As a buyer, any piece of insider information you pick up can provide a strategic advantage. In red-hot markets with low inventory, it might seem as though sellers are in the driver’s seat — after all, they can sit back and choose from a pile of competing offers. But with a little know-how and a savvy real estate agent at your side, you can uncover the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that a seller is open to discussion. Here’s how to use them to your advantage.
1. Buzzwords in the listing
Sellers keen to unload a property probably won’t say so outright in a listing, says Michael Schiff, CEO/owner of the Schiff Home Team. Watch for listing terms such as “motivated seller,” “priced to sell,” or “needs TLC.” “Maybe there’s a bonus offer to the selling agent listed or an incentive to the buyer to close by a certain time. Those would be signs within the listing that they’re ready to bargain,” he says.
2. The seller’s agent spills the beans
Make sure your agent inquires about the seller’s motivation and objectives. More often than not, the listing agent will disclose lots of information. Perhaps the sellers are getting divorced and need to close quickly, or they’ve purchased another home and don’t want to carry two mortgages. These small insights can be very handy when you’re putting together your best offer.
3. ‘Tis the season … for a quick sale
Because there are fewer listings during the winter, off-season sellers are usually more motivated, says Melissa Tucci, a broker/real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. “Buyers might be able to get a better deal because there’s less competition,” she adds. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to negotiate a better price during peak real estate seasons, but it might be harder against other buyers.
4. The on-again, off-again property
Buyers sometimes get cold feet and back out of a sale — leaving a seller in a bind. Check the number of days on the market against the listing date. If they don’t match, it usually means the house was in escrow but the sale fell through. “If it’s fallen out of escrow, the seller is more apt to negotiate because they’re ready to move on,” says Tucci. In this case, the sellers may have a contingency contract on another home they hope to buy. And that could give them even more reason to accept your offer on the home they need to unload.
5. The property is vacant (or a mess)
The property itself can tell you a great deal about the seller’s situation, so pay attention during the walk-through. Does the home appear vacant? That often means the seller has moved and could be open to bargaining, says Schiff. “If a property doesn’t show well — there are packing boxes everywhere — you definitely have room for negotiation,” says Tucci.
On the flip side, adds Schiff, truly motivated sellers make sure their property looks fantastic. “When the house is in show-ready condition, the seller is taking the home-selling process seriously; they understand the value of a qualified buyer, and they’re ready to consider reasonable offers,” he notes.
6. A rock-bottom price
A rock-bottom price tag could indicate that time is more important to a seller than a big profit. But be careful. Homes listed well below market value can also be a sign the seller hopes to trigger a bidding war, says Susie Best, a broker with PorchLight Real Estate Group. “In a competitive market, effective negotiation means you get the house,” says Best. “A listing agent may not want to deal with the chaos of competition, and that can give a buyer an edge.”
7. The seller offers extras
A lower purchase price isn’t the only great deal to be had, notes Tucci. Motivated sellers are often ready to offer other inclusions that will save you big bucks. “You could ask for the appliances, a termite clearance, a home warranty, or closing costs,” she says. If you fall in love with a home and its furnishings, make sure you confirm they’re included — or include them in your offer.