I just sold a home to a millennial-aged married couple. It's their first home, and they were quite excited about the process of looking, finding and buying. The adventure for them was downright brutal. We had to put in eight offers on eight homes before anyone accepted. They submitted over the asking price on every offer except one, with the carrot of lots of earnest money and a big down payment. Almost every time I presented an offer for them, there were multiple competing offers. This is now the norm. If you're looking at house porn on the web and about to leap into buying your first, second or even third home let's look at some strategies to win:
1. Talk to a lender and get pre-approved for a loan. A letter from that lender should accompany your offer. 2. Write a love letter. Yes, a photo of you and your dog, cat, partner, family, etc., can help. It personalizes things in an electronic world. 3. Put down as much earnest money as you can to show the sellers you are serious. Your broker will advise you, but you can get that money back (we'll get to that). Earnest money is credited toward your total funds needed at the end of the transaction when you come up with your down payment for the lender. 4. As a buyer, you have three "outs" once your offer is accepted. Under a standard contract, a buyer can get their earnest money back if the home doesn't appraise for the sale price, if you don't get approved for the final loan, or if you simply change your mind during what's called the "buyer's due diligence period" (also known as the amount of time negotiated for the buyer to do home inspections).
On several occasions, my couple lost out to cash buyers who didn't have to get a loan or appraisal. Zillow announced this spring that it will buy houses with their instant-offer program. This works for buyers who must sell a home to purchase another, and haven't sold the home where they are living. Buyers I work with all the time have to sell, and there's a strategy for that. You either sell the home ouright or negotiate a rent-back from the buyer while you try and find a home. FYI: Lenders generally only like to see a two-month rent-back lease at closing.
Have your broker use an escalation clause to help your offer. Let's say a seller is asking $350,000 for a house. You offer: "$350,000 but will pay up to $360,000 or $1000 over the highest competing offer". Good luck! Even in this market that language doesn't always work.