When Paige Schulte and her family needed more space this year, they decided to sell their house and buy a new one.
But buying a house in Gig Harbor, Washington, didn’t prove to be so easy, as they were competing with multiple buyers on every house they saw.
“We specifically wanted a certain floor plan that was really popular here,” Schulte says.
The seller wanted $1.5 million for the house they ultimately settled on. To make their bid stand out from all the rest, Schulte, a real estate agent, looked for ways they could offer the seller better terms than other buyers. "Price is king but terms are queen and she runs the show,” Schulte says.
First, they sweetened the deal through the appraisal: If it turned out to be lower than expected, they offered to cover the gap between the appraised price and the purchase price.
Then they reassured the seller that they would not back out of the deal by waiving the inspection. “I knew that once I got in there, I would have an inspector come in and I would pay for whatever needed to be fixed,” she says.
Their strategy worked and the Schultes closed on their house in February.
While Schulte admits those concessions are not in the best interests of the buyer – and would readily tell her clients that – those are the types of strategies buyers are using to buy a house in today’s market.
Bad news for homebuyers
In their 2021 Housing Forecast, Realtor.com predicted that 2021 would be tough for buyers. Sellers would be able to command high offers and home prices would soar. On top of that, they projected housing inventories would remain somewhat low because of buyer demand.
That spells bad news for home buyers, as increased competition means sellers are more likely to have their pick of potential bids.
“Bidding wars are clearly a sign of supply and demand,” says Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle, a real estate advisory firm that helps home buyers leave urban areas for suburban ones. Once a buyer enters one, “the key is not to get discouraged but to suit up.”
That means getting creative and finding a way to make your bid stand out.
Competitive housing market
When Elizabeth Porter and her husband Cameron were looking for a house in central Michigan this year, Porter had no idea how competitive the market was until they had made five offers for houses and lost every single one of them.
“We were going up against six, seven, sometimes eight offers on each house that we wanted,” she says. “That was when I was like, ‘OK, we're going to need to do something different.’”
To stand out, Porter tried to put herself in the shoes of the seller to see how her family could make their life easier. First, the Porters offered to spend a few hundred dollars extra on some of the seller’s smaller closing costs such as title transfer fees.
Since her mother lived nearby, Porter let the seller know if they sold to her family, they could take as long as they needed to move out of the house without paying rent. Such an offer “gives them a sense of relief if they are also trying to secure a new residence,” Porter says.
The seller took them up on the offer, and after the Porters closed on their house in June, the seller stayed an extra four weeks at no cost while the house they relocated to was repaired.
Another tactic for many homebuyers is the love letter – a personal note to the seller meant to foster a personal connection and a sale. However, in Oregon, a new law will ban any communication that provides information about the seller’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status. Even in regions that don’t have a law on the books, some real estate professionals recommend against letters that provide identifying information and instead to seek a connection with sellers in other ways.
Rebecca Hallstrom of Oldsmar, Florida, used a love letter to convey her passion for art. She had been looking for two years for a house with studio space so she could practice her art, and in her love letter, she wrote, “I am searching for that perfect home that I can set up my easel and paint every day.”
The seller later told her the house would be perfect for an artist because it had an enclosed sunroom with plenty of light that would be ideal for a studio. “I am convinced that the personalized letter made all the difference,” she says.
If you’re still unsure how best to compete in a seller’s market, here are some other options for buyers looking to stand out.
Escalation clause for home offers
Agree to pay a certain amount above any offers that are up to your budget limit, says Dino DiNenna, a broker and realtor in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “Suppose the offer you made for your dream house is $200,000, you can offer $1,000 up to $210,000 to outbid any competing offer.”
Get your home financing right
Sellers don’t want to worry that the financing will fall through. Attractive offers are cash “because there is no risk of the buyer not qualifying for a third party's approval,” says Bill Samuel, a real estate developer with Blue Ladder Development in the Chicago area.
A conventional loan with a high downpayment would be the next best thing.
Negotiate upwards, not downwards. While a lowball offer may snag you a deal in a buyer’s market, “it may simply keep you from being competitive in a hot market,” says Kerry Sherin, consumer advocate for Ownerly, a real estate analytics company.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Housing market: Homebuying is tough but you can win a bidding war