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How to Make a Winning Real Estate Offer With a Few Easy Tricks

Buying a home is difficult enough, but in a seller’s market it becomes a mad rush to make your best offer and then pray it’s accepted. Fortunately, you can make your offer stand out by taking a few easy steps that most bidders neglect.

How to make a winning real estate offer.My offer to purchase a home in Poway, California recently beat out 19 other offers. Literally 19 strong offers!

How did I do it?

Representing myself and my husband as the buyer’s agent, I realized that on this particular property, the seller cared about selling to a family rather than an investor. So I brought my adorable toddler to the open house so that the listing agent and neighbors would fall in love with him (which of course they did)! Then I wrote a sappy  (but 100 percent true) cover letter about how badly we wanted to get my son into a great school district and how we could see raising our family in the house. Our offer was accepted and we love our new house!

Of course, we  had made five unsuccessful offers prior to nabbing this one.

Real estate markets across the nation are tipping in favor of sellers such that a prospective buyer must hastily make their best offer on a home and, in many cases, compete against savvy investors who can pay cash for the property.

Submitting a winning real estate offer comes down to a combination of business savoir faire and human interest. Let’s take a look at both.

What makes a strong real estate offer?

When comparing offers, sellers usually consider the following:

  • Purchase price
  • Whether the offer is cash or requires financing
  • If financing is required, the loan type and the borrower’s qualifications (i.e., whether they are pre-approved)
  • The closing date
  • Conditions on the sale (for example: inspections or the sale of another property)
  • Other costs that impact the seller’s profit

This last item might include anything from buyers asking the seller to pay for termite repairs, buyers asking for the seller to pay for a home warranty, or buyers asking for sellers to credit them money towards their closing costs. The more you ask the seller to pay on your behalf, the lower the seller’s net and the less likely they are to accept your offer. You still have the right to get all of the home inspections that you want and if you choose to you can purchase a home warranty, but it’s better in this market to pay for these type of items yourself than to ask the seller to do so.

If you are offering to pay all cash for the property, make sure you give your agent a recent proof of funds (such as a bank statement with the account number whited out) to send to the listing agent with the offer. If your purchase offer requires financing, don’t even think about sending in the offer without a preapproval. If you don’t have one yet, stop looking at houses and contact a mortgage lender.

Cover letters

Some bidders include a personal cover letter with their real estate offers. In such letter, you can introduce yourself and briefly describe why you like the home. Obviously, a cover letter won’t always convince a seller to take your lower offer over another, but there is no downside to doing one, so I recommend buyers include it. You can prepare a generic letter introducing yourself and then change the date and details about each house on which you bid.

When the sellers are the homeowners, such a personal appeal may in fact help you win out over close offers that don’t include letters. I should note, however, that a letter probably won’t help you if you’re going after a foreclosure or short sale. The asset managers at  banks are not emotional about the properties in their inventory. They don’t care about the details of your family life; unfortunately they only care about their money!

Going above and beyond

Making the terms of your offer stand out by going above and beyond can sometimes do the trick. I recently saw a buyer beat out a plethora of other buyers on their offer of a home here in San Diego but doing something very bold: instead of asking for the seller to pay for the buyer’s closing costs, the buyers put in the offer that they will pay $5,000 towards the seller’s closing costs! Clearly, that made one happy seller. If you have the funds to do so, you can also consider adding in something like “upon successful close of escrow, buyers will pay $500 for seller’s moving van” into the contract.

You would think, “why not simply add $500 to the purchase price?” Although the net result may be nearly the same, human beings are irrational creatures and may be swayed but such nontraditional gestures.

Summarize your offer with bullet points

As a real estate broker, I love it when the agents who send me offers use bullet points to highlight the terms in a simple email or cover letter attachment. Why?

  • Real estate contracts are several pages of dense text, and there are sometimes 10-20 offers on one listing.
  • Anything that saves time is greatly appreciated.
  • Presenting multiple offers to the sellers takes a very long time. Even though it’s required it can still be stressful for the sellers.
  • Sellers typically want to look at the highlighted terms such as purchase price, type of loan, how many days the escrow will be and closing costs splits first.

I realize it seems silly and you don’t actually have to write your cover letter using bullet points or request that your agent use them in a formal email submitting the offer, but the main idea here is that both you and the buyer’s agent that you hire need to be extremely organized. The easier you make things for the seller and seller’s agent, the more likely you are to get your offer accepted.

If you’ve already put in several offers and are starting to feel discouraged, take heart; it takes time to buy a home. Making a few changes in the terms and presentation method of your offer can make a big impact. Oh, and I don’t recommend borrowing anyone’s toddler to take to an open house. The listing agent on the house that I bought just happened to be my new next-door neighbor. Good thing I was truthful!

Published or updated on July 9, 2013

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website


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  1. Adam says:

    Great article! Never would have thought of writing a cover letter for a home purchase and low and behold, on my recent purchase, the seller said it was the reason they picked my offer over 4 other offers.

    Thank you for providing practical and relevant information.

  2. Todd Spiller says:

    In a recent cover letter written by one of my clients, the buyer included praise for the home and its condition as well as area shools. The offer included sale contingencies however the seller appreciated the personal touch and was impressed by the buyers’ family and qualifications. The Seller was very proud of and emotionally attached to the home and the compliments really helped make the difference!

    • Angela says:

      That’s a good point. In many negotiations, like buying a car or piece of furniture, sometimes it makes sense to be lukewarm about the purchase or walk away as if you’re not interested. Buying a home in a sellers market is so different. It’s important to many sellers to know that buyers are in love with their home and will take good care of it.

  3. Thomas says:

    Great tips but mostly this only would work if we were buying a home for the family. Since we just purchased one how could I make offers sweeter if buy as an investor. Most of the homes i have seen are either short sales or foreclosures so nothing you can do with the seller there. We paid the closing costs for our home as well. Funny we got the home a lot cheaper then asking but paying closing and the fact that my wife was pregnant help the seller go with us.

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