When it comes to buying a home, many people aren't picky. But a rare set of buyers has a be-all-and-end-all home in mind. They're willing to spend months -- or maybe even years -- looking for just the right place.
In this category is a retired married couple in their early 80s who decided it was time to part with the waterfront home where they'd lived for more than four decades.
After much research, they identified the ideal setting: a well-designed condo complex reserved solely for those who'd once taught at a nearby university. The university-run facility offered the lectures and the intellectual stimulation the couple craved. Moreover, several friends already lived there.
Soon, the couple obtained a spot on the list of people qualified to buy a unit in the complex. But their wait was far from over. And when an apartment there finally went up for sale, there were several rival bidders for the unit.
Still, the couple was determined to prevail. To do so, they sought counsel from Leo Berard, charter president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org). He helped them shape a successful multi-faceted plan to beat the competition.
Are you looking for a unique home in a popular area where buyers now outnumber sellers? And are you likely to face rival bidders for that same place? If so, these few pointers could help:
-- Seek to beat out competitors by offering more.
Berard calls it a "top-off bid," and it can sometimes be an effective tool in an inventory-tight market. Using this strategy, the retired couple bid slightly above the asking price and agreed to exceed any equal or higher offer by $5,000 up to the ceiling on what they could afford.
Granted, you may wish to avoid this approach unless --as the retired couple did -- you have a singular home in mind.
Of course, no matter how special the home you're seeking, you shouldn't bid recklessly without regard to local property values. It's always important not to go overboard. To avoid an excessive bid, Berard recommends you ask your agent to check recent sales to see what similar properties have been fetching recently and stay within that range.
-- Provide watertight proof you can afford the property.
If you're buying your ideal home with cash taken from savings or another source, you needn't prove you can qualify for a mortgage, because you won't need one.
But if you're like most buyers and must have a mortgage, you'll need to demonstrate through a pre-approval letter that a lender believes you can qualify for a mortgage and have the credit status to make your loan application viable.
"The sellers of that unique house you want will never take your bid seriously until you produce a pre-approval letter. It's a minimum requirement," says Ashley Richardson, a longtime real estate agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com).
However, not all pre-approval letters carry equal weight when it comes to impressing sellers. Richardson recommends you seek pre-approval from a well-known lender with a recognizable name.
"Ask your agent for a referral to a local lender known to be trustworthy. Otherwise, your letter will be worth no more than the paper it's written on," Richardson says.
Remember, too, that the strongest pre-approval letters are granted only after your credit history has been checked and your cash assets verified. Proof of income can be established through pay stubs, W-2 statements and recent tax returns.
-- Write a friendly letter to the sellers telling why you love their home.
Most people are emotionally attached to the home where they're living. Even those who must sell due to an unhappy situation -- like a divorce or a financial reversal -- like to know that others admire and appreciate their property.
Because homeowner pride is nearly universal, buyers who love a particular place may find it advantageous to convey that sentiment in a brief note attached to their offer and addressed to the sellers by name. This could make a difference, especially if the sellers have received multiple offers that are roughly equal in dollar value.
"A sincere letter covering what you like about the home can give you an edge," Berard says.
He recalls how the retired couple seeking to move into the university-affiliated condo complex used such a note to support their winning bid. Their letter told how much they admired the apartment's built-in cabinetry and attractive patio.
But Berard cautions against trying to use a heartfelt letter to make up for a subpar offer.
"It's folly to come in with a lowball and then think you can sugarcoat it with a nice letter. Chances are all that would do is to insult the sellers and maybe even turn them against you," he says.
-- Tailor your offer to the seller's timing needs.
Money is almost always the leading factor determining if home purchasers get the property they're seeking. But timing also counts.
For instance, the woman selling the condo in the university-run building wanted to sell and move out of state promptly to live near her grown son's family. The retired couple, however, would have preferred to wait for a closing date that was at least three months later. But the buyers wrote a contract offer aligned to the closing date the seller wanted, which helped them seal their deal.
"In multiple-bid situations, the more reasons you can give the sellers to choose you, the more likely you are to win your prize," Berard says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)