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The Asking Price

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So you love the house. Well, that's all well and good, but as your father may have said of your prospective spouse, "How much should you really be paying?"

Here's where your buyer broker is really going to come in handy.(Don't have a buyer broker yet? Here's help.) She should be able to guide you through the process of making an offer that both is within your range and not likely to offend the sellers. (Yes, they're thin-skinned, sensitive types just like you and me.)

To help you navigate between the Scylla of offense and the Charybdis of keeping within your budget, we offer the following currents of Foolishness:

  • Check out Home Price Check. There you'll find a database of over 20 million U.S. home purchase prices. You can search by location -- just type in the address of that house you're interested in, and it will pull the price history of that house (or co-op or condo) since 1990. You can also find out the selling price for all homes that sold on a specific street. In addition, you can search for all the homes that sold within a price range in a given city. This will help give you a good idea of recent housing prices in your area. (Then, too, you can snoop around and find out how much your friends paid for their homes. This will give you fodder for foisting the dinner bill onto them the next time you dine together.)

  • Your offer price should be based on local market conditions as well as on how well the house is priced. Find out how fast homes are selling, and whether they are selling for close to the asking prices. In hot markets, well-priced homes sell for very close to the list price -- usually within five percent. In fact, they may sell at a premium to the asking price. People do this if they believe they'll be competing with other buyers. In slower-paced markets, where prices are soft, the gap between the list and sale price may be considerably more than five percent.

  • Your agent should provide you with comparable sales information and should show you comparable listings. If you skip this crucial step, and blindly make an uneducated offer, you could overpay for a property that is priced too high for the market.

  • Be careful about making a ridiculously low offer. It's true that you may get the house at a great price, but you also might offend the sellers, who then become tough negotiators. A bigger risk in making an inappropriately low offer is that you could lose the house to another buyer who is better informed, and who makes a more reasonable offer.

  • Know how much you can pay. By the time you make an offer to buy a house, you should be lender-prequalified. If you are not, talk to a loan agent or mortgage broker before you make an offer to make sure that you can qualify for the financing you need to complete the purchase.

  • Find out as much as you can about the condition of the house before you make an offer. Ask if there are any existing reports available, such as termite, house, or roof inspections. Check on radon levels in the basement. Find out if the sellers plan to complete any work as a part of a sale agreement. Make sure to budget for major repairs that the sellers are unwilling to complete.

  • Find out as much as you can about the sellers. Why is the house being sold? Are the sellers transferring, divorcing, or selling to settle an estate? Have they bought another house, or do they need to sell before they can buy? If the sellers have already bought another home, they may be willing to accept a lower price if the buyer can close quickly.

  • Regarding the market history of the house, find out how long it has been on the market. Is the current list price the original list price? Have there been price reductions? How long ago was the last price reduction made? If the price was reduced some time ago, and the house still is not selling, the sellers may be considering another price reduction. If so, they may be receptive to a lower offer.

  • Have there been any offers on the house? If so, why were they rejected? Are the buyers who made the offer still interested in the house, or did they purchase another house?

Once you make your offer, one of three things will happen: 1) It will be accepted, 2) it will be rejected, or 3) you will receive a counteroffer. If it's accepted, you might want to check out our article on The Home Inspection. If it's rejected, you can still come back with a higher offer if you're really interested in the house. And if there's a counteroffer, you're now negotiating!