No matter how seasoned a buyer may be, no matter how many homes you've purchased or what you know about the market value of homes in your area, it can still be unsettling to make a formal offer. Below are some ideas about what you should or shouldn't do when making an offer on a home.
Some buyers are so worried about overpaying for a home, or missing the seller's low point, that they come in with an extremely low offer, and it alienates the seller. If the house is obviously overpriced or low is all you can offer, go ahead and do it, but keep in mind that the seller might take it as a personal insult and may not want to deal with you. Consider making a more realistic first offer, if it all possible.
If you offer too high, you may never find out if the seller had a lower point, and might pay more than you needed to for a home. Try to obtain a good idea of the market and of that particular home's market value before you make any type of offer.
Be sure when requesting an agents help for making an offer that you are talking to the buyers agent, not the sellers. A seller's agent has a specific duty to get the best deal he can for the seller. Some agents will offer you a list of comparable properties and the prices they've sold for but will not help you decide the offer. Unethical agents might even try to talk you into a higher offer because they know what the seller is hoping to get. A buyer's agent, however, will help you determine what to offer. Not only will the agent run comparables for you, but will also help you plan and write the offer and probable even present it for you. Remember that having a buyer's agent doesn't cost you anything - their commission comes from the sale of the home.
Visit your county courthouse (or equivalent place where property records are kept). Ask the staff to explain how to decipher deeds or other records that indicate sales prices. An example: Possibly each tax dollar represents $500 in sales price, so it's easy to calculate how much the buyer paid for the property. Home buyers around the US will find huge differences in the ease of this type of search. Some record-keeping systems are much simpler to access than others. Some localities have records available on disk or online, but most do not.
This type of search is easiest to accomplish when you know the address of specific properties or the names of the buyers or sellers. If you attend open houses, keep the listing sheets. When the house has sold, go get the details. Attending open houses helps you track the condition of homes. It's hard to make comparisons by looking only at recorded stats. Check your local courthouse as well because some records could include home facts, sketches or even blueprints.
You might consider ordering an appraisal before you make an offer, however, you want to be sure that the results of your appraisal are not publicized because opinions can vary by appraiser. Also check out advertised prices for similar homes because it can give you an idea of average asking prices... keep in mind, however that the sales price is probably different than the asking price. Consider taking a look at your home's tax value, but it probably won't match exactly the market value of the property.
Be sure to consider other factors when deciding an offer amount. If the house has only been on the market for a short time, the sellers may not take the first offer, especially if it's lower than they'd desired. If it's been up for awhile or they need to move, they may be more motivated. Compare with other houses for sale in the same neighborhood or area. Look for repairs or updates needed, especially those that could be costly like roofs, plumbing, electrical, windows, baths or kitchens. If the repairs could be costly and immediate, the offer price could be lower if the seller understands why it is. Remember that your final decision on what to offer will come as a combination of your instinct and research.