You might know the feeling…
You’ve been home searching for months. Yet no house is leaving you all that excited.
But wait, you finally walk into a house and you know instantly it’s the home for you.
Your agent calls the listing agent and asks if there are any other offers. To everyone’s surprise, the listing agent answers “no”. Time to act quickly!
Why? Because once your offer is accepted (or you accept the seller’s counter offer) the seller cannot back out unless you are not performing. This is great news:
In California, buyers have 17 days to change their mind once the offer is accepted. Sellers have 0 days.
On the other hand, as long as you’re negotiating – which often lasts several days – other offers can come in and change the whole game.
No Time To Think About It In Today’s Market
Case in point: I was working with a buyer who was very careful about every decision he made which is understandable when you are making the most expensive purchase of your life. However this time, it was a costly decision.
He wrote his initial offer and the seller made a counter offer the next day with the default 3 day offer expiration date. It was a reasonable counter offer well in line with what we were expecting. The buyer decided to think about it for a couple days. It was a fairly new listing in a popular neighborhood and competitive price point. I explained to the buyer the potential risks of waiting, but he insisted on thinking about it.
As I feared, I got a call from the listing agent stating that they received another offer and they were rescinding the original counter offer to the buyer and issuing a “multiple counter offer”. Uh oh – price just went up.
Counter Offer vs. Multiple Counter Offer
If you’re a buyer, you’ll definitely want to avoid the dreaded multiple counter offer whenever possible. When a buyer receives a counter offer and returns it signed to the listing agent, that constitutes an agreement. In other words, the seller can only accept backup offers at that point.
Multiple Counter Offers are a completely different story. Let’s say the seller received 3 offers. The seller can issue 3 separate counter offers to all 3 parties with completely different terms to each buyer. None of the buyers will know what terms the other buyers received (this opens up a whole new negotiation strategy that I won’t get into now). Assuming all 3 buyers agree to the counter, the seller now has the right to choose their favorite.
Best And Final
The only thing worse than a multiple counter offer is a multiple counter offer with the words “best & final” on it.
Best and final means give us your highest price. As you would figure, that’s not a fun position to be in when you have no idea what the other offers are. I can usually get a sense from the agent what it will take to get accepted, but you really never know for sure.
Warning to Sellers: Best & Final can backfire. Make sure you have very serious buyers before using this strategy. Buyers don’t like blind bids and some will walk away. I’ve seen a seller go from having 3 offers to zero.
Back to my story, the buyer’s original counter was rescinded and a multiple counter offer was issued at a higher price. My buyer agreed, but it was too late.
In the seller’s eyes, the buyer was not committed to the house since he was taking days to think about it. This perceived indifference made the seller nervous so the home ultimately went to the other buyer.
The last thing a seller wants to do is open escrow with an unenthused buyer only to have them cancel in a couple weeks. Sellers want to sell their home to someone who loves it and will value it as much as they do.
Buyers – try to come to an agreement quickly. If it’s a hot property and the seller issues you a reasonable (although not ideal) counter, strongly consider accepting it or at least counter back quickly.
Sellers – Don’t get too cocky! Be thankful it’s a seller’s market and lots of people like your home, but don’t overplay your hand – you may scare them all away. The other risk is sometimes buyers get caught up in winning and then buyer’s remorse kicks in about a week or so and they ultimately cancel. Your agent should help you choose not only the best terms, but the buyer most likely to actually close.