Once you’ve been approved for a mortgage, shopped around for the right property and decided on the house you want, making an offer is a nerve-wracking – but exciting – time. With a little luck, you’ll soon find yourself in the midst of negotiations that will make you the owner of the house you’ve had your eye on.
But it’s not just the price you can negotiate – buyers and sellers can negotiate plenty of other details about the transaction to sweeten the deal.
In the last few years, many markets in the U.S. have seen drastically low numbers of houses available for sale compared to the number of buyers shopping for a home. With bidding wars a common occurrence, buyers have been getting more creative to make their offer tempting enough to get the seller’s attention. This includes offering to take on additional costs associated with the deal, forgo the home inspection and let the seller move at his or her own pace.
Concessions can make an offer more appealing for the seller and give the buyer a leg up on the competition, but they can also be a useful tool for giving the buyer a break. Ian Katz, principal real estate broker for the Ian K. Katz Group, based in New York City and Westchester, New York, says concessions in negotiations heavily favored the seller in all price points in the New York area in the past few years, particularly 2014 to 2016. Since then, as more newly developed luxury properties have been completed and put on the market, buyers have also been able to take advantage of negotiations with concessions that favor them as well. But Katz says the benefits vary by the home and the level of buyer interest in it. “Now I would say it’s totally property-dependent,” he explains.
While high-price properties may be seeing more market balance, midlevel housing remains tight. At the end of last year, real estate information company Zillow predicted inventory shortages will drive the housing market in 2018, making it particularly difficult for first-time homebuyers to get into the game.
Whether you’re looking to buy a luxury property and want to assess your options or you need an advantage over competing buyers in a tough market, consider these additional things you can negotiate to make the deal less about price and more about the whole package.
Closing costs. One of the more common concessions included in a real estate deal, closing costs are made up of the one-time fees and first or final payments either side needs to make. On the buyer’s side, closing costs may include loan origination fees, recording fees, lender title insurance and inspection and appraisal fees, among other one-time costs. For the seller, transfer taxes, owner title insurance, home warranty premiums and other fees may be required.
All those fees add up. A homebuyer typically pays between 2 and 5 percent of the purchase price in closing costs – separate from the actual home purchase – according to Zillow. An easy way to ease the financial burden for either side is to include those costs in your offer.
Transaction-related taxes. Often counted as part of closing costs on the seller side, many states, cities or even building cooperative boards will have required transfer taxes and fees, which must be paid when a property changes hands. If you’re a buyer looking to make your offer more attractive but can’t cover all closing costs, offering to take over a transfer tax for your seller could be a great compromise.
“Offer to cover half of it, some of it, all of it just to kind of make the net proceeds for sellers look as good as possible,” Katz says.
Fixtures and appliances. States have different standards regarding what things in a home are included in a home sale, but light fixtures and major appliances are typically included unless otherwise noted in the contract.
Of course, that’s not always obvious to every homebuyer or seller. “There have been numerous times over the years when the seller thought he was taking the TVs and the buyer thought they were staying,” says Tim Elmes, a luxury property specialist with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “As a rule, a fixture is something that’s bolted down, and if it’s not, you can take it.”
As the buyer, it’s important to clear up what’s included in the sale and what's not – particularly for items like chandeliers and window treatments that may be a significant attraction in the home.
The negotiation also works the opposite way. If you don’t want the seller’s old washer and dryer, you may be able to include a stipulation that they remove the appliances from the home.
Furniture. Unlike appliances, furniture is expected to leave the property when the seller moves out. If you absolutely love the décor, however, you may be able to negotiate a purchase of the furnishings as well.
Most states require the purchase of personal property to appear on a separate contract from the real estate deal, though both contracts can be finalized at the same time. The promise of an additional $50,000 for furnishings, however, may make some sellers more inclined to take a second look at a home offer that's slightly below asking price.
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Move date and leaseback deals. Whether you’re on a tight schedule or you’ve got all the time in the world, the move-in date can be a valuable bargaining chip between buyer and seller. If you’re not in any rush, offer the sellers a flexible move-in date, which is especially appealing in fast-moving markets when the sellers haven’t yet found their next house to buy.
Offer to lease the property back to them for a limited number of days. A leaseback is most likely to occur when the seller is looking to purchase a new home or has a contract on one, “and just can’t line up the two closings in the same day,” Katz says.
In a leaseback situation, the seller would be expected to pay the utilities and upkeep costs while they’re still in the home, as well as any other rent or compensation to cover the mortgage costs before the buyer is able to occupy the property: “Something to make the new owners whole,” Katz says.
Repairs. During the due diligence process, you’ll have the property inspected to discover any potential problems with the home’s structure or condition – whether it’s a leaky roof, cracks in the foundation or mold in the basement. Any issues discovered in the inspector’s report are up for negotiation.
