Above, Below, or At List Price? How Much to Offer on a House

So, you’ve spent weeks house hunting and you’ve finally found the perfect home for you and your family. But how much should your initial offer be? Should your offer start above, below, or at list price? Figuring out how much to offer on a house can be one of the most challenging parts of the homebuying process.

You, of course, want to come in with a competitive offer, but you also don’t want to overpay. Before deciding on an amount, consider these six factors and work with your real estate agent to help you dial in on the perfect offer price.  

1. Know your market

Before you get your heart set on a property, it is crucially important to understand if the market in your desired area is currently a buyer’s or seller’s market. A seller’s market can be tough for buyers and cost you more, especially if you allow emotions – instead of logic – to drive your offer decision. 

  • A buyer’s market is an area where more houses are listed for sale than active buyers ready to purchase them. This gives buyers the advantage, especially with a motivated seller, and is undoubtedly the best market to find deals. 
  • A seller’s market has eager buyers competing for houses as soon as they are listed for sale. This gives sellers the advantage as homes often sell quickly and above list price. 

2. Know the comparable sales or comps in the area

“Comps,” short for comparables, are recently sold homes that are similar to the house you are offering to buy. Home sellers use comps to help them determine their asking price, while you can use comps to figure out how much to offer on a house. 

You can find comps by looking at online real estate listings, but for more accurate and detailed information, you’ll want to rely on your real estate agent. This is because listings typically state the asking price of a home, but not the final sale price, which is more indicative of the market value. 

Fortunately, your real estate agent has access to a variety of databases, such as the multiple listing service (MLS) that provides more detail about comps. Your agent will interpret the information and write up an offer that works for you and the current housing market. Having this information is especially important once negotiations begin.

3. Know the condition of the home listed for sale

You’ll want to compare the condition of the house you like to what’s known about the comps. Let’s say the comparable homes all have new appliances and sold at the same price as a home you are considering – except the home you’re thinking about making an offer on has old appliances. You’ll know you can offer less because the properties don’t compare apples to apples, and you’ll likely need to make upgrades in the not-too-distant future. 

This comparison stands true for any repairs or updates you’ll need to make in the home. By looking at the condition of homes that have sold recently in the same listing range, you’ll have a good idea of the value those repairs bring to the house. 

bright white kitchen

4. See if you can discover the seller’s intentions

Understanding the seller’s intentions for selling the home can be an ace in your pocket. Maybe the seller is relocating for a job and will take a lower offer in order to sell the home quickly. Or perhaps an older couple is moving to Dallas, TX to retire, but they have plenty of time to sell their home and therefore, want the best offer. 

Check in with your real estate agent to see if they have any details about the seller’s intent. They may not have any information to share but it’s always worth checking. When you know a bit about the seller’s motivation for selling, you gain important insight on how much to offer – and what other terms might appeal to them, such as a quick closing or allowing them more time to move their belongings.

5. Know your reasons for buying a house

Before you start drafting up offers, understand your motivation for buying a house. Do you plan to stay in the area for 5-10 years? Are you looking to put down roots? Or are you thinking more short-term, with a likely plan to sell in a few years when the market turns around?  

When you are clear about where you stand, you can make a logical offer based on your realistic wants and needs, rather than letting your emotions rule the day. 

6. Know your budget

Every buyer should seek a pre-approved loan before the house hunting begins. This pre-approval creates leverage for making a firm offer based on current finances and a willing lender. Your pre-approved status is a signal to the seller that you can close on the house if you make an offer. 

Going through the loan approval process provides good information to help you understand the demands on your budget. And to be sure, just because the lender agrees to lend you a specific amount does not mean you should offer the full asking price on a house. 

Put all the numbers on the table. Determine the amount you are pre-approved for and then use a mortgage payment calculator to figure out what your monthly payment would be. Be sure to also account for private mortgage insurance (PMI) if it applies, in addition to any other expenses. See how it all adds up and determine a reasonable budget that fits the lifestyle you want to have while living in that house.

Now that you understand the market, the motivation behind buying and selling, the home condition, and your budget, you are ready to make an offer. 

backyard pool

When it makes sense to offer less than the listing price on a house

Because you’ve done all the research, you’ll know you can make an offer lower than the list price if:

  • The home needs minor or major repairs.
  • You are in a buyer’s market and have many homes to choose from. 
  • The seller needs a quick sale.

If anyone of those three key factors are in play, you can feel comfortable making an offer lower than the listing price. Your realtor can help you determine if your offer is reasonable. 

When it makes sense to offer the listing price on a house

Making an offer right at the listing price should be reserved for your “dream” home. This home should be move-in ready and have very little to repair other than adding your personal touches. An offer at a listing price could eliminate your options to negotiate if it is at the top end of your budget. Your real estate agent can help you determine if this home is worth coming in strong or if negotiating would be better for you. 

Purchasing a home is exciting – but it’s important to keep your emotions in check. When you understand your market and have taken the time to learn as much as you can about both the home and seller, you can dial in the right offer to make on a house, and protect yourself from the risk of overpaying. If you have covered all the bases above and have that perfect home in your sights, make the offer you feel comfortable with and settle in to negotiate. 

When it makes sense to offer more than the listing price on a house

It makes sense to offer more than the list price if you absolutely love the house and want it, no matter what. If the home is in a competitive market and you love the area, the schools, the amenities, the layout and it’s move-in ready, offering more than list price makes sense. 

However, offering more than the listing price can be risky, especially if you are in a seller’s market. Based on your budget, you’ll need some wiggle room. Additionally, your lender may require an appraisal contingency to make sure the house appraises for the value of your offer. Pay close attention to the inventory of homes on the market and your maximum offer. You don’t want to end up in a bidding war and over-paying for a home that is valued much lower.  

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