Advice for Making Purchase Offers on a Home

Learn why many agents won't tell you what to offer

making an offer
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Once a buyer has selected the right home to buy, figuring out how much to offer for that home can be daunting. Buyers are concerned that if they offer too little, they will risk insulting or alienating the seller. If they offer too much, they could overpay.

You Need Comparable Sales to Make a Wise Offer

The most difficult thing is figuring out the sales price. Unless buyers have at their disposal all of the comparable sales—and many don't—there's really no way to pick an accurate sales price. Buyers tend to compare home prices based on the homes they've seen that are for sale, which aren't comps.

The prices of homes for sale might have little bearing on reality or appraisals, and those prices could be too low, too high or just right.

Sales prices can vary wildly. This is when you'll be glad you have a real estate agent to help guide you when making a purchase offer on a home. Your agent will know or can find the prices of homes that have recently sold, and can help you compare the condition of those homes. You both will eventually arrive at a pretty good idea of exactly how much the home you want to buy is worth. 

Why Agents Won't Tell You What to Offer on a Home

While real estate agents can guide a buyer to choose the right number, don't expect a buyer's agent to name your precise price.

Experienced buyer's agents will provide direction, careful guidance, market information, and suggested price ranges, but the final price is the buyer's responsibility.

Here are a few reasons many agents will refuse to tell you how much you should offer on a home:

  • The offer was too low. If your real estate agent encouraged you to submit a lowball offer and you lost the chance to buy that home because another offer came in higher or the seller refused to respond to your offer, you will instantly point the finger of blame at your agent.
  • The offer was too high. When an offer is immediately accepted, buyers often wonder if they should have made an initial offer for much less. When the agent insists on a price, and the seller signs without hesitation, buyers sometimes question whether their agent was working in their interest or working for the agent's own commission.
  • It's not the agent's purchase. It's the buyer's potential home, so it should be the buyer's decision. When the transaction closes, the buyer will make the mortgage payments and be responsible for maintaining the home, not the agent. Many buyers are much wiser than they give themselves credit for and are fully capable of selecting an offer price.
  • Agents can get sued. You will undoubtedly hear from novice agents or those not engaged as a Realtor who will profess a different train of thought. That's because these people don't know any better, so don't hold their ignorance against them.
    • Some regulatory and state licensing authorities advise against agents telling buyers how much to offer. The National Association of REALTORS®' Code of Ethics doesn't suggest that agents pick pricing, either. Brokers definitely advise against it. Court case logs are filled with decisions against agents who ignored those warnings because buyers sued them for overstepping their bounds of authority.
    • Competent agents do provide enough guidance and assistance, however, to lead a buyer to choose the right offer pricing. Because regardless of what you may hear, it is always the buyers' choice. Not the agent's.

How Real Estate Agents Can Help

One way to help arrive at a decision is to look at the odds when considering prices for purchase offers on a home. Let's say the home is offered at $300,000, and it's a normal real estate market, favoring neither sellers nor buyers. The Realtor might give the buyer 80% odds that an offer of $280,000 will be accepted. Perhaps 90% at $290,000, and 95% at $295,000.

This information gives a buyer the context to make an informed choice.

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

Article Sources

  1. National Association of REALTORS®. "2020 Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice." Accessed March 20, 2020.