In many parts of the country, and in most price ranges, the best properties are suddenly piling up offers from multiple bidders who know a good thing when they see one. But sometimes the highest offer isn't the one that's accepted.
Here, courtesy of dozens of real estate professionals across the country, is a cornucopia of creative tactics that could help you win the day when you can't go any higher on price.
-- No strings attached: Make your offer as clean as possible by removing every contingency you can live without. Line up your financing in advance so the sale won't be dependent on securing a mortgage. Conditioning the deal on the sale of your current house is the kiss of death.
If you feel confident enough, you can even waive the appraisal contingency. But realize that without that protection, if the valuation comes in low, you'll have to make up the difference between the agreed-upon selling price and the appraised value.
Agents have differing opinions on waiving the inspection clause. Some think it's OK to go commando, but others say it is too dangerous.
If you want an inspection, line up your inspector in advance and offer to get it done fast -- say, in five days instead of the usual 10. That way, says Jonathan Osman of Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, N.C., if there is a problem that kills your deal, it will be discovered soon enough that the seller can accept another offer.
Also, be sure all the required documents, filled out nicely with no erasures, are submitted with your initial offer. "No mistakes or weird language," advises Steve Crossland of Crossland Real Estate in Austin, Texas. "Make your offer acceptable and ready to sign."
-- As-is condition: Offer to take the place as is. You can still have it inspected and cancel the deal if the exam uncovers something you find unacceptable. But once the inspection period expires, with an as-is clause, the place is yours.
-- Speedy closing: Some sellers want out as soon as humanly possible, so offer to close quickly. One winning deal offered to settle within 24 hours. Of course, that wasn't possible; it takes several days to prepare the closing papers. But the offer to settle the next day told the seller the buyer was ready to go.
A quick close "is worth money and peace of mind" to many sellers, says Linda Walters of Sage Realty in Wayne, Pa. Adds Ed Corbett of Keller Williams Realty in Atlanta: "Lengthy contract periods tend to make sellers nervous since their period of risk is longer."
-- Going long: Some sellers might have a much longer time horizon. So instead of a quick deal, offer to hold off the closing for 90 days instead of the usual 30 or 45. "If you can afford to be flexible on closing dates, that can be a great asset," advises Debbie Battista of Domus Realtors in North Haven, Conn.
-- The personal touch: Write a heartfelt letter telling the seller who you are, why you love the property and how you will cherish it as your own. Write it by hand, and include a photo of your family.
Corny? You bet, but it works. "Sellers want to know that the buyers will love the home as much as they have, and that their efforts to maintain it are appreciated," says Susan Neal of Century 21 Noel David Realty in Fair Oaks, Calif. "I've seen sellers turn down a higher offer to leave their homes in good hands."
-- Face to face: Some agents want the buyer and seller to meet, to get to know each other. At the very least, your agent should present your offer to the buyer directly rather than just handing it over to the seller's agent.
"It's my job to make the seller fall in love with my buyer," says Diane Hughes of the Higgins Group Realtors in Bedford, Mass. "It's a people business," agrees Dorene Slavitz of the Real Estate Group in Culver City, Calif. "If the owners like your client, that can have a positive effect upon their view of your offer."
-- Timing is everything: Sometimes the earliest offer wins the day, especially with anxious sellers who want out quickly with no muss, no fuss.
Kevin Kieffer, a Keller Williams agent in Danville, Calif., likes to submit his offers midweek to beat the competition that shows up on the weekend. Barry and Serene Sulpor of Shorewood Realtors in Manhattan Beach, Calif., work the realty grapevine, and when they hear of a place that might be coming on the market, they quickly contact the listing agent, have their client preview the place and, if they like it, enter a bid.
-- Think big: A typical earnest money deposit is 1 percent of the purchase price, so offer more. This gets the seller's attention, tells him you have the financial wherewithal to follow through and shows him you're serious.
If you really, really want the place, Mark Ruff, a Keller Williams agent in Studio City, Calif., suggests offering to make your deposit nonrefundable -- but applicable to the purchase price -- after the physical inspection period expires.
-- Ducks in a row: It should go without saying that you should be preapproved for financing. Many agents advise their clients to attach a copy of their approval letters to their offers. Some even suggest including bank statements or other proof that you have the funds you'll need to close.
Debra Kroon of Yosemite West Real Estate in Oakhurst, Calif., suggests buyers pick a lender with a reputation for delivering. "A preapproval letter from a lender that the listing agent can vouch for as being reliable will have more impact than one from an unreliable lender or a lender unknown to the listing agent," Kroon says.
Greg Kilroy of Keller Williams Paradise Valley in Scottsdale, Ariz., asks the buyer's lender to call the listing agent "to give him a warm feeling" about his client's ability to obtain funding.
-- Back at ya: To make their move less stressful, offer to allow the sellers to stay on after the close for as long as they need. You can charge them rent, based perhaps on a percentage of your house payment. If you are really feeling magnanimous, let them stay free to clean up loose ends for, what, 30 days?
-- Adoption: If the seller has a pet that he can't take with him, offer to take the pet as well as the house. Ann Wilkins of East Bay Sotheby's International Realty in Oakland, Calif., reports that one of her clients once agreed to adopt chickens as part of the deal. Similarly, Ralph Gorgoglione of California Real Estate in Los Angeles suggests taking over or buying personal property such as a piano that would be too difficult or costly for the seller to move. And Kathryn Copeland of Coldwell Banker Residential in Winter Park, Fla., suggests that offering to keep on gardeners or longtime housekeepers who might otherwise be displaced might tip the scales in your favor.
-- Pay to play: Jim Mellen of RE/MAX Peninsula in Williamsburg, Va., had a client offer to pay some of the seller's moving expenses. A client of Alex Cortez at Island Sotheby's International in Maui offered to allow the seller to come back and use his former vacation property at predetermined times every year.
-- Hang in there: If your contract isn't accepted, ask to remain as a backup in case the other deal falls through, says Christy Walker of RE/MAX Signature in Phoenix, who notes that for one reason or another, more than one in every four contracts fail to close in her market.
Seventeen times last year, Charlotte agent Osman "sold" one of his listings two or more times. "You never know," he says. "The buyer could walk, get divorced mid-contract, lose his job, misstate his assets or income, or lose interest."