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5 Cutthroat Tactics I Devised Out of Sheer Desperation To Buy a House—That Worked

Jillian Pretzel

I had bought a home years ago, so I figured I knew what to do when my husband and I started shopping for a new house in the Los Angeles area during summer 2021. Boy, was I wrong.

I quickly learned that today’s real estate market is light years different from my last go-around. If I were to succeed at buying a house today, I’d have to hammer out a whole new playbook.

After nearly a year of searching (and learning from our mistakes), my husband and I managed to snag a home. Along the way, we forged a few unorthodox methods to get the edge in this hyper-competitive market. Trust us, these tips are not ones we heard from well-meaning friends who’d bought homes before. They were cutthroat, newly minted tactics born out of desperation to find a better way.

To help bring other buyers up to speed, here are the hard-won lessons we learned house hunting in today’s market. I hope they help you rise to the challenge, too.

1. Never believe a list price—instead, check comps

Straight out of the gates, I fell in love with the very first home I saw. The charming condo had just come on the market, and it checked every box: three bedrooms, outdoor space, an attached garage, and a beautifully updated kitchen. Plus, it was in a great location (just a few minutes from my mom, aka our go-to babysitter). We contacted our real estate agent right after the open house.

“We love it,” I told her. “We’ll offer full asking.”

living room
The house I fell in love with at the beginning of my homebuying saga.

Realtor.com

My agent contacted the seller’s agent, then called me back.

“They already have five offers over asking,” she said.

We’d later find out that the house sold for $80,000 over asking price.

I felt like I’d gotten caught in some sort of real estate magic trick. Now you see the perfect house. Now you don’t. We’d found a place we loved, listed for a price we could afford, and we’d even offered what the sellers were asking for. But in the end, we were left empty-handed.

I felt deflated and exhausted, and our home search was just beginning.

kitchen
Another photo from the house I loved early on. The kitchen, like every room, was newly updated.

Realtor.com

At first, we couldn’t believe how much other buyers were willing to pay for that little condo we loved. But after touring a few more places (and seeing them also sell for way over the asking price), we realized that, in this market, sales price and list price can be very different things. Between desperate buyers and sellers pricing their homes low in hopes of starting a bidding war, it’s not unusual for homes in my area to sell for $50,000 or even $100,000 over the list price.

So, instead of filtering homes online by list price, we started checking the actual price that homes sold for using the Realtor.com® recently sold tool. Also known as comps, these prices were a more accurate gauge of what we should offer.

courtyard
The elegant courtyard in another house I loved—and couldn’t afford.

Realtor.com

2. Making an offer sight unseen isn’t as scary as it sounds

Months passed. We’d spend weekends looking at houses, hopeful that we’d find a hidden gem. But house hunting became a draining, unpaid second job we both hated, where our only co-workers were an overworked real estate agent and an impatient toddler. I was losing hope that we’d ever find a place.

living room
Some of the houses we saw were seriously dated.

Realtor.com

Eventually, my husband spent a couple of weekends touring houses on his own. Between diaper changes and missed nap times, touring with our baby was too much and I was happy to let him go alone.

One Sunday, my husband called to say he’d found a house he’d like to make an offer on. The sellers were reviewing offers the next day, so I didn’t have time to tour the space myself. Still, we decided to make an offer. I’d heard of buyers losing out on dozens of houses before having an offer accepted. Maybe it was time we at least throw our hat in the ring.

Technically, I wasn’t making an offer totally sight unseen, because my husband saw it. But it was still scary. I kept telling myself that a bid doesn’t necessarily mean a buy, especially in this competitive market. And even if our offer was accepted and I later wanted to back out, buyers can change their minds. You could lose some fees and, in some cases, your earnest money, but there are ways to back out. The house isn’t yours until escrow closes.

living room
Some houses had promising interiors but bad locations.

Realtor.com

3. Get intel on what other buyers are offering

Our agent advised us to offer $50,000 over asking price, since the highest offers, so far, were in that ballpark range. We were glad we knew how much others were offering. If our agent didn’t keep us updated, we might have offered too low of a price.

These days, sellers in hot markets will likely set a day to review the offers that come in. This allows them time to decide which one to accept, but it can be inconvenient for buyers who won’t know if their offer is accepted for a few days.

In our case, it helped to have our agent talk to the seller’s agent ahead of time and find out how many offers the house had already fetched, and for how much.

kitchen
I didn’t get to see the house in person before making an offer, but I studied the listing photos.

Realtor.com

So go ahead and ask your agent what’s already being offered, and check right up to the last day. In a competitive market, it pays to stay informed.

4. Drop contingencies to win a bidding war

After putting in our offer, the seller countered with the top three buyers, including us.

Our agent advised us to up the offer by $10,000, but I was hesitant. We were already over budget, and while $10,000 is small compared with the price of the house, we simply couldn’t offer more. We countered with the same price but dropped some contingencies.

The next day our agent called back: We got the house.

main bathroom
The main bathroom seemed plain, but it boasted a large closet.

Realtor.com

One of the reasons our offer was accepted was the contingencies we waived.

Common contingencies include an appraisal, home inspection, financing, and prior sale. We waived the appraisal contingency (we were confident the house would appraise for what we offered) and the financing contingency (we were already approved for a loan). But we kept the inspection contingency. In the end, the home inspection found nothing alarming, but the peace of mind was worth it.

Waiving contingencies can be scary because they protect the buyer. But in this market, it might be beneficial to drop one or more in order to be competitive.

5. Don’t be afraid of a fixer-upper

The house we ended up with is in good shape, but it’s dated. These days it’s unrealistic for most buyers to get a perfect house.

We learned that it doesn’t cost much to replace door handles, faucets, light fixtures, and paint. These small fixes freshened up our home for little money. So before you write off some ugly duckling, go online or to a hardware store and check how much a few key updates will run you.

And don’t feel like you have to make these updates all at once. Currently, our house still needs some work (new floors, some paint for the cabinets). But at least it’s ours, and it’s getting better all the time.

The post 5 Cutthroat Tactics I Devised Out of Sheer Desperation To Buy a House—That Worked appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

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