Earlier in the month, news broke that a house in Sunnyvale sold for almost $800,000 over the asking price. It was a modest, by middle Americans standards, three bedroom, two bath house. The house is only about 1,200 square feet, which is less than half the average American home. It caused a bidding war and next thing anyone knew, it sold for $2,470,000, which was $782,000 over list.
What is a bidding war?
Bidding wars have become the norm in California real estate. Savvy real estate agents often intentionally list homes on the low end, hoping to encourage bidding wars. The tactic works. That Sunnyvale home had 15 offers, seven of which were from people who worked at either Apple or Google.
It’s not just Silicon Valley. When we bought our East Bay home, we lost several properties to bidding wars, and ultimately to cash offers, before settling on our “needs a little work” choice.
Can a regular person win a bidding war?
If you are an executive at Google or Apple (or at any number of tech firms), you might not have a problem, but for those of us who have solid middle class incomes, a low down payment and good credit, is there a chance?
While it is tough to compete with billionaires and those with all-cash offers, there are ways to help boost your chances. Here are some tips from CNBC:
- Get pre-approved and pull together some cash — Sellers don’t have the patience these days to deal with uncertainty. They want to know that any offer is set in stone, so make sure you are pre-approved for your loan and try, if at all possible, to put down at least 20 percent.
- Be quick — In a hot housing market, look at the hunt as a second job. Don’t rely on just your realtor. Drive your desired neighborhoods and religiously scan Realtor.com for new listings. Try to schedule immediate viewings. The goal is to be the first offer.
- Include an escalation clause in your offer — Ask your real estate agent to include an escalation clause that will allow you to top other offers, up to your desired upper limit. The clause, if properly worded, will raise your offer to just above the highest current bid. For example, if you list your highest bid at $500,000 and the current highest offer is $480,000, your official bid will be about $481,000.
- Inspection — While nearly every expert recommends that a homebuyer have the house inspected, in a seller’s market, it could disqualify you. Instead, CNBC recommends that you go ahead with the inspection before making the offer. You will have to pay for it, but the seller will be happy to know that you won’t back out because of previously unforeseen problems with the house.
- Charm the sellers — Unless your seller is just an investor, they have invested a decent portion of their lives in that house. Sure, they want to maximize their profit, but they also want to know that the house will be loved. Send them a house love letter (your agent can forward it). Include pictures of your family.
- Remember it’s not just about winning — Winning a bidding war is great, unless you don’t really want the prize. Spend some time in the neighborhood. Check out the schools. Also have your agent check “comps” or comparable sales to make sure you aren’t overpaying for the home. As tight as our housing market is, it’s still better to rent than to dramatically overpay for a house you didn’t really want.