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How Long Can a Seller Take To Respond to Your Offer? Here’s a Reality Check

March 4, 2020

How Long Can a Seller Take to Respond to Your Offer? Here's a Reality Check


There’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting—especially when you’re waiting for a seller to respond to your offer on the biggest financial decision of your life. Yeesh, it’s excruciating.

Unfortunately, waiting comes with the territory when you’re buying a house. But how long you have to wait is the bigger question. While there’s no official rule on how long a seller can take to get back to you, there is an industry standard that most real estate agents and sellers tend to follow.

Whether you just made an offer on a property or plan to in the near future, here’s everything you need to know about how long it might take to hear back from the seller.

How long can a seller take to respond to a buyer’s offer?

In theory, sellers can take as long as they want before responding. But in practice? Most sellers (or their agents) will usually get back to you within a few days.

“As a courtesy, the Realtor® will notify the buyer’s agent when the seller responds regarding an offer,” says Benjamin Ross, a Realtor with Mission Real Estate Group. As the seller’s agent, “we like to respond within 48 hours, but that also depends on when we get the seller’s response.”

Some agents have even stricter expectations when it comes to response time.

“Common courtesy dictates that a seller should respond within 24 hours or less,” says Karen Parnes, broker and owner of NextHome Your Way. “This gives them the time to think about your offer, sleep on it, and respond.”

While 24 to 48 hours is the standard observed by many professionals in the industry, exceptions happen. Here are some of them.

When might it take longer for a seller to respond?

There are quite a few reasons why a seller might take longer than usual to respond to your offer. The first is if they received multiple offers.

“Typically, response time increases if there is more than one offer on the table,” says Ross. “Sellers may take their time to choose which offer is best for them.”

Another reason your offer might go unanswered is if it’s too low.

“If an offer is far from what a seller expected to receive, many times they won’t respond at all,” says Parnes.

Other times you might not hear back for a completely unrelated reason—such as the seller is out of town or on vacation.

Consider setting a time limit on your offer

If you’re concerned about how long a seller might take to respond to your offer, work with your agent to find out if you can set a contractual time limit on it. In some states these “offer time limits” are used by buyers and sellers to dictate how long the other party can take to respond.

“Offer time limits are defined in the contract in the state of Georgia,” says Katina Asbell, associate broker at Real Living Capital City Realty. “The ‘time limit of offer’ is the period of time the offer is active and open for response, and once it’s expired, the contract is void and a new offer must be presented.”

Whether or not your local legislature allows buyers to set time limits, Asbell cautions buyers to be strategic when using them.

“The time limit can be a critical part of defining a buyer’s success in negotiation,” she says. “If it’s too short, the seller may feel rushed or annoyed and give a harsh response. If it’s too long, then the buyer risks a multiple-offer scenario.”

Tips for a successful negotiation

Ultimately, the process of getting an offer accepted is all about being a good negotiator—and for this you’ll want to work with an experienced real estate agent.

“The best success I have found in gauging appropriate and amiable timelines is a very open and honest conversation with the seller’s agent,” says Asbell. “Buyers have one chance at a first impression and to set the stage for the remaining negotiation process, and timeline matters greatly in conveying this tone.”

The post How Long Can a Seller Take To Respond to Your Offer? Here’s a Reality Check appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

What Does Sale Pending Mean? Don’t Give Up on Your Dream Home

October 9, 2019

what does sale pending mean


So you’re perusing listings and finally you find it: Staring back at you from your laptop screen is the perfect house that’s in the right location, has the amenities you’re looking for, and still, somehow, fits in your budget. There’s just one problem: It’s sale pending. But what does sale pending mean exactly? Are you too late, or do you still have a shot? Ah, one of real estate’s most enduring questions. The short answer: If a home you love is pending sale, don’t give up hope. You could still be the golden buyer.

What does sale pending mean?

A pending sale status means the seller has accepted an offer from a hopeful buyer, but the deal hasn’t closed yet. (This is different from a contingent sale.) A property is placed in pending status the minute a contract is executed. But there’s still a chance the home can be up for grabs again—say, if the home inspection doesn’t check out or the buyer can’t pull together the financing.

