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My roommate and I have talked about purchasing a home together and with interest rates being as low as they are, and the fact that we'd be able to get pre-approved for a good amount we decided to give it a shot. A lender set us up with a real estate agent and we've been seeing places for a while now.

About a week ago, we saw a place that was probably the best we had seen yet (however, I'm not entirely thrilled with the exterior). I think our agent saw our enthusiasm and put things into motion. From then on we've felt he was really pushy and rushing us to make a decision (we need to lock in a good rate, its a sellers market, it'll go fast, snooze lose, etc). I understand that all those factors might be true but my question is: How do I know we made a good offer?

The listed price on the location is $375,000 and according to our agent similar units over the last few years had sold for that amount. So our agent suggested making an offer at market price. So we did... and it was quickly accepted. Now I feel like, it might have been a bad move.

Is this normal? Wouldn't sellers list their unit for a higher price, expecting offers to come in for lower amounts? I feel un-easy with it, because the agent never even considered making a lower offer. Part of the reason for my concern is that my interest and the agents interests are not really aligned (He makes his profit from commission, while I want the lowest possible price). At the speed and pressure I feel we are moving at I think he might be more interested in making a quick sale then making sure we're comfortable with it all.

Any advice about the situation is appreciated.

EDIT: Thank you all for your comments and advice. My roommate and I ended up passing on this property and we have starting talking to a new agent.

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Whether you made a good offer depends on far too many local factors that you know better that anyone else. If you are putting 20% down (say) and the house appraises for less than the purchase price, you won't get loan approval. You can withdraw your offer if you are willing to forfeit the earnest money you put into escrow. Alternatively, if the offer is contingent on the house passing inspection by your home inspector or termite inspection, or if it is contingent on your getting a loan approved within 30 days etc, then hope that one of these gives you an out for backing out of the deal. –  Dilip Sarwate Jul 27 '12 at 2:33
    
Did the agent work for you or for the home seller? –  mhoran_psprep Jul 27 '12 at 2:41
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In Australia, the average sale price is 8% below the offered price. Not sure how it works there but practically nobody simply says "Yes" to the market price. I'm inclined to think you could have had the place for at least $10K less. It would have been worth a try, anyway. –  jozzas Jul 27 '12 at 5:17
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@jozzas : have you got a source for this figure? [not saying i don't believe it either, but i am curious as the source] –  Joe.E Jul 27 '12 at 5:59
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The fact that this was your opening offer and it was "quickly accepted" makes it sound to me like you offered more than the seller really expected to get. That is, above expected market value. Of course, now that you offered it, it has become market value for that particular property. Objectively speaking, $375K is quite a chunk of cash. (How many years of after-tax household income does that correspond to? How many years of work for paying it off with money left after other necessary living expenses are covered?) –  Michael Kjörling Jul 27 '12 at 9:58
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5 Answers

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Firstly, the agent doesn't work for you. He works for himself.

It's in his interest not to get you a house at the lowest cost but to sell you a house. The higher the price the higher his commission is, or the higher the probability that the seller will sell it meaning less work for him.

It depends on the market what price you should give. If I were you, I would do my own research about this area and not just trust the agent's assessment of it being a "seller's" market. Not sure where we are talking about but as you know, house prices have fallen a lot in the last few years and the economy isn't doing that well.

It also depends on yourself. Every house is different and there's an emotional attachment to buying property. How much do you really want this house? Would it matter if you didn't get it? Are you prepared to keep looking? If this is your dream house, then maybe it is worth offering a bit more to ensure that you get it. If not, and you are prepared to wait, then yeah, I would shoot a little lower and see what they say.

One thing I will say though is generally even if you give them a low offer, unless they're getting lots of other offers or they have to sell urgently, alot of the times the seller will come back and try to negotiate with you anyway. After all, it's business and they're there to get the highest price.

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From then on we've felt he was really pushy and rushing us to make a decision (we need to lock in a good rate, its a sellers market, it'll go fast, snooze loose, etc).

This is the first reason for walking away.

