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, it's okay to compare the widely ranging estimates provided by Zillow, Trulia and Redfin, but understand that those can sometimes paint and inaccurate picture and it's important to work closely with your agent so they can guide you in the right direction. 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. Your real estate agent will do as much recon as possible so your offer package is the most attractive to that particular seller.
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 you go in with the right expectations though -- buyers are often purchasing homes that have been lived in before and are being sold in "as-is" condition. Over time, maintenance and repairs become necessary but don't represent a flaw in the condition of the home. Your agent will guide you to understand major vs minor concerns so you aren't losing sleep over the hinges of a door being loose.
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 pre-approved, 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. The most important part about working with an agent is finding the right professional to team up with. A good relationship with your agent will speak volumes in every part of the process.
How a seller is treated — and how a buyer is represented — can often make or break a real estate deal.
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.
Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. This article originally appeared on NerdWallet.