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Published January 9, 2024
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7 minutes

How to Make an Offer On a House

It shouldn’t be a daunting task to make an offer on a house, as long as you understand the steps involved, have your paperwork in order and know what to expect after the seller has received it.

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When it comes to buying a house, there are lots of things to think about and put into action. Once you’ve worked out how much you can afford to borrow, spoken to a mortgage broker, attended open houses and arranged building inspections, you should be ready to make an offer on your dream property. 

Below is a list of five steps to help expedite the process and put you in the best position to have your offer accepted.

Do your research

When it comes to choosing a home loan, there’s a lot of research required, with plenty of lenders, mortgage brokers, types of mortgages and properties to choose from. There’s no such thing as too much information when it comes to understanding how to make the right offer at the tail end of your journey. Getting insight into the vendor, the neighbourhood, the price history of the property and the current market could give you a vital advantage over other buyers, especially regarding how you negotiate with the seller. You should also research sales records, why the vendor is selling, land values and price expectations. 

  • Sales records. Sales records of the property you are interested in and other houses in the area are freely available online at sites such as realestate.com.au. These records provide a good overview of property trends and what the vendor could realistically expect in the current market.
  • Why the vendor is selling. You can enquire why the property is on the market, which can provide you with valuable insights when making an offer. If, for example, the house is being sold due to a relationship breakdown, you may want to offer a shorter settlement period than the standard four to six weeks so the vendor gets paid quicker. Alternatively, suppose the seller is an owner-occupier who has lived there for 40 years. In that case, they may also be far more flexible in negotiating a quick sale price so they can move into a retirement village. But if the owner is an investor, they may be happy to wait months to get the price they want. 
  • Land values. Land values can be much higher than people think, and this could influence the amount you are willing to offer on a property. Additionally, you should always check that you won’t be liable for any taxes before you make an offer. A good starting point in NSW, for example, is the Valuer General’s office
  • Price expectations. This may seem odd, but many residential property listings don’t actually have firm prices — just guides. This is especially true if they are taking expressions of interest from would-be buyers. Having a good grasp on what homes are worth in the area could put you in a good position to grab a bargain.  

You can also access valuable content on websites such as propertyvalue.com.au and ozhouseprice.com for suburb trends, median prices and plenty of other useful information.

Decide on how much to offer and any included conditions

Once you’ve done your research, you can decide how much to offer and the conditions of the sale. You could either do this on your own or with guidance from a mortgage broker or conveyancing solicitor.

If you’re serious about the property, you should be willing to offer a competitive price and sale conditions that the seller could find beneficial. You could, for example, offer a shorter settlement period than the usual six weeks so they get their money sooner and can put the entire sale of their home behind them. This also could work if the house is unoccupied, so there’s no need for the vendor to give renters notice to vacate. 

At any rate, you should always discuss what the vendor wants with the vendor’s agent and plan your offer accordingly.

Put in an offer as soon as possible

Once you’ve decided how much to offer and the conditions, you can put your written offer to the vendor. This should include your offer price and any conditions you’d be prepared to include. For example, you could suggest making repairs at your expense, increasing the deposit size, paying any outstanding strata fees or rates, or adjusting the settlement period. 

If you’re serious about the property, you’ll want to put an offer in as soon as possible — especially if it’s in a sought-after area and the market is booming. Putting in an offer sooner rather than later also speeds up the process so the vendor doesn’t get distracted by other offers and may be happy with what you are proposing. It also brings you closer to exchanging contracts, so there’s less chance of being gazumped, where you receive a verbal agreement for your offer only to be outbid before a written agreement is signed. 

You will need to put a formal offer in writing and submit it to the seller’s agent, who then passes it on to the vendor. If you’re a first home buyer, you’ll also want to consult with experts such as mortgage brokers and a conveyancing solicitor about the best way to make a formal offer. 

Remember, the longer it takes you to make an offer, the longer you give other buyers the chance to look over the property and make competitive offers. This is also why having loan pre-approval can help you get your finances together faster than someone who doesn’t. 

Think about a counter offer

After you’ve lodged your order with the vendor’s agent, a few scenarios can play out. Obviously, the most favourable one is that your offer is accepted. If your offer is accepted, you should move to expedite the process, such as organising building inspections, as quickly as possible so you can exchange contracts and your purchase is safe. 

Alternatively, they may give you a counter offer. That may be quite reasonable, involving only a little bit more money, relatively, and terms regarding settlement and repairs that are acceptable to you. 

They may also counter an offer with an amount that requires a lot of consideration because it’s more than you’ve budgeted for or are even capable of raising. So, you may need to consider responding with a counter offer of your own. In this situation, it’s always a good idea to talk to property experts with experience with these offers, such as mortgage brokers, buyers agents, or conveyancing solicitors.   

Exchange contracts

Neither the buyer nor seller are legally bound by anything until they exchange the contracts of sale. So, doing this marks a critical juncture in the process as it means that for you, the purchaser — the place is yours, and no one can pull it out from under you with a higher bid.  

As part of the process, there are two copies of the sale contract, one for the buyer and one for the seller. Both copies are signed by both parties and exchanged by your solicitor or conveyancer within a few days of the agreed-upon date, depending on where you live in Australia.

The deposit, which is usually 20% of the property’s value but may differ depending on your agreement, also gets paid. Next is the final settlement, which happens four to six weeks after the exchange and is also contingent on what you have agreed to. You also may want to organise home insurance at this time so it’s operational from the day you move in.

Importantly, there is a cooling-off period of up to five business days for buyers but not sellers after the exchange of contracts. Generally, the buyer will not lose any of their deposit if they decide not to proceed with the purchase for whatever reason, but this rule does not apply to auctions. If both sides agree, the cooling-off period can also be waived or shortened. 

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