I understand that all those factors might be true but my question is: How do I know we made a good offer?

I'm going to be blunt, here: You don't. You work out ahead of time what you will pay (ignore the agent) and you make the offer on the basis of your own research, research you spent months undertaking.

The listed price on the location is $375,000 and according to our agent similar units over the last few years had sold for that amount. So our agent suggested making an offer at market price.

According to the agent. I'm going to be blunt here, what do any of the real estate sites out there - that offer a wealth of information for free - indicate? If you don't know, then yet again you don't know if you made the right offer or not.

Do some research now by yourself. I would be shocked if your offer was at the right level. Set your emotions aside - there are a gazillion houses out there.

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First off; I don't know of the nature of the interpersonal relationship between you and your roommate, and I don't really care, but I will say that your use of that term was a red flag to me, and it will be so to a bank; buying a home is a big deal that you normally do not undertake with just a "friend" or "roommate". "Spouses", "business partners", "domestic partners" etc are the types of people that go in together on a home purchase, not "roommates". Going "halvsies" on a house is not something that's easily contracted; you can't take out two primary mortgages for half the house's value each, because you can't split the house in half, so if one of you defaults that bank takes the house leaving both the other person and their bank in the lurch. Co-signing on one mortgage is possible but then you tie your credit histories together; if one of you can't make their half of the mortgage, both of you can be pursued for the full amount and both of you will see your credit tank. That's not as big a problem for two people joined in some other way (marriage/family ties) but for two "friends" there's just way too much risk involved.

Second, I don't know what it's like in your market, but when I was buying my first house I learned very quickly that extended haggling is not really tolerated in the housing market. You're not bidding on some trade good the guy bought wholesale for fifty cents and is charging you $10 for; the seller MIGHT be breaking even on this thing. An offer that comes in low is more likely to be rejected outright as frivolous than to be countered. It's a fine line; if you offer a few hundred less than list the seller will think you're nitpicking and stay firm, while if you offer significantly less, the seller may be unable to accept that price because it means he no longer has the cash to close on his new home.

REOs and bank-owned properties are often sold at a concrete asking price; the bank will not even respond to anything less, and usually will not even agree to eat closing costs. Even if it's for sale by owner, the owner may be in trouble on their own mortgage, and if they agree to a short sale and the bank gets wind (it's trivial to match a list of distressed mortgaged properties with the MLS listings), the bank can swoop in, foreclose the mortgage, take the property and kill the deal (they're the primary lienholder; you don't "own" your house until it's paid for), and then everybody loses.

Third, housing prices in this economy, depending on market, are pretty depressed and have been for years; if you're selling right now, you are almost certainly losing thousands of dollars in cash and/or equity. Despite that, sellers, in listing their home, must offer an attractive price for the market, and so they are in the unenviable position of pricing based on what they can afford to lose. That again often means that even a seller who isn't a bank and isn't in mortgage trouble may still be losing thousands on the deal and is firm on the asking price to staunch the bleeding. Your agent can see the signs of a seller backed against a wall, and again in order for your offer to be considered in such a situation it has to be damn close to list.

As far as your agent trying to talk you into offering the asking price, there's honestly not much in it for him to tell you to bid higher vs lower. A $10,000 change in price (which can easily make or break a deal) is only worth $300 to him either way. There is, on the other hand, a huge incentive for him to close the deal at any price that's in the ballpark: whether it's $365k or $375k, he's taking home around $11k in commission, so he's going to recommend an offer that will be seriously considered (from the previous points, that's going to be the asking price right now). The agent's exact motivations for advising you to offer list depend on the exact circumstances, typically centering around the time the house has been on the market and the offer history, which he has access to via his fellow agents and the MLS. The house may have just had a price drop that brings it below comparables, meaning the asking price is a great deal and will attract other offers, meaning you need to move fast. The house may have been offered on at a lower price which the seller is considering (not accepted not rejected), meaning an offer at list price will get you the house, again if you move fast. Or, the house may have been on the market for a while without a price drop, meaning the seller can go no lower but is desperate, again meaning an offer at list will get you the house.

