Buying a House: Working With a Real Estate Agent to Make an Offer

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Couple buying a house with a real estate agent

When making an offer, a real estate agent brings some pretty powerful assets to the table: market knowledge, objectivity and (hopefully) some well-honed negotiating skills. Buying a house is emotional, and your agent can help level the field by bringing a more rational approach to the transaction. Here’s how the two of you can work together to get the best possible deal.

Don’t ignore the market

When it comes to making an offer, it’s more important than ever to consider a home’s value — which might not be the same as its listing price. Carefully study the comparative market analysis provided by your real estate agent. When researching the home and neighborhood’s value online, compare the estimates provided by Zillow, Trulia and Redfin, which can range widely.

Your agent will help you interpret the data and establish a fair offer price.

Staying sane in a seller’s market

If you’re buying a house in a hot market, it’s easy to get caught up in auction fever. Your agent can help keep you focused only on what you can control. If a number of buyers are interested in the same home, make your first bid your best offer.

If you’re really motivated to buy a particular property, consider putting together two or more offers in advance. That way, if there are no competing offers, your agent can submit the lowest. The higher offers can be the go-to bids if there’s a crowded field.

Find out why the seller is moving

The seller usually wants to sell as much as, if not more than, you want to buy. He has just one house to sell; you have a market full of opportunities. Of course, this is less of a factor in a strong seller’s market where inventory is low. But if the seller has already signed a contract on his next home, or if there’s a divorce in the mix or a job relocation timetable in play, that’s all good information to have. Have your real estate agent do as much recon as possible.

Keep the contingencies in check

In competitive real estate markets, contingencies can be deal killers. When it comes to conditions, get creative. Forget the little stuff and concentrate on major issues that must be addressed — and offer alternatives.

For example, if an inspection reveals necessary repairs, ask for a credit adjustment to be applied at closing, rather than putting the onus of contracting and completing the repair work on the owner. Anything you can do to ease the sales process and shorten the time to loan closing may work in your favor.

Make sure your agent is a strong advocate

Ideally, your buyer’s agent is both a master negotiator and your biggest advocate. For sellers, it’s not always just about the money. If your agent is singing your praises (you’re preapproved, love the neighborhood, offering a bigger down payment), you might score the edge in what would have been a tie. Personalities play a part in any human interaction.

How a seller is treated — and how a buyer is represented — can often make or break a real estate deal. Make sure your agent is at least pretending to be your biggest fan.

If it’s a no, move on

Having a deal go south on you is going to hurt. You can wallow in your disappointment for as long as you want, or for about an hour — whichever comes first. Think of it this way: You’re not starting over; you’ve already eliminated a lot of the variables. You know how this whole thing works now. It’s just a matter of finding the right house.

But first, if you lost in a multiple-offer situation, see if your agent can get your bid in a backup position. Deals fall through, and if the accepted offer does crater — because of a loan snag, a broken contingency, whatever — you might be in a prime position to rescue a sale.

In the meantime, in addition to revisiting your house runners-up, consider asking your real estate agent to gather up some older or expired listings. Many buyers neglect this segment of the market. If a house has been on the market for a while without selling, you’ve got some leverage, perhaps even a motivated seller.

Getting the deal done

Congratulations! You finally have a signed contract in hand and can almost smell the green grass (desert blooms, pine-covered mountains, salty sea air — fumes of rush-hour traffic?) of your new neighborhood. You’re like a long-distance runner stretching for the finish-line tape. It’s time to move from deal making to loan closing.

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Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick