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Home shoppers outnumber home sellers in many places. If you're a home buyer, you need every competitive advantage you can get. That's why it pays to know how to find motivated sellers and persuade them to choose you.
The definition of "motivated seller" has changed since the depths of the economic crisis about a decade ago, when many motivated sellers were trying to avoid foreclosure. There are fewer of these desperate sellers now, but you can still find motivated sellers if you know where to look.
What is a motivated seller?
"A motivated seller is someone that needs to move out quickly," explains Sonia Figueroa. Figueroa, a real estate agent with Century 21 Affiliated in Chicago, lists common motivators:
The home has been on the market for three months or more, and the sellers feel impatient
The sellers are relocating for a job
The sellers are divorcing. "They're super motivated because they want to get rid of each other, get rid of their assets and be done," Figueroa says.
The owner died and the sellers are the heirs. "They just want to price it to sell it, to divvy up the money," Figueroa says.
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Identifying a motivated seller
Here are telltale signs that the seller is motivated: The home is priced to sell quickly, it has been fixed up and staged, and the listing photos were taken by a professional photographer, says Stacy Hennessey, a real estate agent with McEnearney Associates in Falls Church, Virginia.
Another sign is when the seller is willing to negotiate. That's not the norm in a typical seller's market, where "if you don't come with a full-price offer or a near full-price offer with terms that the seller likes, they can say, 'Thank you, but no. Next!'" says Terri Robinson, a real estate agent with Re/Max Select Properties in Ashburn, Virginia. A motivated seller will make a counteroffer, even to a lowball bid.
And sometimes a home's listing contains the phrase "motivated seller," or the seller's agent says the seller is motivated.
Tips for buying from a motivated seller
Ask what the seller's priorities are. "The question becomes what are their hot buttons? What are their needs?" Robinson says. Maybe the sellers need a place to live while renovation work on their new house is wrapped up. Or maybe the sellers want certainty that the buyer can qualify for a mortgage.
Offer to solve the seller's problem. "From the very beginning, having your agent tell the listing agent that you will be flexible and you want to help them out" can give you the competitive edge, Hennessey says.
Get preapproved for a mortgage. With a mortgage preapproval, you can close faster and the seller is assured that the deal won't fall apart because of problems getting financing.
Offer flexibility on the closing date. Your offer is more competitive if you can adjust your timing to the seller's timing, Hennessey says. One seller might want to close as quickly as possible, and another might want to wait until the end of the school year.
Offer a larger-than-usual earnest money deposit. Offering more than your area's customary deposit is a signal that you're serious. "My sellers always ask me what the deposit is," says Creig Northrop, president and CEO of Northrop Realty in Clarksville, Maryland. A 1% deposit is standard in Northrop's market. More than that is "showing sincere interest. So if you can get in the 2% to 5% range of deposits, you're in really good shape," he says.
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