Here's a tip: virtually all offers include a "buyer's option". For a negotiated price (typically very small, like $100), from the moment the offer is accepted until a particular time thereafter (one week, two weeks, etc) you can say no at any time, for any reason. During this time period, you get a home inspection, and have a guy you trust look at the bones of the house, check the basic systems, and look for things that are wrong that will be expensive to fix. Never make an offer without this option written in. If your agent says to forego the option, fire him. If the seller wants you to strike the option clause, refuse, and that should be a HUGE red flag that you should rescind the offer entirely; the seller is likely trying to get rid of a house with serious issues and doesn't want a competent inspector telling you to lace up your running shoes.

Another tip: depending on the pricepoint, the seller may be expecting to pay closing costs. Those are traditionally the buyer's responsibility along with the buyer's agent commission, but in the current economy, in the pricepoint for your market that attracts "first-time homebuyers", sellers are virtually expected to pay both of those buyer costs, because they're attracting buyers who can just barely scrape the down payment together. $375k in my home region (DFW) is a bit high to expect such a concession for that reason (usually those types of offers come in for homes at around the $100-$150k range here), but in the overall market conditions, you have a good chance of getting the seller to accept that concession if you pay list. But, that is usually an offer made up front, not a weapon kept in reserve, so I would have expected your agent to recommend that combined offer up front; list price and seller pays closing. If you offer at list you don't expect a counter, so you wouldn't keep closing costs as a card to play in that situation.

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+1 for a great answer, and very especially for the first paragraph! –  Dilip Sarwate Jul 31 '12 at 1:30
    
Thanks for the reply. :) –  Robodude Jul 31 '12 at 14:48
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First piece of advice: fire your agent.

A pushy agent is a bad agent. From what you've told us, he's actually given you poor advice regarding mortgage interest rates. Rates are already at historic lows. That and the precarious state of the world economy mean that further rate cuts are more likely in the near term.

Second piece of advice: While more information on the real estate market you're in would help, going in at asking price is rarely a good idea.

Sale prices from "the last few years" are not relevant to what you should pay, because the last few years include a financial crisis caused in large part by the bursting of a housing bubble. They could be even less relevant depending on your location because of a spike in foreclosures in certain areas of the U.S. There was already a ton of housing inventory before, so an increase due to foreclosures is going to depress prices further. Now that banks are finally practicing the due diligence they should have been all along, your ability to be pre-approved for large mortgage amount puts you in a strong position.

Use a tool like Zillow or Redfin to see what properties in that area have sold for over the past six months. You should also be able to see a history of what prices the particular property you're interested in has been offered and/or sold at in the past. Also check and see how long the particular property you're interested in has been on the market. If it's been on the market more than 60-90 days, it's priced too high.

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Both of my primary home purchases were either at, or close to asking price. My first house was during the local seller's market in 2001-2002. There were waiting lines for open houses. In hindsight we bought more home than we needed at the time but that had nothing to do with offering asking price. It was the market for the type of property (location and features) at that time.

My second house was a little after the peak in 2008. The value had come down quite a bit and the property was priced on the low side versus the comps. To this day my second house still appraises higher than what we paid for it even though it was at asking price.

As a third example, my brother-in-law got into a bidding war on his first home purchase and ended up buying it for above asking price. This was normal for the houses in the area he was looking at.

With real estate, like other people have said, it really is important to either know the area you are looking at or to get an agent you trust and have them explain their reasons for their offer strategy through the comps. Yes agents need to make money but the good ones have been in the business a while and also live off of repeat business when you sell your house or refer friends and family to them. Agents do a lot less work when it comes to selling by the way so they would love for you to come back to them when it's time to sell.

If I'm not happy with the way things are going with my agent I would have a heart to heart with them and give them a chance to correct the relationship. I've spoken to a realtor friend in the past about getting out of buyer's contracts and he told me it's a lot easier as a buyer than a seller. The buyer has most of the power during the process. The seller just has what the buyer wants.

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