5 Tips to Get Your Offer Accepted in a Seller's Market

It’s a lousy time to buy a house — and I feel qualified to say this, both as a personal finance writer and an aspiring homeowner. According to the National Association of Realtors, February 2024 featured just a 2.9-month supply of homes for sale — it takes four to six months’ worth to create a more balanced market between buyers and sellers. To add insult to injury, the price of homes for sale was also up 5.7% over a year prior.

Higher prices, fewer homes — what’s a hopeful buyer to do? Well, consider the following moves to give yourself an advantage.

1. Work with an experienced real estate agent

I feel so fortunate to be working with an agent who has more years in the real estate industry than I’ve been alive. She also has at least a nodding acquaintance with other agents, as well as local mortgage lenders. She came highly recommended by friends who worked with her when they bought their home five years ago.

A good real estate agent can be your best friend in the house-hunting and buying process — they’ve seen it all before, and can provide words of wisdom or reassure you when you’re low-key freaking out after signing an offer for a home. And best of all, they can help you craft an offer that will at least be considered seriously in a seller’s market.

2. Get pre-approved

If you’re getting a mortgage to buy a home, your financial situation is absolutely crucial to the whole process. Mortgage lenders consider your credit score, your existing debts, your employment situation, and your credit history to decide if you’re worth extending a loan to. This is what happens when you apply for mortgage pre-approval, which is a good idea if you’re hoping to buy a home.

Unfortunately, in a seller’s market, if you’re borrowing and one of the competing offers is a cash deal, you’ll be at a disadvantage no matter what. But if you can show a seller that you’re pre-approved, it holds you up as a serious buyer, and one whose deal is less likely to fall through than someone who hasn’t had their finances vetted.

More: Check out our picks for the best mortgage lenders

3. Make a generous earnest money deposit

In some markets, you’ll need to make an earnest money deposit no matter what, but it becomes even more crucial in a seller’s market. You’re basically writing a check to make a “good faith deposit” on a given house, and showing a seller that not only have your financials been vetted, but you’ve got cash in the bank, ready to go.

If your offer is accepted, that check will be deposited in an escrow account, and assuming the deal goes through, it’ll be paid toward your down payment at closing. If you terminate the contract for a reason not specified in the paperwork, you’ll lose that money — so keep this in mind. An offer of several thousand dollars might nudge a seller to take your offer — because again, you look like a more serious and committed buyer.

4. Build an escalation clause into your offer

If you want an edge against competing buyers who might outbid you for a house, consider having your agent write an escalation clause into your offer. This says that your purchase price offer can be increased by set amounts to beat another offer, up to a certain point.

Don’t go over your pre-established budget to buy a home — you don’t want to end up house poor and struggling to afford the expenses of homeownership. But if your initial offer is $20,000 under your max, consider adding that escalation to give yourself an edge.

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5. Be a flexible buyer, if possible

If you have the ability to be flexible when buying a home, now is the time to play it up. There’s likely not going to be a way to write some of your flexibility into a contract, but if you have an agent who is neck-deep in your local market, they might be able to advocate on your behalf with a seller’s agent.

I’m hoping mine will make it known that I’m a serious buyer who is not selling a house, and I’m on a month-to-month lease. All of these factors mean that I have no set deadline to close or move, and if a seller needs more or less time, I can likely work with that.

If you’re OK waiving certain contingencies in your contract, this is a way you can be flexible — that said, I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to waive a home inspection. A bad inspection report doesn’t mean you have to terminate a contract — but it means you’ll have the full idea of what’s going on with a house. And knowledge is always power.

If you’re looking for a house to buy right now, you have my sympathies. Take a deep breath, polish your finances to get a better mortgage rate, and cross your fingers. You’ll get an offer accepted eventually.

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