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Comments and Questions:

  When Making An Offfer, Do NOT.. - Back
There are some things that don't count, when you're trying to decide how much to offer for a house.

The first thing that doesn't count is an oral offer. The seller could say in front of 15 witnesses, "Yes, I'll sell you the house for $120,000, and I'll be glad to give you a receipt for the $20,000 you're handing me to serve as an earnest money deposit. Let's shake hands on the deal." And if the seller backed out, and you hauled the 15 witnesses into court to prove he had accepted your offer, it wouldn't do any good. You couldn't force him to sell. Nothing counts, nothing is legally enforceable in the purchase and sale of real estate, unless it's in writing. (That's according to a law known as the Statute of Frauds.)

Not even that $20,000 you gave to "seal the deal" would do the trick -- though I trust the judge would order it returned to you.

But to get back to the original question -- what shouldn't you do when you're making an offer? The first don't is -- unless you have specifically hired your own broker, an agent who is legally obligated (preferably in writing) to keep your information confidential, watch what you say. Don't ever tell a seller's agent "We're so crazy about the house that if they don't take this offer, we'll go higher." The seller's agent, as a matter of fact, is legally obligated to report a juicy tidbit like that to the seller.

Some people think the right process is to start with a low bid, expect the seller to counter-offer with a reduction in the listing price, then you counter with a few thousand more, and you bargain back and forth the way you would in a mid-East peddler's booth.

Experienced brokers can tell you, though, that too many volleys usually kill the deal. Tempers begin to rise, someone says "It isn't the money, it's the principle of the thing" and that's the end of that.

It's often wise to make your original offer close enough to the asking price to tempt the sellers to close with it immediately and be done with the thing. They won't have to keep the beds made and the dog tied up every day. Maybe it isn't exactly what they hoped for, but still...

Don't base your estimate of proper price on the tax assessment figures. Even in communities where a skilled attempt is made to keep those in line with market value, they can't be as accurate as the operation of supply and demand in the open market -- what other buyers have been paying for similar property in the neighborhood recently. Your agent can furnish records of such "comp" sales.

Don't assume the sellers have built in a cushion because everyone expects a "usual" five or ten percent bid under the listing price. Some owners hate haggling and may list at rock-bottom for a quick sale.

If the house has been on the market for many months at a given price (inquire, you're entitled to an honest answer), then the buying public has voted that it isn't worth what's being asked. Don't offer full price.

On the other hand, don't fool around if you stumble on a bargain. (If you've been househunting in that neighborhood for a few weeks, you should be able to recognize one.) If a house is "hot" -- unusually attractive, underpriced, just listed -- it won't last long. Offer full price. If other buyers are swarming around an open house, your offer may be in competition with others by that evening; consider offering something over full price.

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