Agreed to counteroffer but lost house


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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
My wife and I recently made an offer on a home. The sellers sent out a counteroffer and we accepted, giving our agent the go-ahead to update the contract, which she did. We signed it, but then found out the seller had accepted another offer. Are we just out of luck?
— Nic D.

Dear Nic,
No, I’d say you two still have plenty of luck left in your collective tank. But probably not on this deal.

You lost out to the proverbial BBD (bigger, better deal) and possibly to an agent who wasn’t able to keep you up to speed with negotiations or get you a shot to meet or beat the other offer. Possibly. The seller may have simply decided to move quickly on the offer without informing your agent. Happens all the time, especially in time-pressed sales.

Certainly, you can leave word with the buyers that you’re still interested, should the other party’s financing not pan out, or they can’t or won’t close for any reason. But there’s little else you can do other than begin scouting out other homes.

A bunch of words about contracts

While it’s true that a seller is obliged to the buyer for the duration of a contract (unless there are provisions allowing an exit), the seller apparently didn’t sign off on your amended offer and likely found someone who was buy-ready and finance-approved for around full asking price. Even if your agent had communicated your offer to the sellers, you have no recourse since they didn’t accept it. Had the sellers verbally consented to your offer then changed course when the other buyer came along, a court case based on a broken verbal agreement is theoretically possible but probably wouldn’t hold water in a realm where signed contracts reign supreme.

You can’t always get what you want

While I don’t know the full details of your situation, you’ll likely have to chalk this one up in the “wasn’t meant to be” column. Another takeaway here is the importance of responding immediately to a seller’s counteroffer when you’re especially serious about a property, particularly since many homes in hot housing markets are getting multiple offers. But don’t get caught on the rebound: Some buyers once burned may bite at the full list price of the very next home they like and end up overpaying. It’s a delicate balance.

As always, a good agent should be able to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Before you consider replacing your agent, try to get a sense of what happened in the deal you missed and how you might avoid it going forward.

You are smarting a bit now, yes, but may be celebrating soon when you find a house that’s even better than the last. Move quickly but prudently. Good luck!

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