Dealing With Purchase Offers That Might Not Appraise

A Solution for Possible Low Appraisals

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If the home might not appraise for the prices offered, you still have options. © Big Stock Photo

In super hot real estate markets that consist of limited inventory and many buyers vying often for the same home, motivated home buyers might feel the need to offer a purchase price that is too high to justify by their lender's appraiser. This could result in what is known as a low appraisal. However, sellers should not let the possibility of a low appraisal stop them from choosing an offer that might be higher than the home will appraise.

Sellers have options.

Let's look at a typical example of what can happen in a hot seller's market. First, the homes that buyers often want to fight over are those homes that are:

  • In the best condition
  • Priced right
  • In a high demand neighborhood, generally located in an extremely desirable school district.

If the home that you want to sell possesses all of these qualities and it's been on the market for a short period of time, it's a sign that you, as the lucky seller, might receive more than one offer. Especially if there is an indication of high interest and many home showings, evidenced by the multitude of agent business cards left on the kitchen counter.

Which Multiple Offer Over List Price is Best to Accept?

It is common for sellers to get very excited when a bunch of purchase offers arrive, all exceeding list price. The first thing a seller is likely to think is ​"​Oh, my gosh, we priced the home for too little," which is logical but not necessarily true.

Generally, receiving multiple offers means you priced the home just right. Offers over list price reflect the excitement and determination of a buyer to be chosen as the winning offer.

Beware of emotional love letters submitted with the purchase offer. There are many websites where buyers can download and rewrite a letter designed to pull on a seller's heart strings; some are true and some are not.

That leaves the sales price. Buyers believe if they offer a price higher than any other buyer, then the seller will grab their offer like free money falling from the sky and sign it. But sellers have to consider the consequences of what could happen if the home does not appraise for that amount. If the home will not appraise for the purchase price, it means the lender will not agree to lend a high loan-to-value balance. Of course, if the offer is cash, there typically is no appraisal.

The best offer to accept is the offer that is likely to close escrow. It might not be the offer with the highest sales price.

Example of 3 Offers Over List Price That May Not Appraise

Let's say, for example, that the seller of a beautiful home in a highly desirable neighborhood in Elk Grove, California, decides to list his home at a price of $350,000. Perhaps the comparable sales within a 1/2 mile radius suggest a top sales price of $349,000, making his home priced very aggressively. However, due to low inventory and high demand, the seller receives 3 offers. They are:

  • Offer #1 from Jane Eyre: $360,000 from a buyer with a 3.5% down payment and an FHA loan. This buyer has a foreclosure on her record within the past 5 years. Jane will not bridge the gap between loan and appraisal but will agree to pay $1,000 more than any other buyer.
  • Offer #2 from Arlo Guthrie : $357,000 with 10% down and a conventional loan. Arlo offers to pay any difference between appraised value and the sales price, up to a maximum of $5,000.
  • Offer #3 from Joe Dimaggio: $359,000 with 3.5% down and an FHA loan. This buyer has submitted another offer to the listing agent on another property with similar terms and simply hopes for the best. This actually happened, if you can believe it.

As a seller, you might be tempted to take the offer from Jane Eyre. After all, who knows about appraisers? An appraisal is just one person's opinion of value, and it could differ from appraiser to appraiser. The market shifts and changes constantly. New comparable sales could appear, or an appraiser could give more toward upgrades than another appraiser. There is a lot of flexibility at times between appraised values.

Or, you might want to consider worst case scenario. Worst case scenario would be the home could appraise at $350,000. In that case, Jane Eyre would cancel her contract. Not to mention, offers such as "I will pay $1,000 more than the next buyer" can be deemed not to be legally acceptable offers since there is no real sales price offered. It is ambiguous. On top of this, it is possible that Jane's lender might not qualify her to buy any home due to her foreclosure, as this is an underwriter's option.

The purchase offer from Joe Dimaggio seems meaningless when Joe is ready to buy the next home and doesn't seem to be committed to this particular purchase. Not to mention, Joe's sales price is much lower than the others, and his loan is the same as Jane's. Joe has already shown that he is not following protocol and it is considered unethical, if not against the law, to write an offer for more than one home when the buyer cannot afford to buy both homes. Besides, what kind of buyer's agent sends two different offers for two different homes to the same listing agent? Trouble written all over it.

The only offer in this scenario that makes common sense for the seller to choose is the offer from Arlo. It's clean, the buyer is willing to put his money where his pen signs. If the home only appraises at $350,000, the seller will receive an additional $5,000 from the buyer.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California