You’ve found your dream home, and you’ve decided to put in an offer. So, the hard part is over, right? Not necessarily.
The next step is possibly the most critical: Deciding the exact terms of the offer you want to make. This includes the amount you’ll offer to pay, plus any contingencies (e.g., inspection, appraisal, or selling your home first, if applicable).
If the offer is too low, particularly in a seller’s market, it could be rejected. But if it’s too high, you could end up paying more than you need to, and possibly more than you can afford.
Your real estate agent’s advice will be crucial during this process. An experienced agent who knows your local area will know the sweet spot that will likely win the seller over and keep the cost you pay for your home within your budget.
Who Delivers Your Offer to the Seller?
If you have an agent, your agent will deliver the offer to the seller’s agent— usually via email, but often in person. The seller’s agent will then pass the offer along to the seller, and deliver any response or counteroffer.
If you’re not working with an agent, you’ll deliver your offer to the seller’s agent yourself. If you’re putting in an offer on a for sale by owner (FSBO) property, you’ll give the offer directly to the owner.
What to Include in an Offer: 4 Essential Elements
1. Your Offer Price
For most sellers, the offer price is one of the most important aspects of an offer, if not the most important factor. Your real estate agent can help you decide how you want to approach your offer price
Think about factors like:
- Your budget
- The accuracy of the home’s property value
- Whether you would need to make extensive repairs
- How much competition you’re likely to have in your market
When you work with an experienced real estate agent, you’ll get expert advice from a professional who’s assisted many home buyers make strong, winning offers. Your agent will also provide peace of mind by advising you on an offer strategy making sure your offer addresses all the important details that will stand out to a seller.
2. Your Proof of Funds
You’ll want a proof of funds letter (or bank statement) that shows you have available funds to pay for all the costs associated with buying, including the mortgage and closing costs. This will assure the seller that you’re a serious, capable buyer.
3. Important Dates
Your offer letter should include the following:
- A deadline for the seller’s response to your offer
- The intended closing date
- The expected closing date on your current home (if applicable)
- When the seller must vacate the property
Keep in mind, most of these dates are going to be negotiable, and could change.
4. Any Additional Costs and Contingencies
These costs and contingencies are optional, and will depend on what you want, the property you’re trying to buy, and your specific circumstances. Some possibilities include:
- Inspection Contingency: If you opt for this contingency, it’ll give you the option to walk away from the sale with your earnest money (or negotiate new terms) if the home inspection finds serious problems with the home.
- Appraisal Contingency: If you opt for this contingency, you’ll be able to walk away from the sale (or renegotiate price) if the home appraisal comes in below the sale price.
- The Sale of Your Current Home: If your ability to buy the property depends on selling your present home first, this contingency will release you from the sale if you’re unable to sell your current home.
What Happens After You Make an Offer on a House?
Once you officially submit it, the house offer waiting game begins. The seller and their agent will review it. How long do sellers have to respond to an offer? They should respond before the deadline specified in the offer letter, which is usually within 24-48 hours.
But, in a competitive market, they will likely get back to you much faster than that.
|💡 Expert Tip: if you’re in a competitive seller’s market, and you’re worried about losing the sale, you can text or call the seller’s agent to communicate your offer immediately.
A seller’s real estate agent, if a National Association of Realtors (NAR) member, is obligated to present all written offers to the seller, in compliance with the Realtor Code of Ethics. The exception is if the seller gives their agent written permission not to present all offers. That’s likely only going to happen if the offer is below a certain threshold that the seller is willing to consider. So if you’re genuinely interested in the house, you don’t want to provide a lowball offer.
What to Do if You Receive a Counteroffer
If the seller decides to submit a counteroffer, the seller’s agent will deliver it to your agent, and your agent will pass it on to you.
Counteroffers may ask for a higher price, or for concessions like a waived inspection contingency, or negotiations on closing costs. In hot seller’s markets, buyers will often have to make these concessions to secure the property.
At this stage, your agent’s expertise and negotiation skills are going to have a huge impact on how favorable a deal you can work out. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced agent on your side!
What Happens if the Buyer Accepts Your Offer on a House?
If both the buyer and the seller sign a purchase agreement, it becomes legally binding. That means you’re now under contract. Congratulations!
From here, if you need financing, you apply for your loan. You may have been pre-approved, but now you’re ready to pull all the requested financial documents together for the lender to get the underwriting process underway.
You’ll want to get a home inspection to make sure there aren’t any hidden issues with the house that could be a deal breaker for you. You’ll review the items disclosed in the inspection with your attorney or real estate agent, and negotiate what, if any, repairs the seller will make.
If there are contingencies spelled out in the contract, you want to be on top of the deadlines for meeting them, or of the seller meeting them, should that be the case.
Once the loan has been approved and the money is ready to be transferred to the title company or closing agent, you’ll take a final walkthrough of the property. You’ll want to have your real estate agent walk through with you, to review and make sure all repairs that were promised have been made and that the home is in its expected condition before taking ownership.
Finally, you’ll go to the closing, sign all the legal documents, get the keys and officially become a homeowner!
» Learn What Happens Next: How to Navigate Escrow
Can You Back Out After Making an Offer on a House?
What if you decide you want to back out after making an offer? Buyer’s remorse is real, and second thoughts are natural. A survey from our friends at Clever Real Estate’s data center found that 60% of homeowners said they’ve felt some form of buyer’s remorse — up from 35% in 2019.
Before you actually sign the purchase agreement, you can always back out without penalty.
After you sign the purchase agreement, and are officially under contract, it gets more complicated. If there are contingencies in the contract, you could back out if those terms aren’t satisfied; for example, if the inspection discovers a problem in the home. If the contingencies don’t give you an out, you might still be able to back out, if you’re willing to give up your earnest money.
If you’ve signed the purchase agreement, the seller could take you to court to force you to follow through on the purchase, but this is pretty rare.
Can a Seller Back Out of an Accepted Offer?
It’s fairly common for sellers to try to back out of a contract, especially in a hot market where they may have received a higher offer. But it’s very difficult to do so, since contracts are written to protect buyers.
The seller may be able to back out if the buyer has breached the terms of the contract by missing a deadline or a deposit, if they can prove the buyer committed fraud, or if they have an out through a contingency. The seller could also try to directly persuade the buyer to cancel the contract.
Outside of those reasons, it’s difficult for a seller to back out of a signed contract. The buyer can sue them for breach of contract, and the seller would probably lose and be forced to complete the sale. They may also have to pay the buyer’s legal fees, expenses, and even lost equity.
Does a real estate agent have to present all offers?
A seller’s real estate agent, if a National Association of Realtors (NAR) member, is obligated to present all written offers to the seller, in compliance with the Realtor Code of Ethics. The exception is if the seller gives their agent written permission not to present all offers. Learn more about whether an agent has to present all offers to sellers.
How long does it take for a seller to accept an offer?
The seller should respond before the deadline specified in the offer letter, which is usually within 24-48 hours. Learn more about how long it takes for a seller to accept an offer.
What happens after a seller accepts your offer?
If both the buyer and the seller sign a purchase agreement, it becomes legally binding. That means you’re now under contract. Learn more about what happens after a seller accepts your offer.