No pressure, but making an offer on a house will probably be one of the most important things you ever do. Again, no pressure. In truth, going through the offer stage doesn’t need to be a stressful experience (you can save that for moving day) if you know how to approach this essential stage in the house-buying journey.
You’ll want to come across as a serious buyer, which means researching and understanding the market dynamics about making the right offer. That’s the purpose of this guide, which has everything you need to know about making an offer on a house. Plus, how to stand the best chance of that offer getting accepted and a review of the process, including where improvements can be made to help buyers and sellers.
What does it mean to make an offer on a house?
Making an offer on a house isn’t something you take lightly. After all, you’ve probably spent weeks (if not months) searching the market, viewing properties and trying to find a home. Once you have found the perfect place, whether it’s your first home or forever house, you need to start the process of actually trying to buy it. And while it might sound like stating the obvious, there are always two parties involved: the buyer and the seller, with both sides playing a pivotal role.
The buyer’s perspective
As the buyer, you want to ensure your offer gets accepted. But before even getting to that stage, it’s good to show the seller and the estate agent that you’re serious. You can do this by providing a mortgage in principle certificate if you’re buying with a mortgage. It shows how much you can borrow up to, which offers more leeway when negotiating prices. Alternatively, a cash buyer should be able to prove they have the necessary funds in place. By providing this information, sellers and estate agents know that you mean business and aren’t someone who is casually exploring the market. They’re likely to take you more seriously as a result.
The seller’s perspective
The seller, otherwise known as the vendor, wants the best overall deal. But that doesn't just mean accepting the highest offer – they will likely factor in other elements, such as the buyer's position (are they in a chain, a cash buyer, etc.?). The seller's situation also comes into play. Do they want to sell the home quickly, or are they happy to wait until a suitable offer lands on their table? Understanding these elements is important because it gives buyers a clearer overview of the person selling the property and their needs.
The bigger picture
So many factors that go into buying a house, and not all of them are under your control. Is it a seller's market (where demand outstrips supply), or is it a buyer's market (where there's more stock available than demand)?
In 2021, for example, buyers had a tough time navigating the market. More people were looking for a house than there was available stock, which resulted in rising property prices across the UK. On top of that, some buying trends have changed since Covid: people are reviewing what they want from a home. This has made houses with added space and gardens more in demand than big-city apartments.
This is all to say that you need to grasp the local market where you want to buy a home and understand your own situation before going in with that first offer. Your opening bid is arguably the most important, even if it's only the first one. It sets the tone for the rest of the negotiations, and you want to go in with total confidence.
What should I consider before making an offer?
Research and communication are two essential aspects that can help get you off to a good start when making an offer on a house. Sometimes, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture will provide you with more clarity, and it all starts with some basic research.
Research local house prices
This is the part where you become a temporary expert in your local property market. Start by researching the area for other houses listed for sale. You can do this by looking on property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla to see price ranges for similar homes. For example, if you're searching for a three-bedroom house in Bournemouth, look at other three-bed homes within a five-mile radius. They might not be like-for-like, and you need to consider factors such as renovation, extensions and parking. But you should be able to get an idea of the asking prices. This can help provide the foundation for your opening offer.
Talk to the estate agent
The estate agent works on behalf of the sellers and wants to get them the best offer. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t enquire about the vendor’s situation. You might not get a detailed report, but ask the agent if the seller wants to move quickly, how long the house has been on the market and if they might have an appetite to accept a lower offer. Estate agents are pretty guarded as they, understandably, don’t want to reveal too much information about their clients. But they also want to do a deal, and there’s no harm in asking for some information on the seller that could help you put forward a strong first offer.
“While I’m instructed by the vendor, it doesn’t mean I can’t also work with the buyer if they have questions. Buyers often ask me about the seller’s situation, such as their appetite for a quick sale or the type of offers they’re willing to consider. I’m happy to oblige if the outcome is the best for both parties.” , London-based estate agent.
Can a buying agent help?
While the estate agent primarily works on behalf of the seller, you can level the playing field by instructing a buying agent. Their job is to find you a property that best fits your requirements and negotiate a price on your behalf. Buying agents have a knack for finding properties not actively on the market, as they can tap into their network of contacts. They also understand the negotiation process, which can be handy for buyers who don't feel confident about making an offer. However, there is a price involved with using a buying agent, and it's still quite rare for buyers to use buying agents when buying a home.
