A man hands over the keys to a new home.

Your real estate agent will help guide you through the information you'll need to provide in an offer, and what to expect next. (Getty Images)

Now that you have found the perfect house, it’s time to write the offer. When you sit down with your agent to prepare the necessary documentation, you may feel overwhelmed by seemingly countless pages of contract and addenda.

In an effort to make you feel more in the loop, let’s take a look at the key aspects involved in making an offer.

Sale price. This is the big one – how much do you want to offer for the house? After reviewing the comparable sales with your agent and finding out as much as you can about the house and the seller’s situation, you will determine an offer price.

Factors such as other offers on the home, how long it has been on the market and how willing you feel the sellers may be to negotiate will lead you to your price. In many cases, you’ll likely come in lower with a possibility of negotiating, or in others be forced to bring your highest and best offer to edge out competition.

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Seller credit. At settlement, you will have charges broken down into two categories – settlement charges (which include closing costs, prepaid interest, etc.) and down payment. Depending on your market, you will find it commonplace for sellers to pay a percentage of the sale price to help cover your settlement charges. Typically, this amount will vary between 1 and 3 percent, but can be more or less.

Remember, before asking or agreeing to accept any seller credit, you need to discuss with your lender how much you are able to be given by the seller. Each loan program will have different restrictions on how much you are able to receive.

Settlement date. Before choosing a settlement date, have your agent discuss any preferences with the listing agent to find out if this is an area you may be able to sweeten the deal for them, especially if you are hitting them harder on the price or if you’re in a competitive situation.

You will also need to discuss the settlement date with your lender to confirm you will be able to obtain full financing approval within the time frame.

Deposit. With your offer, you will need to specify an amount you will deposit. In essence, this is you putting your money where your mouth is. Once the contract is agreed to and ratified, the check will be placed in a holding account with either the settlement company or buyer’s brokerage, where it will remain and be used toward closing costs. Should you break the contract for any reason not allowed by the provisions of the contract, you may be subject to forfeiture of the money to the sellers.

Depending on local requirements, you may be obligated to provide a copy of the check with the offer as proof it exists. This will be held by your agent until the offer is accepted, and then it will be deposited.

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Preapproval letter. Prior to starting your home search, you went through the preapproval process with a lender to find out how much you can afford. Now that you are presenting an offer, you will want a letter specific to the property and amount you are offering.

The letter should be specific, because even though you may be preapproved for higher than the price you are offering, you do not want to let the seller know just how high you can go.

Do not expect a lender letter to be bogged down with all kinds of specific information. What it should show is the extent to which your lender has gone with the preapproval – what documents they’ve obtained and whether or not your credit history is satisfactory. A strong lender letter can make a world of difference by showing the sellers you’ve already lined up your ducks and are a qualified candidate for the loan.

Disclosures. The term “disclosures” can be used to describe any number of addenda attached to the offer. The most common types of disclosures are those made about the condition of the property and the neighborhood. Those concerning the property will discuss the age of the roof, water heater and other parts of the house, mention any known problems, and specify what types of utilities are hooked up.

Many states and local jurisdictions have their own sets of disclosures discussing any upcoming projects, factors causing noise or foul smells (airports or farms), zoning ordinances and other things that may affect your desire to live there.

Inspections. You will have an a la carte menu of inspections to choose from, depending on personal preference and application to the house – the most common of which is simply known as the home inspection. This is a top-to-bottom examination of all aspects of the house and will give you a solid understanding of not only what items are and will need to be fixed, but how the house operates.

Other inspections you may opt for include radon, well and septic, lead paint, mold and pest. While some of these may be optional, others may be required by your lender, so remember to check before drafting the offer.

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Personal letter. A personal letter is a great way to separate your offer from others when you find yourself in a competitive situation. It’s okay to get your nose a little brown and point out specific aspects of the house you really love.

Do not be generic, and do be genuine. Not only should you point out what the seller has done to the home that you love, but try to show how you can really see yourself making it your home and continuing to love it.

Do not include a picture. National and state fair housing laws are very clear that sellers do not have the right to select a buyer based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or family status. You don’t want to put the sellers in the awkward position of loving your offer, but feeling they shouldn’t pick you to protect themselves from possible repercussions.

Tags: real estate, housing market, housing, home prices, existing home sales, pending home sales, mortgages


Ray Boss Jr. is a full-time, licensed Realtor for Re/Max Realty Group in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with over 11 years of experience working with clients ranging from first-time homebuyers to investors, sellers and renters. You can learn more about Ray by connecting with him on LinkedIn.