Dear Real Estate Adviser,

What is the usual amount — or percentage below asking price — to offer on a house? Is there a set way to figure this out? I’m a renter at present who is looking to become a first-time homebuyer in the next few months or so.

— Susan

Dear Susan,

There’s really no “usual” percentage because making an offer on a house is based on a wide variety of factors, and real estate is so property-specific. Among those homebuying factors are the health of the overall market, the physical condition of the house, desirability of the neighborhood, sales prices of “comps” (nearby comparably sized homes), resale potential and seller motivation.

You have another bargaining chip since your purchase will not be contingent on having to sell your own house. If you’re a homebuyer with cash, that’s another point in your favor because the seller is assured that your financing won’t fall apart. If you are taking the much more common mortgage route, be ready to show the seller proof you are preapproved from your financial institution.

Once you’re ready to make an offer on a house, get a list of “comp” sales from a real estate agency or from your buyer’s agent.

If you’re really serious about a particular house, you should hire an appraiser to help estimate its value. If you want to do this after making your offer, make sure you stipulate on the purchase contract something like “offer is contingent on estimated value of buyer’s appraiser being higher than or equal to the purchase price.”

Also, you can best determine the condition of the home’s mechanical and electrical systems, foundation, plumbing, roof and other elements by hiring your own home inspector. The seller’s willingness to repair any problems uncovered by the inspector will determine whether you should seek additional price adjustments.

If the house has languished on the market for several months, you have even more clout as a homebuyer. A good agent will be able to determine if there are other seller motivations such as a divorce, estate settlement or relocation issues. Realize that some of your negotiation clout can come in the form of a credit toward closing costs.

Nationally, homes 67% of homes sell below the list price, according to the National Association of Realtors. Using that knowledge, you might offer 5% less than asking — $190,000 on a home listed at $200,000 in hopes of settling around $195,000. But follow your Realtor’s lead. Your specific market’s dynamics will come into play when you make your own offer on a house.

Good luck in your first home purchase!

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