“‘Pending’ does not mean ‘sold,’” says Joy Triglia, broker and CEO of Century 21 Universal Luxury in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Until the contract is complete and the sale is a done deal, there’s still an opportunity to land that magical, marvelous dream home. In fact, there’s more wiggle room than you might expect, particularly if you’re looking in a market that’s competitive. Many sellers will want to hold out for the best bid—and you could be the buyer with the best bid.

Here are five ways you can improve your odds, swoop in, and steal that home out from under someone else. Real estate victory can be yours!

1. Make your interest on a sale pending home known

Think you’re wasting your real estate agent’s time when asking about a sale pending home? Think again.

“Many seller’s agents will continue to show the property to potential buyers up until the very last minute, in hopes of obtaining an even more compelling offer,” says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats in New York City.

Make sure your agent knows how in love you are with the home. You’ll want to be first in line in case any issues crop up with the pending home sale (like failed financing, inspections, or other unmet contingencies that can snag a real estate transaction).

“Remember: Until the ink dries on the contract, no transaction is legally binding,” Malin says.

2. Get the dirt on the home

While you’re at it, call the listing agent. The agent might have some insight on parts of the contract that aren’t firm. Try to suss out how many other offers there are on the home and whether there are any potential concerns about the initial bid. You can use those to your advantage in your own bid.

“You need to get on the listing agent’s radar screen—and stay there,” Malin says. “If the agreed-upon deadline to close the sale passes, it’s time to take action—and fast.”

Try driving through the neighborhood to learn as much about the home and the community as possible. Do your homework. Google the address, check out property tax records, or go on PropertyShark and see what comes up.

You may never need the intel, but who knows when details might help sway the odds in your favor. You could think of it as getting a head start on your research in case the initial deal does fall through. Become an expert on the property, and you just might be the seller’s ideal backup plan.

3. Negotiate with the sellers to beat the other buyer’s deal

This doesn’t necessarily mean putting in a higher bid—although that can certainly help. If—and only if—you’re financially comfortable, you could consider offering more than the asking price. But you can also make yourself an attractive buyer by presenting convenient terms to the seller. Maybe you want to agree to waive a mortgage contingency, pay closing costs, or offer flexible moving dates.

Being open to negotiation is one of the best things you can do to improve the odds of your offer being accepted, Malin notes.

“It helps make the case that you are serious about the property,” Malin says. “Your goal is to convey a sense of urgency to the current owner and make your offer, quite simply, hard to refuse.”

4. Use a personal touch

If you’re certain that this place is your dream home, tell the seller. Send a handwritten letter explaining why you want the property, and your hopes for it. That human connection could be a significant factor in the seller’s decision.

5. Be aggressive with a capital A

Err on the side of being pushy and tenacious, even if that isn’t your normal style. That way if the initial sale does fall through, yours will be the obvious backup offer. Be available for phone calls, check your email, and follow up with your agent often.

“If the seller has a sense the competing would-be buyer is dragging their feet—or has any other seeds of doubt about their offer—this aggressive approach may end up tipping the scale in your favor,” Malin advises.

So the next time you see that pending sale status icon next to your dream listing, don’t despair. Just be prepared to work a little bit harder for your fantasy home.

The post What Does Sale Pending Mean? Don’t Give Up on Your Dream Home appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Making an Offer on a House: How to Lowball and Negotiate Like a Pro

August 21, 2019

low ball offer


Most house hunters hope to find that hidden gem: a great house listed at a low price. While that occasionally happens, it is more common for buyers to try to create their own discount by making a lowball house offer.

A lowball offer, or an offer price that’s significantly lower than the listing price, is often rejected by sellers who feel insulted by the buyers’ disregard for their property. Most listing agents try to get their sellers to at least enter negotiations with buyers, to counteroffer with a number a little closer to the list price. However, if a seller is offended by a buyer or isn’t taking the buyer seriously, there’s not much you, or the real estate agent, can do.

However, as a buyer, you can take steps to increase the likelihood that your low offer will be accepted, or at least increase the chances that negotiations can take place.


Watch: 5 Smart Strategies for Getting a Seller to Leap at Your Lowball Offer


Before you make an offer at all, you should be thoughtful about your goals. If you love the house and truly want to buy it, don’t submit an offer that’s too low. Be honest about what kind of mortgage you can afford and how much the house is worth. If you’re not sure, you can ask your real estate agent if the house is fairly priced, or if it would be reasonable to come in at a lower number. You can still offer the sellers a low price, but you don’t want to scare them away or give them an opportunity to accept an offer from another buyer.

