By Geoff Williams
Buying a house is a little like asking someone to marry you. In both cases, you make your offer believing there's a good chance you'll get a yes, but you know you could get a no. If the answer is yes in either situation, your fates will be linked for many years to come -- possibly until death do you part. But if you don't get an immediate answer, the wait can be excruciating. We may not be able to help you with your love life, but if you want your house offer to be greeted with a yes -- and a quick one -- here are four rules to follow.
Be likable. Money talks, but so do you. And you don't want to say anything that could turn off a seller.
"You're most likely buying someone's home that they have memories and a lot of emotional ties to," says Marc Takacs, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Atlanta. So if the seller is present when you see the house, keep quiet about your grand plans for landscaping or repainting the living room.
[Read: The Hidden Costs of Buying a Home.]
"Don't tell someone how bad, ugly, stupid, etcetera, that someone's house is, and then try to buy it. That doesn't work," Takacs says.
Well, it might, if the homeowner is desperate and primed to sell, but if there are other buyers circling, you've given the seller an excuse to reject your offer and accept someone else's.
Another no-no, according to Takacs, is being high-maintenance. "Don't overstay your welcome," he advises. "I don't think anything irritates a seller more than when a buyer visits a house too much or stays for too long."
He also suggests that when you submit your offer, avoid making unreasonable demands such as a lightning-fast closing date. "Try to be considerate of the fact people are trying to carry on with their lives, move and all the other stuff that goes along with that. Being pushed out of your house can be very unsettling," Takacs says.
Don't be stingy with your offer, but don't overreach. If you offer exactly what the seller is asking, you will get his or her attention and probably their respect and appreciation. In many cases, your offer%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"If you buy it for more than you can afford, you'll end up hating the house and yourself in the long run." % will be accepted. Offer a tad bit more, and you may chase other buyers away whose offers are at or below the list price.
At the other end of the spectrum, a lowball offer may insult the homeowner. In some instances, it may be shrewd to offer significantly less than the list price, but first consult your real estate agent, who will probably have the best read on what your seller is likely to accept.
If you're looking to make the strongest offer possible, make sure it's not so high that you can't afford it, warns Kelly Long, a Chicago-based money coach and member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. "Don't offer more than you can practically afford, even if you're approved for more," she says, adding that this can easily happen if you're looking at a house that's out of your price range.
[Read: How to Compete in a Seller's Housing Market.]
"If you buy it for more than you can afford, you'll end up hating the house and yourself in the long run," she says.
That's because the more expensive your house is, the higher your monthly payments will likely be. Long cites the rule of thumb that a monthly payment shouldn't exceed more than 28 percent of your gross income. That includes taxes and insurance, she adds.
Be ready for a yes. If the seller says no, the next steps are clear enough: You make a better offer, or continue house-hunting. But even if the seller accepts the offer, you don't have those front door keys yet.
"You may be pre-approved based on your credit report and supplying your W-2, but the [mortgage] application process is much more involved and requires extensive documentation in a short window of time," Long says. "Make sure you have some time set aside to gather all the necessary information in the week following the offer's acceptance. You'll also need to schedule, attend and pay for an inspection in that first week, so make sure you have the money on hand to pay for that."
You may also be asked to offer earnest money, a deposit you give a homeowner to show you're serious about your offer. Generally, earnest money is anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent of the house's total purchase price. You can get the money back if the sale doesn't go through, but you can also lose it if you flake out and decide not to buy the house for no reason, or you don't follow what you've agreed to in the purchase contract.
Don't sabotage yourself to seal the deal. Speaking of that contract, be careful about what you put in it.
Yes, you want the house. You want the sellers to like you. But in an effort to get those keys from the sellers, don't be their doormat.
According to Kent Sisk, an account executive at NexTitle, a title and escrow agency based in Bellevue, Washington, "the market is so hot right now [that] many buyers are waiving the inspection period, sometimes waiving the inspection altogether, in order to get their offer approved."
Not smart, Sisk says.
[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]
After all, you don't want to learn after you buy the house that the roof leaks or there's mold hidden away in the ventilation. Or you may end up berating yourself if you waive the appraisal contingency, which lets you back out of the deal if the lender concludes the appraised value is less the sale price, and later learn that you vastly overpaid for your home.
Ideally, your offer will be one that makes everyone, the seller and you, happy and reassured that everything between now and the closing will go smoothly. If you feel like you need to win this house at all costs and things go badly after your offer is accepted, not only will you lose -- it will definitely cost you.