When my husband and I were in the market for a home in the fall of 1999, a period in the real estate industry known for its notoriously low inventory, we fell in love with a property and were willing to do almost anything to make it ours. So when we learned another buyer had made an offer, we panicked. Were we prepared to compete in a bidding war? And if so, how high could we go?
Oddly enough, when we countered with a slightly higher bid, the seller came back with a unique proposition: Keep all the outdated appliances and close by the end of the year, and it’s yours, he said. Seeing our confusion, he explained that the other buyer wanted him to dispose of the old fridge and upgrade the stove. But the seller was busy with a cross-country work move, and didn’t want the hassle. He also wanted the deal done before year’s end.
So, we agreed to these terms—and won the house.
Because we’re once again in a seller’s market, buyers may find themselves scrambling for properties and looking for ways to one-up the competition. While many are ready and willing to go well above the asking price, others get creative. Below are some less expected ways prospective buyers have won over sellers to get not only their foot in the door, but the keys to castle as well.
Putting heart and ‘sole’ into it
What if you had access to something typically hard to get that you realized your seller would love? You should use it to your advantage.
“I had a buyer who, when we were touring, saw that the seller had an epic shoe collection. My buyer worked for a very well-known, high-end shoe designer at the time, and offered her five new pairs of shoes of her choice. Needless to say, we got the deal,” says Tyler Whitman, an agent at Triplemint.
Have a friend who can score orchestra seats to “Hamilton,” or tickets to a playoff baseball game? If you have a connection, this may be the right time to use it.
Making a ‘moving’ gesture
Anyone who’s ever left one home for another knows what an enormous hassle it can be to find a reputable mover—plus it can get awfully expensive rather quickly. What if someone else decided to handle all that?
Roh Habibi, at The Habibi Group, recently had a buyer who was competing for a Spanish Mediterranean–style home, priced at around $2.5 million. His client upped the ante by offering to pay for the moving crew and presenting gifts to the seller’s children: a basketball for the son, Peppa Pig toys for the daughter, and a small trampoline for the pair to share.
“The seller loved the gesture to pay for the mover, as that is a huge undertaking,” says Habibi. “The buyers also did their best to touch the hearts of the seller and succeeded winning in a very heated bidding war.”
Sweetening the deal
It isn’t always easy for a buyer to meet a seller face to face. But should the opportunity arise, make the most of it.
“My sellers were at home in the evening when the buyers were returning to the house for a second visit,” explains Suzanne “Suzy” Minken, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices based in Summit, NJ. “Simply meeting the homeowners can be very helpful, since it gives homeowners an opportunity to establish a bond or rapport with the potential buyers. And an in-person comment about how much the buyers love the house is very powerful.”
That’s nice, of course, but what about taking it a step further? Minken recalls a time when the sellers actually received homemade baked goods from prospective buyers.
“What really comes as a surprise and makes a very big impression on the homeowners is a small gift, much like what you would bring to someone’s home when invited for dinner,” adds Minken. “On this particular evening, knowing that the homeowners would be there, the buyers brought them a homemade apple pie. The gesture made a very big difference in accepting their offer to purchase the house.”
Waiving a mortgage contingency
Even if you can’t pony up an all-cash offer, if you’re fortunate enough to know that securing a mortgage won’t be a problem, you may want to waive the mortgage contingency. Julie Gans, an agent at Triplemint, notes that buyers who waive mortgage contingencies have been successful in beating the competition without needing to up their offer.
“This cannot compete with an all-cash offer, but it is better than having contingencies and a deal falling apart,” notes Gans.
So, while we usually hear that “cash is king,” sometimes alternatives to offering more money can be just as effective.
Adding cute photos with your offer letter
Along with a heartfelt offer letter, buyers should consider throwing in a photo of their family—and their pets.
“Sending in a family picture did help in one of the offer situations I was in, especially with adorable kids and a lovable-looking pet,” says Cara Ameer, an agent with Coldwell Banker. “It’s not always the magic pill because there are often many dynamics at play with these offers, but it helps to put a face with a name and number on a piece of paper.”
Let’s face it—cliché or not, it can be tough to say no to a photo of cute kids and pets.
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