However, if you’re interested in grabbing a bargain and becoming a homeowner for financial reasons (and are less invested in which house you own), a low offer could be the right option for you. Consider making an offer that hovers 25% below the asking priceand see what happens.

1. Stay aware of current market conditions

You and your real estate agent should be discussing the local real estate market throughout your house search so that you can recognize the value of individual homes. If your local market is a seller’s market with competition for homes, you are much less likely to have a lowball offer accepted than if buyers have the upper hand. However, in any kind of real estate market, a house that has been listed for sale for several months is more likely to have owners willing to negotiate a lower price.

It’s important to know the real estate market and do your research. A seller might be thrilled to get your low offer in one market, but might be more likely to go back and forth on price when more people are interested in home buying. You don’t want to be stuck making counteroffer after counteroffer when there are multiple people interested in the home. If you lowball the sellers, they might end up selling the house to other buyers and you’ll be looking elsewhere for your new home.

2. Be respectful of sellers

Even if you think the sellers have overpriced their property or have let it fall into disrepair, it is important to treat them with respect and follow the protocol of your local real estate market. After all, this is the sellers’ home, perhaps the place where they have raised their family. They may be selling because circumstances are forcing them to sell, rather than by choice. A low offer may be upsetting to the sellers, but if you and your real estate agent present the offer along with an expression of your appreciation for the property, it’s more likely to be accepted than a low offer accompanied by a half-complete contract or an insult about the property’s condition.

3. Have your agent contact the listing agent

To depersonalize the negotiations, it is best to have your real estate agent and the listing agent discuss your offer, but your agent can do more by talking to the listing agent even before you make an offer. Your agent should also find out as much as possible about the sellers: why they are selling and whether they have turned down other offers. This can be helpful regardless of whether you intend to make a lowball offer or contemplate a higher offer.

4. Have your financing in order

Sellers are rightfully concerned about getting to settlement any offer they accept, so your offer should be accompanied by a pre-approval letter from a lender along with an earnest money deposit. The higher your deposit and your promised down payment, the more likely the sellers are to take your offer seriously. In fact, if you can make an all-cash offer, you are even more likely to succeed.

Keep this in mind: Having your finances in order also includes making the right decisions for yourself and your bank account. That is, make sure you can afford the mortgage for the house you like. If you think you could end up in trouble with your lender a few months or years down the road, take a step back. If you offered to waive the home inspection but are praying there are no issues with the house (because you know you can’t afford major repairs), maybe rethink this sale before going into escrow. Yes, the seller may have multiple offers and you may end up back on the house hunting trail. But, it’s better to keep looking for a house you can afford than to default on your mortgage and end up in trouble with your lender.

5. Eliminate as many contingencies as possible

If you are making a lowball offer price for the home, you might consider keeping the contingencies to a minimum. With a steal of a price, you probably shouldn’t expect to have the sellers make repairs or to convey additional items to you, such as their window treatments. You should still have a home inspection, but you may want an information-only inspection if you anticipate making any repairs yourself.

If the sellers are already letting their house go for a bargain, you don’t want to complicate the sale with a bunch of contingencies. It’s important to find out what you should expect to repair, and the costs, but you should generally expect to get the house as is.

Keep in mind that a low offer is not always the right offer to make. In fact, you need to be prepared to lose the house if your offer is too low. Sometimes the market isn’t in your favor and the sellers will stand firm on the list price.

However, if you can make a low offer respectfully, in the context of your local market, you could end up with the bargain home of your dreams.

The post Making an Offer on a House: How to Lowball and Negotiate Like a Pro appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

6 Fatal Phrases Home Buyers Should Never Include in Their Offer Letter—Ever

April 29, 2019


Conventional wisdom dictates that one of the more successful tactics out there to convince a home seller to accept your offer is get personal: Include some sweet and heartfelt information to them in a note, expressing why you’re just dying to buy the house.

“A personal letter from a buyer can make an offer shine,” says Nancy Newquist-Nolan, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Santa Barbara, CA.

