How to make an offer on your first home. Magic.

By Iona Bain
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Once you have found the property of your dreams (or near enough), the next step is to make an offer.

It is important to consider a variety of factors when choosing your price level in order to achieve the right deal for you.

Managing the agent

The estate agent works for the seller.  But if you get them on your side, it can get you to the front of the queue when viewing houses, and can help get a better price. So it pays not to rub them up the wrong way.

If the property hasn’t sold quickly, and they are the sole agent, they will be worried that the seller may become impatient and bring in another agent.  If they are already one of multiple agents marketing the property, it’s very likely they will be keen to make the sale first.

So agents can end up on your side, especially if the seller is looking for too high a price.  They might encourage the seller to accept an offer £10,000 lower than the asking price as on a 2 per cent commission it will cost only the agent £200 – which is better than no fee at all.

Getting to the front of the queue

You have found the perfect place. So what should your tactics be to get the best deal at the lowest possible price?

Make sure the estate agent doesn’t know what your real budget is – and you do. If you fall in love with a property when viewing it with an agent, keep your nerve and don’t give too much away. Stay focused on asking the right questions.

Keep a close eye on the property market, so you are up to speed with how much similar properties in the area are selling for, and how quickly – or slowly – they are selling.

Make sure any fixtures or fittings included in the sale are set out in writing. If you're wondering what's the best type of insurance is for your property, here's a handy article.

Do your best to pump the agent for information about the seller’s situation. Is he needing a quick sale because he has already bought another property, perhaps, or is moving for work or personal reasons?

You should already know whether the house has been on the market for a while, and if the price has already been reduced. If so, you are in a strong position.

You can make a verbal offer to the estate agent, but you must confirm it in writing or by e-mail or even text message.  By law agents have to pass on to the seller any offer they receive, however low it might be.  That means that if you suspect you are the only person interested at that time, and in a strong position, you could try a low-ball offer as an opener, knowing you can raise it.

Tactics

If the seller is interested, he will tell the agent to begin negotiations. You are then at a disadvantage, unless you employ your own estate agent. But for the reasons given above, the agent may well be happy to negotiate directly with you and be sympathetic to your position – especially if he knows the seller has set the price high either as a tactic or because he is being unrealistic, or because he knows the seller really needs a quick sale.

If however there appears to be competition for the property – and try to ascertain whether this is genuine or just the agent talking it up – how can you get ahead of other bidders?

Can you offer early completion, and certainty of funding?  If the seller is told you can move in quickly, because you are a first-time buyer or not in a chain, and your mortgage is in place or even better you are paying cash, it may swing the deal.

Negotiations

So open negotiations - you can always make a new offer if your first is too low. If you are told you have been outbid, and asked if you want go higher, be sure that talk of rival bids are not the agent’s usual tactic to drive up the price.  You are entitled to see any rival bid in writing, so if in doubt, ask.

Don’t bid more than the asking price unless you know there are other bidders. However, sealed bids and a blind auction, which has always been the system in Scotland, are now becoming part of the landscape, especially in London.

All you can do is try to flush out some clues in advance of framing your bid, such as asking how many bidders there are and how serious they are.

If you are determined, settle on your top price and price and don’t be tempted to go any higher.  In Scotland, it has been traditional to add on £5 or £20 or £55 to a round bid like £200,000 as a blind attempt to outbid someone who might possibly have exactly matched your bid.

Deposits

If your bid is accepted, the seller’s solicitor may insist on a ‘holding deposit’ to show you are serious (perhaps £1,000). Sometimes the deposit is refundable whatever happens, but more likely you will lose it if you pull out. However, you should get your deposit back if the seller pulls out.  If all goes ahead, of course it is deducted from the sale price.  You shouldn’t be asked for a deposit that is not refundable in any circumstances – the seller has to take responsibility too. 

Wondering what happens when you've 'woo the seller'? Here's an article on what to do next. 

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