Jose, California, and author of the book “Buying and Financing Your New Home.”
Making a conservative offer is unlikely to help you stand out if the bidding is competitive. If it’s doubtful you’ll get a second chance to make a bid, it’s a good idea to put everything you can into your first one. This includes the best price you can pay for the home, and any other incentives you can offer.
Plus, being open and honest about what you can offer may make a better impression on the seller and help tilt the scale your way.
3. Make a cash offer, if you can
Most buyers pay for a home with one of many available types of mortgages. And whenever you’re applying for a loan, there’s always a chance your application will be denied, or that some other problem could delay financing enough to derail the deal — even if you’re preapproved.
Though it’s not always feasible, making a cash offer is one of the most effective ways to make a house offer more attractive. Cash offers have become increasingly popular — more than 20% of all home sales were paid with cash in 2022.And with no mortgage underwriting process to deal with, a cash offer also can close more quickly.
If you can’t offer cash, you still want to show the seller you have the resources to close the deal. Showing preapproval from a mortgage lender is the next best way to show sellers you can afford to buy their home, and that the deal will close smoothly.
You’ll want to apply for preapproval before shopping for a home, as the lender typically will review your finances before issuing the preapproval letter detailing the loan it expects to approve you for.
“A preapproval from the lender will include the loan amount offered, at what interest rate, and the expected closing date, or close of escrow,” says Nasim Pasallar, a real estate agent with Level Up Group in San Francisco.
Preapprovals also come with an expiration date — usually between 30 and 90 days.
5. Use an escalation clause
An escalation clause automatically raises your offer price if there are higher competing offers. It also will include details on how much your offer will increase, and a maximum amount. For instance, you can increase your offer in $2,500 increments until it reaches a maximum purchase price of $600,000.
This could be useful if you know there may be multiple offers. It can protect your bid if the highest offer is slightly more than yours.
6. Offer a higher down payment
The larger your down payment, the more it can show sellers that you’re able to afford the home and the deal will close smoothly. It also means you’ll need to finance less of the purchase with a mortgage, so you’ll need a smaller loan that will be easier to qualify for than a larger one.
In general, sellers are more likely to accept an offer if they know the buyer can meet or exceed the financial obligations required to buy the home.
7. Offer more earnest money
Earnest money is a deposit you put down with your offer to show you are serious about buying the home. The typical earnest money deposit that homebuyers put down is anywhere from 1% to 3% of the home’s purchase price.
Earnest money is attractive to sellers because it shows the buyer is confident enough that they can close the sale to offer cash they may not get back. If the buyer backs out of a sale for a reason not covered by contingencies in the purchase and sale agreement, the seller typically keeps the earnest money.
8. Designate some of your earnest money as nonrefundable
Taking it one step further by offering some of the earnest money as nonrefundable — no matter what happens during the closing process — can further strengthen your offer. However, you’ll want to be confident in your offer and the home you want to buy to go this route.
9. Offer to pay some or all of the seller’s closing costs
Paying some or all of the seller’s closing costs is one of the most effective tactics to make your offer appear more attractive, says Kaliyani Evans, a Realtor with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Lifestyles Realty in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I had a recent homeowner I was helping to sell her home and there was a buyer that was willing to pay some of the closing costs,” Evans says. “This offer was quite attractive and helpful, so the seller ended up going with this buyer.”
Pasallar agrees that it’s an effective negotiation method and a good way to make your offer stand out — especially if the competition is stiff. She typically recommends buyers offer to pay up to half the seller’s closing costs. Average closing costs range from 2% to 5%, so you’ll need to be prepared for the expense.
10. Minimize contingencies
Contingencies are clauses in a purchase and sale agreement that must be met for the sale to close. Typical contingencies in real estate include a satisfactory home inspection, a clear title to the home, and the buyer’s ability to obtain financing.
Evans says that minimizing or waiving contingencies can make an offer more attractive to the seller as there are fewer obstacles that can get in the way of closing.
The risk is that if you waive or minimize contingencies, and something goes wrong, canceling the deal would forfeit your earnest money and you’d risk legal liability for breach of contract.
Writing a letter can help the seller get to know you and your plans for living in their home, and may be a good way to influence the seller’s decision. Such letters can let you pitch emotional reasons for choosing your bid, even over others that may offer more money.
There are risks to this approach, though. Some sellers won’t be swayed by even the most emotional letter. And such letters have raised flags as fair housing violations, prompting some real estate agents to advise against the practice and some states to consider banning it.
12. Offer free occupancy
Free occupancy allows the seller to continue to live for free in the home for a time after closing. This can be helpful if you’re in no rush to move in or to accommodate the seller’s needs.
If you are preapproved and otherwise confident in your ability to close on the home, meeting the seller’s timeline for closing may be helpful, Pasallar says. It’s best to ask your real estate agent to consult with the seller to determine if they need a specific timeline for closing.
14. Give the seller adequate time to move out
Similar to offering free occupancy, giving the seller more time to move out — such as by extending the closing date — could strengthen your offer.
FAQ: Ways To Strengthen Your House Offer
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about how to make your home offer stand out.
Not necessarily. Sellers pick the best offer for them, which could mean an offer with a later move-out date or a larger down payment that suggests the buyer has more financial means to buy the home than other bids.
It’s best to waive contingencies only if you are confident this is the home you want, and that the home is in relatively good condition. It also may make sense if you’re willing to risk putting in more money and time to fix up the home if there are significant issues.
Appearing more attractive to a home seller requires you understand what their needs are, and tailoring your offer accordingly. The more you are willing to listen to the seller, and carefully consider what you are willing to offer, the better the chances that your bid will be successful.