However, attaching a so-called “love letter” to your offer also gives you the opportunity to stick your foot in your mouth, warns Bryan Zuetel, a real estate attorney and managing broker of Esquire Real Estate in Irvine, CA. Say the wrong thing, and it could turn off or even offend the seller so much that they don’t even want your money.

Trust me: I’ve been a real estate agent for the past six years, and I’ve read dozens of offer letters … and some aren’t pretty. At all.

Don’t want to ruffle the sellers’ feathers? Here are six phrases never to include in an offer letter.

‘I can see our family celebrating Christmas here.’

Sadly, some view other people negatively if they do not share their religious views. And although it’s illegal under the Federal Fair Housing Act for a home seller to discriminate based on religion—or on race, color, national origin, sex, family status, or disability—a claim based on what’s in an offer letter can be difficult to prove in court, says Craig Blackmon, a broker and real estate attorney in Seattle. Consequently, Blackmon recommends that home buyers not reveal their religion in an offer letter—plain and simple.

‘We’re not nuts about your shag carpet, but we’ll just tear that out.’

Here’s a good rule to follow throughout a real estate transaction: Don’t insult any sellers you may be dealing with, or their taste! Discussing changes you’d want to make to the house can be offensive. Put yourself in the seller’s shoes. Would you want a buyer criticizing your taste in home decor? No way!

Andrea Gordon, a real estate agent with Red Oak Realty in Oakland, CA, offered one experience as a cautionary tale to home buyers: “In one case, the buyer went on and on about the huge remodel he would do when he owned the house. But this was a slap in the face to my sellers, who had spent a considerable amount of money in the past five years renovating the property.”

Flattery can go a long way. So, tell the sellers how great their taste in color is, how much you’d love to have their lifestyle, or what an incredible art collection they have.

‘We would do anything to get this house.’

Don’t tip your hand too much—say, by hinting that you’re desperate to buy the home. Doing so can only hurt your negotiating power should the seller come back with a counteroffer.

‘Our lease is up soon, so we really need to close quickly.’

This kind of statement can weaken an offer if the sellers are looking for a longer closing period—or just realize they have you over a barrel, and can negotiate accordingly.

Moreover, it’s important for your real estate agent to communicate with the listing agent and find out what the sellers want, and to learn their backstory. How long have they lived in the house? How many children did the sellers raise in the home? Having this kind of info can help you craft a compelling offer letter that touches their soft spots.

‘Your home’s fenced-in backyard will be a perfect place for my dog to run around.’

You may love pets, but a seller may not feel the same way. In particular, mentioning your dog’s breed could be risky. For example, let’s say you own a pit bull. Considering the stigma surrounding the breed, some people are afraid of these canines—and, even though the sellers will be moving, they may be concerned about their neighbors’ safety.

On the other hand, if you know that the sellers love dogs, mentioning yours in an offer letter can help you find common ground, says Mindy Jensen, a real estate agent in Longmont, CO.

‘Although my offer has a lot of contingencies, I know we can make this deal work.’

This might sound like a no-brainer, but some home buyers still make the mistake of drawing attention to negative aspects of their offer. On one occasion, I was selling a house, and we received an offer letter that said the buyer wasn’t willing to pay full price for the home, but was willing to pay in cash. An all-cash offer is great, but why call any attention to the fact that the seller’s asking price won’t be met? Ultimately, the seller decided to accept another buyer’s offer instead.

Bottom line? Writing a personal offer letter to a seller can help seal the deal, but what you don’t say in an offer letter is just as important as what you do.

The post 6 Fatal Phrases Home Buyers Should Never Include in Their Offer Letter—Ever appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Does Writing an Offer Letter to the Seller Help? Not Always—Here’s Why

April 24, 2019

Tolga TEZCAN/iStock

You’ve spent months—perhaps years—searching for the perfect house, and you’ve finally found it. But you’re not alone; there’s a very strong chance that other home shoppers are vying for it, too. So how can you stand out? Many experts recommend writing a personal offer letter to the seller.

“If there are multiple offers, we always suggest buyers write a letter of introduction as a way to put a personality behind the number,” says Josh Rubin, a broker at Warburg Realty in New York City.

After all, selling is an emotional process. But does this strategy work? We explored the pros and cons of writing a letter to find out whether it helps or hurts your chances of having your offer accepted.

