How to Make an Offer on a Home

By Eleanor Alexander on February, 27 2018
Eleanor Alexander
Eleanor Alexander

Eleanor is a copywriter, creative, and mac and cheese enthusiast.

You may already be feeling pretty attached to your newly found future home, but hold off on sending out the housewarming party invites. 

You still have to go through negotiations and have to be prepared for the possibility of walking away from the house if things don’t go well.

Trust Your Realtor

When you find a home you like, you’ll want to tell your agent as soon as possible.

Your agent will be the middleman between you and the seller (or rather, the seller’s listing agent), conveying offers and counteroffers on your behalf.

It’s natural for you to have an emotional attachment to the home you want to purchase, which can sometimes affect your decisions when it comes to making an offer. A good real estate agent will be able to advise and guide you through this process.

The first thing they’ll do is make sure that the seller is still accepting offers or if there are any other offers being made. By learning more about the seller they may be able to give you a competitive edge - your offer may be more likely to be accepted if you have a shortened or waived contingency period or promise a quicker closing.

Your realtor will help you look at similar, recently-sold homes to determine the best offer price. Often they perform a Comparative Market Analysis. This will help determine the initial offer amount and your negotiation strategy.

Once you’re all on the same page, your agent will draw up a formal offer which, once signed by you, can be sent to the seller’s listing agent.

This is a critical step and one of the reasons it’s so important to have a good agent. Need help finding someone you trust? Check out our blog on how to find the right real estate agent.

Writing the Written Offer

A written offer is more than just a number scrawled on a piece of paper - it’s a legally binding commitment. It’s common for verbal offers and exchanges to be made before a written offer is made, but remember that a verbal offer or agreement can’t be enforced until it’s written down and signed.

State and local laws are in place to guide the written offer process. Your agent will make sure you’re using a legally approved residential purchase agreement form.

According to Hal Bundrick, a Certified Financial Planner, these elements are often found within a written offer:

  • A legal address and sometimes the legal property description
  • Details regarding the purchase price and terms
  • The amount and terms regarding earnest money
  • A mandate that the seller will provide clear title to the property
  • Details regarding any buyer’s participation in closing costs or other fees, as well as how certain taxes and expenses will be prorated between the buyer and the seller at closing
  • The date and time of the offer’s expiration
  • A projected loan closing date
  • Other state-required provisions or disclosures
  • Any contingencies that the deal is subject to

When you make an offer you’re typically required to also make an earnest money deposit which will be placed into escrow. This amount is typically between one and three percent of the total purchase price. Within the offer, you should include the circumstances in which you must forfeit this money or in which the seller must return the deposit.

Accept, Counter, or Reject

Once you make a written offer, most sellers will respond to an offer within 24 hours though some will take more time. They will either accept, counter, or decline the offer.

If the seller makes a counteroffer you can either accept or counter again and the process repeats. If the seller declines the offer you can make a new offer or move on to another house.

If your offer was rejected outright, don’t stress. This happens to almost all buyers, very few have their first offer accepted. The seller may have rejected your offer because they felt the price was too low, because they were caught in a bidding war, or because you failed to meet specific terms.

You can always ask your agent about why the offer was rejected, though sometimes there is no rational answer - maybe the seller just got cold feet.

On the other hand, a counteroffer is a good sign because it means that they are willing to negotiate. Typically the seller will want more money or a faster closing. Negotiations can proceed quickly or drag on depending on the parties involved. Both the buyer and the seller are allowed to walk away at any time at this point.

Don’t Forget About Contingencies

Contingencies are commonly included in the written offer and list anything that needs to happen in order for the sale to move forward. Sellers typically want as few contingencies as possible, the fewer you have (or if you have none at all) may make your offer more appealing and less likely to be countered or rejected.

Standard contingencies include things such as having a home inspection and obtaining financing within a specified period of time, though others can be included.

Contingencies are meant to protect you and your interests but can block the deal if overdone. You want to cover the basics, requiring a home inspection is important, but don’t include unnecessary asks.

Closing Time

The sale becomes official when both parties sign the offer agreement, this is known as mutual acceptance. Now it’s time to close the sale.

Closings typically last between 30 and 60 days and include home inspections the finalizing your financing through a mortgage lender. Unless a contingency is not fulfilled, you and the seller are contractually obligated to go through with the deal.

Closing costs include lender and third-party fees which are paid at the close of the real estate transaction. These fees usually range between two and five percent of the final sale price.

A big part of the offer process rests on your realtor - so if you’re wondering how to find an agent you can trust, check out our blog post all about how to find a realtor.