real estate

6 steps to making the best home price bid

Finding the home you'd like to buy is the easy part. Determining how much to bid on it could be a challenge. Here's how to make a bid on the home price that you and the seller can agree on.

Take the market's temperature. Part of what determines a home's worth is how hot or cold the market is. In a hot market, sellers might not take any offer less than the listed home price, and he may receive multiple offers. In a buyer's market, sellers are more likely to accept below-asking offers. You shouldn't make an offer so far below market value that it's insulting. "Still, some people list their houses too high, so it's more important to know the house's true value rather than worry about offending a seller seeking too much," says Benjamin Clark, president of the Avondale, Ariz.-based National Association of Exclusive Buyers Agents.

Look at comparable sales. To gauge a house's worth, look at how much houses in the area with similar features have sold for in the last six months. They should truly be comparable. Don't compare a Victorian with original kitchen to a remodeled one with state-of-the-art appliances. Compare home prices to what they actually sold for to see whether they're selling over or under list price and by what percentage, says Ilona Bray, co-author of "Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home."

Ask around the neighborhood. "Neighbors can tell you about noise levels, crime rates, schools and upcoming construction, and they often know things local authorities can't tell you," says Bray. If you find a problem, you can reduce your offer or opt not to bid.

Learn the seller's situation. "Find out all you can about the seller, like why he put it on the market, how much equity he has in it and how long the house has been for sale," says Bray. If it has been on the market for a while, and the seller has already moved out or has bid on another home, that's a good time to bid low on the home price.

Ask your agent's opinion. An experienced agent can give good advice about a reasonable offer. If you can, try working with a buyer's agent. "The listing agent is obligated to get a good price for the seller," says Clark. "A buyer's agent will spend more time researching price negotiation and get more favorable terms for you."

Protect yourself with contingencies. If you agree to purchase a house but then find out there's an expensive repair job lurking under the eaves, protect yourself by including a list of contingencies in your home price offer. These are conditions that must be met before the deal is final. To sweeten your offer, let them know if you're preapproved and if you can close the house in less than 30 or 60 days. To protect yourself, Clark recommends requiring a home inspection and an appraisal to make sure the house is in good condition and worth the bid you've made.

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