Why you should write a personal letter

It can appeal to a seller’s soft side: Some buyers use a letter to tell a personal story in the hope that it will resonate with the seller. Tracey Hampson, a real estate agent with Realtor One Group in Valencia, CA, says she currently has a listing with three offers, but the offer she likes best is from a couple explaining how they are having their first child and want to raise him in a safe neighborhood.

“This is the exact same scenario my husband and I were in when we first moved,” she says.

Touching stories like this can strike a chord with sellers and make them feel comfortable about passing on their home to you.

It helps clear up any confusion about financing: A personal letter can also answer any questions or concerns that a seller might have about your ability to finance the home. For example, Hampson once had a buyer who was in the Air Force and was planning on using a Veterans Affairs loan.

“VA loans have some stigma attached to them because of the loan fees the veteran borrower is not allowed to pay, so the seller has to pay for them,” she says. “Also, VA loans usually take longer to close.”

So Hampson included a letter explaining the myths about VA loans. She says it apparently worked; the sellers accepted the offer.

It helps get a seller to work with you in a buyer’s market: A personal letter can also be used to help explain your financial situation.

“Back when it was a buyer’s market, letters were useful in getting the seller to accept a lower price, especially if the buyer had financial hardships,” says Vivian Cobb of Cobb Real Estate in Colorado Springs, CO.

Why writing a personal letter can hurt you

It can undercut your power during negotiations: Believe it or not, letting a seller know how much you want to buy their house could hurt you if you make it to the bargaining table.

“There’s a belief that a letter tips the scales to the seller when negotiating the price and the inspection,” says Karen Kostiw of Warburg Realty in New York City. “The seller may interpret the letter as the buyers ‘showing their hand,’ and it could weaken their position to negotiate.”

It could make the seller uncomfortable: Sometimes a personal letter can veer into TMI territory. An anxious buyer may divulge more details than the seller is comfortable knowing and ruin their chances of getting the home.

“Or, the buyer could inadvertently come off as insensitive, or say something in the letter that turns off the seller,” Kostiw says.

It could bias the seller: Perhaps the biggest con of writing a personal letter is that it could lead to discrimination, which is why some agents prefer to steer clear of them.

“Most letters consist of the buyers explaining their lives to add a touch of emotion to their otherwise dry contract, which is why it has worked for so long,” says April Macowicz, broker associate and team lead at the MAC Group RE in San Diego.

But the buyers might reveal personal information that prejudices the sellers against them. “The Fair Housing Act states that buyers and sellers cannot discriminate on the basis of race or color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or familial status,” Macowicz explains. But this doesn’t mean that discrimination won’t occur. “And buyers who find out can sue for discrimination,” she says.

That’s why Tory Keith, president of Natick, MA–based real estate firm Board and Park, says some seller’s agents don’t even share a personal letter if it contains certain information like a photo or information about the potential buyers’ status in any protected class, “because rejection of such an offer could be interpreted as a Fair Housing Act violation.”

The post Does Writing an Offer Letter to the Seller Help? Not Always—Here’s Why appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Hey, Big Spender! 6 Reasons Why Your Higher Offer Won’t Win the House

January 16, 2019

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images; alexsl/iStock;

You’ve finally found your dream home, and it’s actually in your budget. You can swing it—with cash to spare—but with competition fierce, why not go all in and offer way above asking? The seller will be in no position to refuse, right?

Well, hang on for a second. While cash—and lots of it—is certainly king, there are other factors that play into a seller’s decision to accept an offer.

In fact, sometimes there are things in your purchase contract that can outweigh even your supersized offer. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But often—especially in today’s red-hot market—a successful sale goes beyond money. Here are a few scenarios in which your highest offer might not land you the keys to the front door.

1. You’re not flexible on the timeline

First and foremost among possible deal breakers is timing.

“Sellers look at the terms to their specific situation,” says Francine Brown, broker/owner and Realtor® at Brown Estate Realty in Norwalk, CT. “Maybe they need more than 30 days to move out, so if someone is pressuring them to move out sooner, that can sometimes be a turnoff if they haven’t found a new home to move into.”

On the other hand, the sellers might have already vacated the property, and are eager to unload it pronto.

That’s why customizing the length of the closing period to meet the sellers’ needs can be more important than the bottom line. Have your real estate agent find out what they need, and let them know you can accommodate them.

