By Jamie Wiebe

Mar 13, 2023


We’ll get right down to it: Shopping for a home is fun. But once you find the home that makes you swoon, things start to get real—real fast.

Think of making an offer on a home as setting the roller coaster in motion: You might have sharp drops in emotion and slow, trudging climbs to success, but the ride won’t end until the car slows down and the safety bar is lifted. (OK, this metaphor is now officially over.)

But to begin the process, you need to know how to make the right offer, an offer that will end with your receiving the keys to your new house. So check out some of these agent-approved negotiation tactics to make the offer process a whole lot less bumpy.

Pick the right price

Just because a home is listed for $400,000, it doesn’t mean the home is actually worth that much.

It all depends on the current conditions of the local market. If you’re buying in a hot market—especially places with low inventories—offering substantially below asking price is “probably wasting your time,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor® with Equity Colorado. But if a home has been sitting unsold for a few months, the sellers may not expect full price. Your best bet at measuring prices in your target area are comps, or what similarly sized homes nearby have sold for recently.

Work with your real estate agent to determine a fair offer. They will have the best read on pricing and marketplace dynamics, and can walk through the local comps with you. Your agent can also help you determine what a fair discount might be without offending the seller. While specific numbers will depend on your market, a rule of thumb is that it is unrealistic to go below 5% of a home’s list price unless it’s been sitting on the market for months. Which leads us to…

Lowball with care

Sometimes a home is priced just too high—no ifsands, or buts—or perhaps it’s been sitting unsold for half a year. In those situations, a lowball offer well under asking price might be the right strategy to get the home you love for a bargain price. However, this is a tool to be deployed rarely and with great care—especially if the current owners have lived there for many years.

“Longtime owners usually have tons of pride in their home, and want the new owners to love it like they do,” says Jodie Burns, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates. “Buyers who lowball run a risk of angering the seller and losing the house. Ideally, you’re looking for a closing where both sides feel like they got a fair deal.”

So don’t lowball unless both you and your agent agree that it’s the best tactic to sway a seller. It can be perilous, so it’s best to keep this strategy on the sidelines unless you’re fairly certain it won’t cause a seller to walk away entirely.

Also, think about the big picture. Don’t let a (relatively) small amount come between you and a house you adore. “If a couple of thousand dollars is going to keep them out of a home they love, I remind buyers how little that amount translates into a monthly payment,” Burns says.

Consider contingencies

Along with the price, you’ll also want to factor contingencies into your contract. The more hurdles in the way of the sale, the more likely one of them will trip you up.

For example, do you need to sell your own home first, which requires a selling contingency? Work with your agent to decide what you’ll ask for off the bat—and consider dropping some requests if the market is hot.

As Jensen explains, “Your chances are best if you ask for the fewest things.”

That said, don’t put yourself at risk to get the home you love. Some aggressive buyers might advocate dropping the home inspection clause to sweeten an offer, but that can be dangerous, especially in older homes.

Keep your emotions in check

Yes, the search seems to have dragged on forever; yes, this home has everything you need. But keep your wits about you.

“Don’t fall in love,” Jensen says. “Falling in head over heels with a home can make you do ridiculous things, like overpay.”

Plus sometimes, even an “excellent offer may not be accepted,” says Vici Boguess, a Realtor with the Burke Boguess Zimmerman Group in Alexandria, VA. Don’t assume a rejection is an insult—the sellers might just dislike some of your contingencies or are holding out for a better offer. So, don’t assume it’s over until it’s over.

But if your offer is accepted, you will need to move onto the next step: landing a home loan.