house hunting 101: making an offer

October 30 2013

You shouldn’t at all be surprised by the fact that we don’t want a cookie-cutter house, or to live in the suburbs. We want a house with character, history, charm, and original architectural details made by a craftsman, not a builder. (Not that there is anything wrong with builder homes, they just aren’t our bag baby). We also want to live in a neighborhood where we can walk to our favorite restaurants and shops. So needless to say, we want a fixer-upper. Obviously. I mean.. would I ever buy a house with zero projects on the horizon? I don’t think so. We plan for this to just be a starter home, so we really weren’t concerned about school districts yet since there aren’t any buns in any ovens whatsoever. We met with our bank, gave him our monthly budget (for the mortgage), filled out a ton of paperwork about our credit, employment history, investments, etc. to figure out what the bank felt comfortable loaning us, and at what rate. Once we had this magic number, we knew exactly what our overall price range was, and we were able to start the hunt! We used and Zillow to search for the size and style of homes in our favorite neighborhoods. Then we met with our realtor and gave him our list and we were able to go from there.

We started our hunt on August 1st, and probably saw about 40 houses. On August 15th we finally made an offer. I can still remember debating back and forth about what to offer, and what work still needed to be done, and what we could lose by making an offer, and “are we ready to own a house yet?”, and “this is so scary”, and all that jazz. I remember jumping every time my phone rang and every time I got an email, in hopes that it would be our realtor with news on whether or not our offer was accepted. I remember thinking “but what if it is accepted? what if it’s not the one and then we are forced to buy it?”

Those were the glory days.

Little did we know that making an offer on a house isn’t a big deal at all. And getting shut down by the seller is totally normal. And being told to give your “highest and best offer” (but isn’t that what we gave them?) is just part of their game. Didn’t you know? It’s all just a big game. And you are just a pawn. And the realtors and the seller are the only ones in control.


On August 16th our offer was rejected by the selling realtor before even giving it to the seller. Yep. That happens too. The seller could have been totally fine with the offer, but we’ll never know that. Sometimes the selling realtor is also the seller. That’s a whole other animal. We tried to avoid those at all costs. A few weeks later we found another oh-so-perfect house. The neighborhood wasn’t our favorite, but for this house we could learn to love it. We made another offer. We went higher this time because we really loved the house and it was priced pretty fairly, but was still out of our budget. We were told there was another couple who made an offer and to give our highest and best. So we did. And we lost.


Weeks went by and we made a few more offers and this same scenario kept happening. So needless to say, we were getting pretty discouraged. Every house we fell in love with was swooped out from under us. The first weekend of September we found another little gem. Also not our favorite neighborhood, but it was priced WAY too low for what it was and the street it was on. I mean we were willing to pay asking price for this puppy. But being the hagglers we are we offered a couple thousand below the asking price, just in case the seller went for it. Now here’s a little background info on how bidding wars work. If there are multiple offers on the table, the selling realtor has to inform all of the buying realtors so that competitive bids are presented and the highest offer wins, right? That’s very fair. Messy, but fair. Okay so this selling realtor informed our realtor that someone else had offered a little higher than us so they gave it to them. Um what? You can’t just give it to whoever you want? We planned to pay asking, maybe even above asking! But instead the selling realtor left his ethics book at home and we were once again back to where we started.


I went into house hunting thinking that once we made an offer, we’d get to sit down with the seller and explain why we offered this amount, discuss the items that needed repair, and do a little negotiating. Nope. After our 3rd and 6th offers we started to learn that you never ever get to talk to the seller. So what do you do?


I would (and still do) check my real estate apps several times a day. I get email updates, push notifications, our realtor sends us MLS listings from his database, and I even searched for pre-market and foreclosures. That way we could see houses before they were even on the market, or freshly on the market before too many other buyers saw them.


Say the house you want is $150,000 and there are a few items to repair or renovate. It’s very fair to offer $5-10 under the asking price depending on the neighborhood, the price per square foot, etc. You don’t want to insult the seller by offering something too low, but it is totally normal to do a little haggling. Just be were there are other people out there that could be making more aggressive offers. It’s always best to start low, you can always work your way back up.


You should always assume there are other offers on the table. If you get too excited and put all your eggs in one basket, you’ll just set yourself up for disappointment. Be ready for the seller to turn your offer down, or to have a higher number up your sleeve in case there’s a bidding war.


When you’re in the throws of a bidding war you can easily lose sight of your budget and the actual value of the house you’re fighting for. You don’t want to win the bidding war only to have settled on a price you can’t even afford. So be careful and know when enough is enough. There are other houses out there, it’s better to have an almost perfect house than to have a perfect house you can’t afford.


Your realtor can tell you the seller’s situation for the most part. If it’s a house “flipper” then they will automatically think their house is gold, and want the most bang for their buck and most likely won’t be too flexible on price. They tend to over price their homes, while the craftsmanship of their flip isn’t even that great. We saw several homes claiming to have new hardwood floors, when they were obviously laminate. Estates (where the owners have passed away) are usually being sold by the children of the owners and are typically sold “as is”, so can’t negotiate any repairs. This is something to be aware of when making your offer. Homes that have been on the market for over 100 days, usually mean that something is wrong with the home or the seller won’t budge on the price, and probably won’t agree to any repairs.