2. You don’t have your paperwork squared away

Yes, we’ve preached and prattled on about the importance of being pre-approved for a mortgage before you start your home search. And here’s just one of many reasons why: You can blow up the deal if you haven’t been pre-approved, says Sharon Paxson, a Realtor with Arbor Real Estate in Newport Beach, CA.

Why? If you don’t have the financing in place to make your initial down payment and closing costs, it doesn’t matter how many dollars you promise the sellers.

“Buyers must have that in place as opposed to tying up a house when they’re not really qualified to do so,” Paxson says. “When you’re ready to put in an offer, make sure your pre-approval is within 30 days or less. [If sellers] see that the pre-approval was done more than 60 days ago, that could make them wonder if you’re still credit-worthy to get a loan.”

Speaking of being credit-worthy, here’s another no-no: Making a large purchase (such as a car) during the escrow period—even if you have the money to do so. It might affect your ability to obtain financing, and that’ll be another major red flag to the seller.

3. You’re asking for too many contingencies and concessions

If you’re in a bidding war for your must-have home, you’ll want to go in not only with the highest offer, but also with the cleanest one.

“You want the deal to be as sweet and competitive as possible, so that if the seller takes it, there’s a very good chance that the sale will go through,” Paxson says.

For example, a contingency stipulating that your home must sell before you purchase the seller’s house is usually a deal breaker, Brown says.

“The seller may not consider your offer as favorable because you’re still shaky until your house actually sells,” she says.

Another potential turnoff: Negotiating for a large concession, like for the seller to pay all of the closing costs.

Instead, ask for the bare minimum closing costs—or none at all—and make sure the concession doesn’t dip into the seller’s price tag, Paxson advises.

“So if a house is listed for $300,000, and you can go up to $310,00, then put in $310,000 with a $10,000 seller’s concession,” she says.


Watch: 5 Secrets of Making the Perfect Offer


4. You’re requesting too many things be included with the home

On a related note: If you ask for the custom drapes, the Smeg appliances, and the Scandinavian hot tub to all be thrown in with the house, sellers might wave you off, Brown says.

“If the sellers had put in the listing that the chandelier wasn’t included, then don’t ask for it to be thrown in,” Brown says.

You might think you’re paying for all that stuff with your higher offer, but if you really want the house, tread lightly here. You risk offending the sellers if it looks like you’re trying to squeeze as much out of them as possible.

5. You haven’t expressed your love—for the house

You might not be the only one bidding high. And when similar offers are on the table, sometimes the sellers look for other factors to break the tie—that another happy family will live in their cherished home, for example. Or that the buyers won’t be gutting it and turning it into something totally different.

So how can you sway sellers who love their home? Put some heart into your offer by giving them some idea of who you are and why you want their home.

“I’ve seen buyers take a picture of themselves and their family. If that’s what works to make it more emotional, then do it,” Paxson says. “It just depends on who your target is. If your seller is an investor, they’re probably not going to care—they just want the money. But if they raised their family there and want to sell it to another nice family, an emotional appeal might work.”

Writing a love letter to the sellers can sometimes seal the deal, Brown adds.

“A buyer may outline why they feel this house would suit their family needs and how they can keep on the tradition of what the previous owner has,” she says.

6. You gave up after your offer was initially refused

If, for whatever reason, the sellers reject your bid, hang in there, Brown says. Contracts that come in way over asking price tend to have a high cancellation rate, perhaps because the buyers didn’t have pre-approval and their financing falls through.

“I make sure things always end nicely with the listing agent, and tell them that we want to be kept in the loop should there be any problems with the accepted offer,” she says.

Ask your agent to check in every two or three weeks. Because then, instead of putting it back on the market and creating a whole new bidding war, the listing agent may just go to the next most attractive offer: yours.

The post Hey, Big Spender! 6 Reasons Why Your Higher Offer Won’t Win the House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

6 Things You’ll Overhear at an Open House That Might Persuade You to Buy Now—or Run

September 20, 2018

When you go to an open house, it’s easy to get caught up in your own world of hypotheticals: How would you decorate the bedrooms if this home were yours? Is this a good open kitchen for hosting Taco Tuesdays? Is there a fireplace to cozy up to on a crisp fall night and binge-watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”?