As the buyer, you have a bit more bargaining power here because the property is already under contract, so you can ask the seller to make repairs prior to closing, pay half the cost of the repairs or lower the sale price by an amount equal to the repair costs.
Of course, as with every bit of negotiation in a home purchase, you should always ensure the details are clearly spelled out in the contract. Whether it’s antique wall sconces leaving with the seller or a window that needs to be repaired, you should use the details of the contract almost as a checklist to ensure everything is ready before closing – particularly when you go to take a final look at the house before completing the deal.
“The more thorough you are with the contract, the less chance of an issue at the [final] walkthrough,” Elmes says.
Buying your first home is an exciting – and often daunting – endeavor.
In addition to setting your budget, comparing neighborhoods and visiting properties, you'll likely also get a crash course in mortgages and home inspections, among other things. According to the National Association of Realtors' 2017 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report, first-time buyers made up 35 percent of all homebuyers, up from 32 percent last year. U.S. News talked to seven first-time buyers from across the country to find out what they wish they'd known before jumping into the real estate market.Beware of wire transfer scams.
Beware of wire transfer scams.
Two hours before Shannyn Allan, founder of the blog Frugal Beautiful, was supposed to close on a home in San Antonio, she received a last-minute email with instructions on where to wire her down payment. Turns out, fraudsters had scraped her information from the title company and posed as the company when they emailed her instructions. She later discovered the fraud and spent weeks trying to get the banks to recover the funds so she could close. "I wish the title companies would have let me know what to watch out for with wire fraud, and advised me to do a cashier's check," she says.Don't skimp on upgrades.
Don't skimp on upgrades.
After freelance writer Leah Ingram and her husband built their first home in 1999 in New Hope, Pennsylvania, they immediately regretted choosing the smaller model with a lackluster kitchen and bathrooms. "A couple thousand dollars for those upgrades spread over a 30-year mortgage would not have been a hardship," she says. The couple also thought that buying on a cul-de-sac would ensure there were other kids nearby. There weren't, however, and they moved after seven years.Save extra money for closing costs.
Save extra money for closing costs.
Christine Cummings and her husband are in the process of buying a home in Somerville, Massachusetts. Cummings, who is VP of marketing at All Set, a mobile app that aims to connect homeowners with lawn service and house cleaning professionals, says she wishes she'd known how much to budget for closing costs. "There are all these little fees here and there adding up to the actual closing date, making the closing costs just a little harder to pay," she says. In addition to a down payment and closing costs, new homeowners should also budget for potential surprises such as a broken air conditioner and other maintenance costs.Check the sewer line.
Check the sewer line.
After buying a home in New Jersey in 2003, Kenneth O'Connor, founder of a YouTube channel on saving for college, discovered his single-family home had major sewer problems. "If there are large old trees on the path of the sewer line, you need to make sure the roots are not constricting the pipe and cracking it," he says. It used to be harder to detect sewer problems, but "now [a home inspector] can send a tiny camera down the sewer line to determine if it's safe," he explains, emphasizing the importance of not overlooking this step.Consider the school district.
Consider the school district.
When Ali Wenzke, founder of The Art of Happy Moving, and her husband bought a townhouse in Chicago, they didn't consider the school district because they didn't have kids yet. "When we sold our home four years later, we had three kids and their educations to consider," she says. "We moved because we needed the space, but we were lucky that we accidentally bought in a great school district." Even if you don't plan on having kids, she recommends investigating the school district for future resale value.Price out renovations in advance.
Price out renovations in advance.
After buying her first home in Atlanta, Kali Hawlk, founder of a marketing firm that specializes in working with financial advisors, wishes she'd factored in the cost of upgrading to double-pane windows. "I could never get the temperature downstairs above 65 degrees in winter because the entire back wall of the house was single-pane windows," she says. "I wish I had been aware of how expensive it would be to replace all of the house's single-paned windows with new ones," she explains. She thought upgrading the windows would be a simple fix, but it wound up costing around $10,000.Look beyond surface details.
Look beyond surface details.
Fancy fixtures and accent walls are nice, but some flipped homes mask bigger problems. "When we purchased our first home, we found out very quickly that aesthetically pleasing did not mean physically sound," says Dan Mackin, host of the Ditching 9 to 5 podcast. "Your inspector can't find things underneath the walls. Just because a flipped home is pretty doesn't always mean it's [of] better quality," Mackin says. His first home (a flip in Colorado) had so many problems, he moved out two years later and earned his real estate license so he could help others avoid the same issues.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.
Devon Thorsby | June 5, 2019
Homeowners should not fret, as long as they're prepared for the possibility of a downturn.