It’s now almost November and we’ve seen about 150 houses. We’ve been under contract with this house since September 25th and it’s still a big fat question mark. In the end, we had to keep telling ourselves that everything was happening for a reason. Maybe we lost out on that house because it was a huge money pit, or maybe a better house was just around the corner. And so far this has been true. There will always be a better house just around the corner, you just have to be patient.

Note: These are all of our personal opinions, based on past (almost) 3 months of experience house hunting. I’m sure many of you have had completely different experiences house hunting, and maybe your’s was a cakewalk as I’m sure many are. We are simply telling our story. Also, I don’t want to upset any realtors out there by calling this process a game. I was just hoping it would be a more personal experience between the buyer and seller.

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5 thoughts on “house hunting 101: making an offer

  1. Gina

    This sounds so much like what I went through to get my house this year! I started looking in March and didn’t find my house until mid July. During that time I made at least six offers on different houses, none of which panned out. I also went through six different Realtors and three different lenders before I for ones who really got what I was after. I had to have something by the end of August because my lease was up at the end of August, plus I was going to be out of town for all of Sept and most of October for business.

    About mid-summer I was ready to give up and just find a new rental because I was so frustrated with not getting houses, and not having a Realtor who I felt was really working for me. I was also tired of pele telling me that it “wasn’t meant to be” whenever I didn’t get a house! When I found my final Realtor, it made a world of a difference, and I immediately knew that she would help me find my house.

    When I found the house, the seller was highly motivated (as was I) to close quickly, and we were actually able to close two weeks after the contract was accepted. Initially my Realtor was going to sort of low ball the offer, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that because I knew I wanted the house. I came in with what I felt was a strng offer, and to my surprise, the next day the owner accepted my off as-is. No changes! Yay for me! But then the appraisal came back 10K lower than our contract price (I was also on business in Hawaii when this happened, which made this news even better!). Uh oh. The seller was understanding and agreed to split the difference with me so that I only needed to bring and extra 5K to closing….much more doable!

    Looking back now, I would like to say it was worth it, because I absolutely love my house, but it’s still hard to do! It was a very emotional and stressful year trying to do this. I love my house enough that I think I can say here for a while so that I don’t have to go through that experience agin any time soon!

    Good luck to you guys with everything you have left to do!


    Catharine Reply:

    Hi Gina!

    I’m glad that we aren’t the only ones who have had to go through this. I’ve heard of so many people who find a house, make an offer, and close within a couple of weeks and I’m like “HOW!?!?!” I guess it all depends on the seller. We had to low-ball because the house we want is definitely in need of some serious love, so we had to do some hardcore negotiations. Which is why all of our hopes and dreams hang in the appraisal because if its too low, there is no way the seller will want to go down any more on the price. So fingers crossed :) I know that if we get this house it will be totally worth it because it has SO much potential and I know we will love it for years to come.


  2. Sarah castor

    Coming from a sellers point if view:

    My house was on the market for 6 months when I let my realtor go. I wasn’t about to list it again and have it listed over 6 months. Now that I have my own open houses every week, the big question is, “how long have you had this listed?”. I would tell people 6 months and what I found was if no one wants it, no one wants it. The floor plan, new paint, updated fixtures, new appliances didn’t matter because it had been on the market too long. The theory would be that there must be something wrong with it, the seller won’t budge on price, etc. The truth was no one can tell me why it’s not selling, it’s beautiful, spaceious, listed at market value. But no one made an offer until I started telling people it was listed when I took over as my own realtor. So, 1 month. I’m getting so much interest all of the sudden and I had an offer. It fell through but that was one more offer than my realtor got me! I’m glad you did your research but don’t discount a house because it’s been on the market a while, it may just be waiting for you!

    I hope everything goes thru for y’all!


    Catharine Reply:

    Hi Sarah! I think that I should have elaborated more when I said to avoid a house that’s been on the market for a while. I would have no problem buying a house that’s been on the market for that long, but every single one that had been on the market for a while that we put an offer on was immediately shut down because the seller wouldn’t budge a penny on the price (all of which were priced about $40,000 over the rest of the neighborhood and still needed a TON of renovations). And several of which we looked up with our realtor and found that they had previously purchased them for pennies a year ago and then “flipped” (horribly) and wanted to get all of their money back because they were in over their heads. Or they would claim they had hardwood floors and marble countertops when really it was laminate flooring and manufactured marble, but were pricing the house as if it had high quality finishes. Several houses would also look amazing in photos online and when we’d view them would be completely unfinished (as in exposed studs and mid-renovatoin kitchens) yet priced astronomically high. I have no problem tackling projects (obviously) but I’m not going to pay top dollar to then pay for renovations. That’s why these houses were on the market for so long. Where we live it’s extremely competitive so most houses that have been sitting on the market actually do have things wrong with them, but every market is different, so it isn’t fair to discount all houses with long listings. :)


  3. Ali

    Wow! I feel like I just read an identical story of our lives this year too! We have had the ups and downs also of house hunting, however where I live it’s not quite as competitive as far the bidding wars go. I’m sorry you have had to deal with that. We lost two houses which was so discouraging and that was enough for us. Buying a house is always thought of as a fun and exciting experience and boy it can be far from it right?! I sure hope this house you made an offer on goes through. if not, you’re right that everything happens for a reason. We went through the whole checking sites daily (even hourly) for months now like you have, and I’m happy to say I think it’s over! We didn’t find one, but something else worked out and it’s probably for the best. I hope that everything works out for you!! Keep us updated!


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