Top 5 Lowball Offer Mistakes

Learn why some offers get rejected, and others accepted.

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Homebuyers who assume that listing agents are eager to see any offers that come their way may be tempted to make lowball offers, which are below-market offers that are unsupported by math or comparable sales data.

You might intentionally bid low in hopes of saving money, or you might unknowingly do so if you don't know what is considered a lowball offer on a house. Either way, these offers make the prospect of having your bid accepted more unlikely. Identifying the most common lowball offer mistakes made by buyers will allow you to avoid them and land a home without hassles.

Key Takeaways

  • Lowball offers generally do not get accepted, and asking for concessions or submitting low earnest deposits can further reduce the odds of acceptance.
  • Reaching out to the listing agent before submitting an offer can help you save time and skip homes that already have offers at their listing prices.
  • Sellers and lenders are rarely swayed by hardship letters, especially if it's clear that you're shopping outside of your budget.
  • It's never a good idea to submit fake or misleading comparable sales—it's dishonest and insults the agent's intelligence.

Making an Offer Without Calling the Listing Agent

Listing agents, who work on behalf of sellers to maximize the asking price and clinch the most favorable terms of a home for the seller, can make suggestions to the buyer for how to present an offer in a way that the seller is more likely to accept it.

If a buyer or the buyer's agent does not contact the listing agent before making an offer, they may confront one of the following situations:

  • The home might have already sold. If a buyer's agent submits a lowball offer on a house that is off the market, the buyer will come up empty-handed. Buyer's agents should always find out the current progress on a property sale before making an offer.
  • There are multiple offers on the table. In a seller's market, inventory is lower, property prices and demand are higher, and the seller may be fielding multiple offers. If you submit a lowball offer in these market conditions, it won't stand a chance among more competitive offers. It's crucial to assess market conditions and determine how many offers the seller has received before making one of your own.
  • There's a potential short sale. A listing agent might receive lower offers on a property pending a short sale, which occurs when the seller accepts a price less than what they owe on the property, typically because the property is distressed and thus commands a lower price. It's all the more important to negotiate the price with the listing agent through your agent in such a scenario. If your offer is too low, it can negatively affect a seller who might already be under financial duress and might not be approved by the lender who would receive the proceeds of the short sale.

Such blind submissions are not an effective use of anyone's time and might be immediately rejected.

Submitting Low Earnest Deposits

An earnest money deposit is a deposit that a buyer makes to prove their interest in purchasing a property and indicate how much they might put down in the form of a down payment. The deposit amount varies but typically ranges from 1% to 5% of the purchase price.

A low earnest money deposit might be accepted in a buyer's market, which occurs when the supply of homes exceeds the demand. But in general, and in a seller's market in particular, if a buyer submits an offer far below the list price, along with a low earnest money deposit, it can signal to the seller that the buyer does not have the resources to fulfill the offer.

In contrast, a higher deposit can increase the odds that your offer will be accepted and might even make the seller more flexible on other terms in the offer. Consult with your agent to ensure that you submit a deposit amount that aligns with market conditions, the seller's expectations, and your budget.

Making Pleas for Acceptance

If you can't secure the financing from your lender needed to pay the list price on a home, you may be tempted to send a hardship letter to a seller in order to get that price reduced. This scenario is more likely if you look for homes beyond your budget.

Listing agents recommend that sellers set an asking price based on competitive pricing principles and market conditions rather than emotions; the seller's list price is unlikely to be swayed by a buyer's personal sentiments or desire to own a home they cannot afford. Such pleas clearly communicate to the seller that you cannot pay the list price, making you appear unqualified and uninformed. Banks are even less flexible when it comes to offering refinancing or loan modifications on a home you cannot afford, especially if the home is listed as a short sale or a foreclosure.

To avoid giving sellers that impression, get pre-approval from a lender to determine how much you qualify to borrow. Then, consider that amount alongside the other costs of homeownership, such as property taxes, home insurance, and utilities, and settle on a budget. With a realistic price range in mind, you can focus on properties that you can afford and increase your odds of landing a home without the need for special accommodations.

Start the loan qualification process before searching for a home. During the process, the lender will perform a preliminary review of your credit to determine how much you are pre-approved to borrow to buy a home.

Sending Fake Comparable Sales

Unless a home is greatly overpriced, the listing agent has already pulled comparable sales data to support the list price before putting the home on the market. Even so, some buyers may attempt to justify a lowball offer by having their agent send the listing agent a list of cheaper sales from another area that isn't comparable to the property's location or doesn't have similar features. However, doing so insults that agent's intelligence and professionalism. It also shows that the buyer's agent does not know the neighborhood or its surrounding properties.

Ideally, a buyer's agent should win the listing agent's cooperation, not alienate them. Strive to make a good-faith offer on a home that aligns with comparable properties.

Making Concession Requests

Some buyers' agents add in concessions on top of an already low offer to help offset the costs of the property purchase. They might include requesting a closing cost credit or asking for the seller to make repairs for free or carry the financing on a land contract.

Some sellers are willing to make these concessions to buyers but are unlikely to do so on a lowball offer on a house because they would essentially require the seller to take on additional financial burdens for the sake of assisting the buyer.

Instead of requesting exorbitant concessions, hone in on homes that you can afford and that don't require substantial repairs to make liveable. This way, you can minimize contingencies and the associated hassles for the seller, which can make your bid stand out to a seller, particularly in a seller's market.

The Bottom Line

Buyers need to embrace the reality that lowball offers generally do not get accepted. The potential buyer could be up against an agent who will advise their client not to bother considering such offers, and the odds of success are generally even slimmer when the offer is made by a buyer without an agent.

Whenever possible, work with an agent to make a competitive offer that factors in comparable sales data and market conditions as well as your own finances. If you must make a below-market offer, you're better off doing so through an agent who has the insight and professionalism needed to negotiate and push the offer through.