The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Tips for Sealing the Deal

Write a love letter about the house. Add favorable clauses to the contract. Forego any contingencies. These are often cited as tactics that can help you triumph in a bidding war. But there are other ways to seal the deal.

Admittedly, some of these maneuvers are long shots. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. So consider these steps:

-- Have your agent contact the seller’s agent to determine what points might help your offer rise to the top of the pile. The seller might want a quick close, for example, or maybe he’ll want to delay closing until his new place is ready. The idea is to find out what’s most important to the seller and give it to him.

-- In places where houses are selling fast, appraisals often lag behind the market, meaning there’s a good chance the valuation won’t be as high as your offer. So consider adding a stipulation that you’ll make up the difference if the appraisal falls short. That way, the seller knows that you won’t expect him to lower his selling price.

-- A good agent will insist on presenting her client’s offer to the seller in person. That way, she can plead your case and ask questions. She should then call you on the spot, work out any details, and not leave the property without a deal.

-- To impress upon the sellers that this is an urgent matter to you, require them to respond to your offer within a set time period: maybe 12 hours, but no longer than 24. If you get no answer, this clause says your offer becomes null and void. Calling for urgency shows your ability to move forward with the sale as quickly as the sellers want.

-- Cash is always king. A deal where there is no financing involved is far less likely to fall through than one in which the buyer needs a loan. So consider paying for the house out of your own pocket at settlement and then arranging for financing afterwards. Fannie Mae has a program for cash buyers who want to finance their purchases within six months after closing.

-- If you insist on a home inspection -- as you should -- offer a “due diligence” fee. This is essentially a fee paid to the seller to reserve the right to have the house examined for major defects. If you decide not to proceed after the inspection, you forfeit the fee; if you close, it’s credited to your side of the ledger.

-- An independent home inspection keeps you from essentially buying a pig in a poke. But if you are desperate, you can make the inspection for informational purposes only. That way, you’ll know what you are getting into -- the house needs a new roof, for example, or the air conditioning is on its last legs -- and the seller knows you won’t demand fixes for those problems.

-- Offer to pay some, or even all, of the seller’s closing costs. Pay for the appraisal, for example, or the homeowners’ association’s transfer charges. If you offer to take some or all of the settlement fees off their shoulders, it might seal the deal.

-- Attach an estimated HUD-1 closing cost statement so the sellers can see what their net will be if they accept your offer. Most sellers tend to expect to see a higher figure on the bottom line; if you show them what’s being paid and how the money is being allocated, there shouldn’t be any surprises.

-- Have your agent research the seller’s agent to ascertain if they have a friend or colleague in common. If so, perhaps that friend can reach out to the seller’s agent and vouch that your agent is a professional who’s easy to work with.

-- Submit a clean, understandable offer with all the blanks filled in. All of them. If something is missing, or if the seller doesn’t know what you mean by “leave some of the furniture,” your offer will go right to the bottom of the pile. This is your agent’s job, but you should double-check.

-- Your agent should cover your offer with a one-page letter spelling out, one by one, the salient points of your bid. That way, the seller won’t have to scroll through all 18 pages of your contract looking for all the key points.

-- If you really, really like the place, don’t give up, even if your offer is not the winning bid. Ask that your offer be accepted as a backup. That way, if the winning offer should fall through -- it happens more than you’d think -- instead of going back on the market, the property falls to you. No guarantee, but it sometimes works.

-- Another long-shot tactic: If you are having no luck at winning the bidding wars, ask your agent to research expired listings: houses that haven’t sold and have been taken off the market. If he finds one that fits your requirements, and you like it, he can approach the owner to see if she is still interested in selling. If so, maybe you can strike a deal without having to compete with other wannabe buyers.