Once you’ve found a house you like, you must make a written offer to buy it. What form that offer takes depends on what state you live in. In some states, the offer is a bare-bones statement that “I’ll take the house for $X,” after which the seller writes up a draft contract. In other states, your offer must be so complete that the seller could sign it and you’d have a contract right there. The seller will accept your offer, make a counteroffer with one or more changes, or reject it outright.
Deciding What Price to Offer: The advertised price of a house is just a starting point. It’s up to you to decide how much the house is really worth, based on such factors as: how much comparable houses have recently sold for the house’s aesthetic or other appeal to the average buyer, whether the local real estate market is hot (demand for houses is high, and prices are going up, with you perhaps competing against other bidders) or cold (prices are dropping, and houses staying on the market for a longer time), the seller’s needs, such as to move quickly, to unload a house that’s been on the market for several weeks or months or to be reassured that you have the financial resources you say you do, the house’s physical condition (which you may not find out much about until you do an inspection, which a few buyers actually arrange to do before making an offer, though most wait until they’re in contract), whether the house is uniquely valuable to you, for example if you need an in-law unit or art studio, and what you can afford, after a careful examination of your budget. After considering all these factors, you may decide to bid thousands of dollars less — or more — than the seller is asking for.
Adding Contingencies to Your Offer: Real estate offers almost always contain contingencies — events that must happen within a certain amount of time (such as 30 days) or else the deal won’t become final. For example, you may want to make your offer contingent on your qualifying for financing, the house’s passing certain physical inspections, or your ability to sell your existing house first.
Counteroffers: Whether yours is the only offer to have come along, or one of many, a seller usually doesn’t have to accept any particular offer. In most states, it doesn’t matter if your offer is the first or the highest — the seller isn’t required to accept it. If a bid is especially low, the seller is likely to reject it on the spot. But, even with very attractive offers, the seller is likely to respond with a written counteroffer accepting some or most of the terms, but proposing changes to the:
price – if the seller wants more money than offered
closing date or occupancy date – if the seller needs more time to move out
contract contingencies – if the seller doesn’t want to wait for you to succeed in selling your current house or wants you to schedule the inspections more quickly.
You can accept the seller’s counteroffer, reject it, or present a “counter counteroffer.” The negotiations will continue until either a deal or an impasse is reached. A contract is formed when either the seller or the buyer accepts all of the terms of the other’s offer or counteroffer in writing within the time allowed.