Think about your own situation
Sellers typically want a smooth sale for the highest price. Yet, they can't always get everything on their wishlist, which is why your circumstances play a vital role in accepting an offer. If you're chain-free (buying without needing to sell a property first), the vendor will likely favour your bid over similar ones. Being a cash buyer can help speed up the process and make the seller consider your offer, even if it's slightly lower. This is because chain-free and cash buyers offer more security – the sale is unlikely to fall apart because of complications with your own sale, and buying with cash means you don't need to rely on a mortgage lender to facilitate the purchase.
The role of the estate agent
Estate agents haven't always had the best reputation, but they are an important component in the house-buying process. Yes, they primarily work with the seller's interests, but they aim to sell the house at a price everyone agrees on.
No one knows the market like a local estate agent. If they think the seller's asking price is too high, they'll offer their advice and recommend a more realistic asking price. And just because the seller has instructed the agent, don't think they won't advise you during the buying process.
The best estate agents are on top of everything for both the seller and buyer. They'll recommend solicitors if needed and keep everyone in the loop during the process. A good-quality estate agent will help both the seller and buyer while keeping the whole process ticking along, fully aware that the buyer may also become a seller needing an agent in the future.
How to make an offer
You've done the research and spoken to the estate agent. You're sure this is the house for you and are ready to make an offer in the hope that it gets accepted. But how do you place that first offer while ensuring it puts you in a strong negotiating position?
The first thing you need to do is contact the estate agent, letting them know of your offer. They will relay it to the vendor, who will accept, reject or come back with a counter. Traditionally, you’ll need to put an offer in writing, either via an email or letter. It’s important at this stage that you have evidence of the offer, which you can refer back to as proof.
How much should I offer?
When making an offer on a house, it’s always good to start low. Otherwise, you give yourself little wiggle room and might inadvertently drive the price up as other parties get involved. Yet, your opening offer needs to be realistic. If you come in with a derisory bid, the seller will think you're just wasting their time. As a rule of thumb, start by offering between 5 and 10% lower than the asking price.
Sellers usually expect opening offers to come in lower and set the asking price accordingly when the house goes on the market. Of course, each scenario varies, and you might find there’s already significant demand for the property. If this is the case, the agent should tell you, and the option of going in low is probably out of the equation.
Handy offer tips
What happens if I already own a property?
Nothing states you need to have an offer accepted on your property before making one on another home. However, if you have already accepted an offer on your place, you're essentially showing the vendor that you're ready to sell and buy simultaneously, which can help influence their decision. They may see your offer as a more attractive option than the other ones on the table.
The offer stage is arguably the most important part of buying a house. There's still much to do once it's accepted, but this part takes you one step closer to getting the keys. If the seller accepts the offer, everything becomes that much more real, and you can start the process of buying the house.
What’s next after the offer is accepted?
After the offer is accepted, the estate agent should remove the property listing and take it off the market. However, they might leave it listed at the seller's request, who is hoping for an even higher offer. As soon as you've had an offer accepted, ask the agent to take the property down. If they do, then there's a higher chance the seller is completely satisfied with your offer and, like you, is keen to complete the sale.
You will need to instruct the solicitor and arrange a survey on the property from here. Gazumping can still occur at this stage, and nothing is legally binding until contracts are exchanged. Still, having an offer accepted means you've cleared a major hurdle and are well on your way to buying the property.
How can the offer process be improved?
The offer process can be improved significantly. Currently, there isn’t much foresight around making an offer on a home. Buyers rely on the information relayed from estate agents about other offers. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it can be time-consuming for everyone involved. It involves back and forth phone calls, all the while agents are dealing with other instructions. Plus, buyers and vendors often struggle to find the time to contact agents for updates during the working hours.
What if you had more control over making an offer? An increasing number of estate agents are now adding offer buttons to their listings, so potential buyers can go to the property page and make an online offer after viewing the property in person, anytime, anywhere.
Everything about the process is similar to the traditional way of buying a house, only now you just need to click a button and enter your offer. Even better, you’ll be able to see other offers on the property, which provides more clarity. If, for example, you see that the highest offer is out of your price range, you can walk away and look for another home without waiting for days or weeks to find out.
Suddenly, the most crucial part of the sales journey becomes the easiest. Improvements in technology are continuously finding solutions for a property process that hasn't aged particularly well. Making an offer online on the estate agent's website gives all parties more control and provides an extra layer of transparency to making an offer.
Final thoughts: offer accepted
Buying a home takes time, and there are many moving parts involved. By preparing well and doing your research, while also showing that you're a serious buyer with documents like a mortgage in principle, you can make the offer process that little bit easier. Getting your offer accepted is the first step to buying a home, and with the right tools you can give yourself the best chance of making sure your offer is successful.