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Tips for helping your buyer clients win a bidding war

In a seller’s market, your buyer clients don’t just need well-written, pre-approved and contingency-free offers. You’ve got to make sure they soar above the others. And there most likely will be others: In January 2021, 56% of buyers faced a bidding war—up from 52% the month before. You need to move fast for your buyer clients, considering it currently takes less than two weeks for most houses to go under contract. 

It can be challenging to write a winning offer in today’s ultra-competitive climate, but a stellar offer with irresistible terms can get your clients their dream home in a bidding war. To get some insight on how to craft a killer offer, RealTrends spoke with Julie Busby—a 20-year real estate industry veteran and the founder of Chicago-area Busby Group, which closed on $65 million in total sales in 2020. Busby herself is in the top 1% of Chicago-area brokers. She’s a Certified Negotiation Expert, and RealTrends tapped into that negotiation expertise to learn about the real estate market in Chicagoland, and find out how Busby and her team are closing deals and winning bidding wars amid historic buyer competition.   

Busby said she’s worked in boutique brokerages before, but chose to affiliate her current team under the Compass real estate umbrella for the increased market presence working with a large brokerage affords her team—currently made up of seven associated brokers and three office staff members. And market reach is important right now; the pandemic has triggered a wave of cross-country or otherwise long-distance moves (which happens to be Busby’s niche; she’s a relocation specialist and has her SportStar Relocation certification). The movers are headed to the suburbs in Chicagoland. Single-family homes coming on the market in the suburbs can nearly always count on receiving multiple offers in the current market, Busby said. But high rises, condos and other multifamily properties in the city just aren’t that popular right now.

“So, I’ll get sellers who call and say, ‘Hey, I hear it’s multiple offers. It’s a crazy market. Why do I not have an offer?’ Unfortunately, it’s just the nature of the game.”

It’s definitely a seller’s game going into the spring/summer 2021 season, even if not every seller gets their own bidding war. Homes in Busby’s territory are selling for upwards of $100,000 over asking price, and Busby said she’s had to caution some buyer clients to bow out when the price outpaces the value or the client’s budget. When she does have buyer clients whose financing allows them to compete in a bidding war, Busby said it’s important to be transparent with them. 

“When you’re the buyer’s broker you say, ‘Look, we’re going to find things. And I usually know the value of the home, and … I can tell when we’re going to find probably $5,000 worth of repairs, or we’re going to find about $10,000,’” she said. “Let them know that they’re going to be spending that after they close, making some repairs. As long as you’re having those conversations, then you don’t get that buyer remorse.” 

So, how does Busby’s team write offers for their buyer clients that outperform all the others in a bidding war but don’t shoot the moon? Here are some tips.

Call for highest and best

Calling for highest and best offers by a certain date can help your buyers stay in the running in a multiple-offer situation or a bidding war, Busby said. Setting a firm deadline and establishing that the seller will review all offers at the same time after that point keeps the seller from negotiating individually with each offeror, which Busby said can “muddy the waters.” 

“You don’t want the seller negotiating individually with us, and then maybe negotiating individually with someone else, because you don’t know what those terms are,” she said. “Your offer may get lost behind others’ and you don’t even know it because another party is progressing sooner than you are. So it’s better to just have clear transparency for everyone.”

Do your homework

It can truly be the terms that win the bidding war, Busby said. Do the sellers need to stay for six months while their new home is built? Do they need to close immediately? The only way to know what the sellers want is to ask.

“I immediately call the listing broker and say, ‘We’d love to work with you on this. Help me understand what is driving your seller. What are their priorities? What are their real estate goals?’”

Busby often comes away from those calls with information other buyers’ brokers don’t have, but only because they didn’t ask. She discourages her seller clients from considering “love letters,” citing issues with discrimination, but said that her buyer clients do sometimes submit them with their offers. They can be done correctly if the focus remains on hobbies or commonalities that do not violate fair housing rules.

Offer choice terms and services

Coming in with financing approval or other proof of funds is non-negotiable, and Busby said agents need to sell themselves and their services to the seller’s agent.

“I remind the broker that not only are my clients amazing because of X, Y and Z, but my team is amazing, and we’ll get this closed,” she said. “We work with non-alarming inspectors. We work with lenders who will get this done. I remind them why it’s important to work with someone who is knowledgeable on this process.” 

Dialing in the terms is still the most effective way to stand out among other offers in a bidding war. For example, Busby said waiving the appraisal contingency is a “big, big, big item right now.” Another strategy Busby suggested is negotiating terms in which the buyer agrees to pay the seller’s unpaid property taxes, or offers to absorb the cost of some other big-ticket repair or bill. Meeting the seller’s needs can be the golden ticket for your buyer clients in a bidding war.

Come in last

When your buyers are faced with a bidding war and a firm submission deadline, Busby said it’s best to wait until just before the deadline to submit their highest and best offer.

“Let’s say they call for the highest-and-best offers two days from now, and someone swoops in immediately with an offer that’s $200K over ask(ing price) … That sets the precedent,” Busby explained. “So if the listing broker gets a phone call from another broker asking, ‘Hey, where are you at right now with offers?’ it might come out then that there’s already a very strong offer, well above list.”

To make sure that doesn’t happen, Busby waits until the very last minute to submit her client’s offer in a bidding war, and she also picks up the phone before sending it to let the listing broker know it’s on its way. 

Busby also cautioned brokers to take a hard look at comps when crafting an offer for their clients, especially in a bidding war. When researching comparable sales, looking back to September, October or November of 2020 might mean severely underpricing your clients’ home, or it could mean losing a purchase because your offer comes in way too low. 

“The demand (in the fall) wasn’t where it is now. And the inventory was a little higher than what it is now, too. So we can’t even look at those comparable sales,” Busby said. “Let’s actually look at the pendings and see how quickly did they close? Oh, they closed in a day? If you make an offer based on comparable sales from October, you’re likely coming in too low.”