But as much as you do need to try to imagine yourself in the home—and figure out whether it works for you—you shouldn’t shut out what’s going on around you. In fact, the seemingly innocuous chitchat you overhear can help you decide whether to follow through and make an offer—or to get the hell out of there.

That isn’t to say that you should rely on complete strangers to tell you how you feel about a house. But the comments and criticisms you pick up on during an open house can contain nuggets of valuable financial and personal info you can put to use. Here are some you should keep an ear (or two) out for.

1. ‘The owners are flexible on price’

Translation: “What [the agent] is really saying is that the home can and will be sold for under asking price,” explains David Ranish, co-owner of Ethos International, a full-service real estate office in Lancaster, CA.

If you’re serious about making an offer, use this nugget of info to your advantage. Take a closer look around the property with a critical eye. Do the kitchen appliances need updating? Is the backyard in dire need of landscaping? Now that you know the homeowner’s in a selling mood, you’re in a perfect position to submit a low bid. Any repairs and issues will give you leverage to negotiate.

2. ‘What’s that smell in the basement?’

Translation: There might be a big problem afoot.

If you overhear visitors discussing a specific issue—say, a damp smell in the basement, or maybe evidence of termites in the attic—“it can certainly be used as leverage when writing an offer,” says Kerry Adams with TTR Sotheby’s in Alexandria, VA. “Or it may be enough for you to decide you don’t want to take on a potential problem.”

And if other visitors are talking about it, let’s be honest: The problem is probably big enough to cause headaches.

3. ‘Wow, the sellers are getting out just in time’

Translation: The neighborhood could be on the decline.

When you go to an open house, you shouldn’t just zero in on the home itself. This is your chance to get a feel for the community. So really listen to what the community is saying.

“Since open houses tend to attract curious neighbors, they can be the ideal setting for a potential buyer to find out about hot-button issues such as future development, traffic, area crime, or just neighborhood nuisances,” Adams says.

If you’re looking for a home in a relatively quiet neighborhood, for instance, you might be grateful to find out now about the new six-lane highway that’s slated to go up a half-mile away.

4. ‘This price is way too high’

Translation: You should work with your agent and research what other homes in the neighborhood are going for.

Sure, the price of the home you’re looking at might seem high—but that doesn’t mean it’s not fair market value for the neighborhood.

“Sometimes a property is priced correctly, but buyers might not realize it,” points out Doug Milch of Century 21 Commonwealth in Natick, MA.

That’s why it’s crucial to check comps—the data on what other similar homes in the neighborhood are selling for—and make sure the house you’re touring lines up. If it still seems high, don’t run for the hills just yet. (After all, the other potential buyers could be trying to psych you out so they can put in their own offer.) You should consider adjusting your bid accordingly.

5. ‘Sweet, our couch would fit perfectly in here!’

Translation: You have competition.

“Listen for interest at an open house,” advises Deni Supplee, a Realtor® and co-founder of “Interested home buyers will often travel through the home, slowly and intently, using phrases such as ‘Our living room set would fit perfectly’ or ‘Do you think our bed would look good in this room?’”

These are clear indicators they’re thinking about putting in an offer. And if you can see yourself living in that house, too, you’d better act fast.

“The worst is losing out on [a home] because someone got there first,” Supplee says.

6. The words ‘foreclosure’ or ‘divorce’

Translation: The sellers’ misfortune—sad as it may be for them—could work in your favor.

If you hear the word “foreclosure,” “then you should pay attention,” says Brett Ari Fischer, associate broker at Lee & Associates Residential NYC in New York. “They may be open to selling it for less than they want to, due to time restrictions.”

“Divorce” is another word to listen for.

If the owners are splitting up and/or need to split their assets, “it’s likely that they don’t want to hang onto the home too long because it’s that much longer until they can move on with the rest of their lives,” Fischer says.

Before jumping to conclusions, do your homework

Of course, it’s always a good idea to consider your source. One nosy neighbor might think she knows that it will cost a fortune to repair the roof. But does she, really? Take everything you hear (or overhear) with a grain of salt. If you’re genuinely concerned, share that info with your agent.

That said, don’t discount anything entirely. “A lot of times [the seller’s] agents will give up too much information,” Ranish says.

Indeed, some listing agents tend to follow buyers around at open houses. While it might initially cramp your style, roll with it. “Let them talk, and they’ll tell you more information,” Ranish says.

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