The Inman Handbook on
how to juggle multiple offers
With some agents seeing upward of 20 or more offers on their listings in today’s market, the process can quickly become overwhelming for everyone involved. Here’s how to sift through what’s important to help sellers make the best decision.
In this tight inventory market , multiple offers are the norm. Having many offers to choose from is a good problem for a seller to have, but it’s not without its challenges. Some agents assert that the highest bidder (especially those with all-cash offers) will always be a seller’s best bet, but it’s not always that simple. To best protect your client and serve their interests, consider this your go-to guide to get the most out of those flurry of offers, and help your client choose the one that will leave them feeling the most satisfied.
How to weigh cash and financed offers
Ensuring that your seller is protected by only considering offers with solid financials backing them is one of the most important things a listing agent can do for their client during this time. That’s why agents agree that when it comes to fielding multiple offers, cash on hand and offer price are typically primary considerations. Cash offers are simple and solid, Jason Collins, a Century 21 John T. Ferreira & Son, Inc. agent, told Inman. They eliminate the uncertainty financed buyers face of getting approval for a mortgage, and make very real a buyer’s ability to waive the appraisal. He said if there’s a cash offer on the table for his seller at the right price, “We’re always going cash.” If cash offers aren’t at play, agents should also be paying attention to loan type, since not all loans are created equal. Dana Benjamin, an agent with ReeceNichols – College Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri, told Inman that loan type is one of the first things she analyzes when her sellers get upwards of 10 offers. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans should always cause an agent to take pause since they include a little more red tape. If an FHA-backed offer goes above the home’s appraised value, the seller will be required to reduce the selling price to meet the appraisal, and any defects in a home as stipulated by the FHA will also need to be taken care of by the seller before the deal can be closed.
Likewise, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans, which do not require a down payment, can feel more risky to a seller. If a buyer is putting little to no money down, it could be a foreboding of things falling apart later on, particularly if repairs show up in an inspection and the buyer is too cash-poor to cover them. “We don’t necessarily look at just the highest offer — it’s important to sit down, and look at the buyer’s finances and go a step further, like getting on the phone and interviewing the buyer’s lender to see if the buyer has been vetted and how soon can the lender close,” Jay Thomas, an agent at eXp in Houston, told Inman. “Just making sure this buyer is ready and good for it, and they have had their credit and assets all verified.”
Ask: How is the appraisal addressed?
After reviewing price and financing, one of the next most important considerations in a hot seller’s market is how the appraisal is addressed in the contract. With bids ratcheting home prices up and up, dealing with offers that go above and beyond the home’s appraised value is an increasingly pertinent consideration. High offers look great to a seller — but they’re pretty meaningless if they don’t address what happens in the event that the appraisal doesn’t meet the offer price. “Probably the biggest thing we’re looking at [is] how they’re addressing the appraisal and the contract in the event of an appraisal shortage,” Benjamin said. “If they address appraisal issues in the contract under ‘additional terms,’ that they’re willing to bring X number of dollars, in the event of a shortage … those are the offers that are getting accepted.” Seeing that buyer proof of cash that can handle appraisal issues is also key, Collins said.“People [are] coming in $25,000 over [asking], but then saying they’ll waive the appraisal contingency,” Collins said. “If they have the opportunity to do that, it means they better have some cash on hand.”
The good and bad of sight unseen offers
Sellers will no doubt be excited if they receive offers prior to even showing their home. In some states, such occurrences are even more likely if “coming soon” status properties are allowed to be marketed in advance and the market is moving at a fast clip. But, some agents say you should be wary of any offer made before the potential buyer has set their foot through the door. The practice, while enticing, can just end up opening a can of worms that the seller may need to deal with later. In Kansas City, Missouri, Benjamin said that having the option of marketing homes on Facebook, Instagram, and just through sending the listings to other Realtors a few weeks in advance of listing as a “coming soon” property, has been extremely effective in generating buzz. But, it can also attract early offers that may be made in haste. “We’re not even recommending to our sellers to accept those [offers], because what’s happening is, then [the buyers] get in and then they’re canceling or saying they’ll take it as is — but then they ask for things [later].” It’s a lot easier for buyers to “talk the talk” without “walking the walk” when they make an offer on a property that’s still “coming soon” and hasn’t been viewed in-person. Encourage sellers to consider those offers cautiously, always with an eye out for the most serious buyers.
Pay attention to closing timeline
Another important consideration when sifting through offers is the length of time sellers want or need to close. In this market, buyers are willing to do almost anything to make sellers happy, including offering free rent back and providing a long closing time frame. Have that conversation with the seller even before the offers start coming in so that you can be prepared to field buyer questions and understand what hierarchy time to close has on their list of priorities. “Sometimes they want a longer closing date, sometimes they want a shorter one, it just depends on their situation,” Benjamin said. “I’ll always ask the seller, ‘What’s your ideal situation?’ and let the buyers know writing the offer, ‘Here’s the seller’s story and here’s the best closing date for them.'” Thomas also noted that closing time has largely been in the top three considerations for his seller clients right now.
Presenting offers to clients
Seeing offers roll in on their home can be both exciting and overwhelming for sellers. Especially in markets where sellers are getting 20, 30 or 40 offers, an agent’s ability to organize them all in an easy-to-process manner is crucial. A lot of agents find a basic spreadsheet, like one made on Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, to do the trick in breaking things down. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy, but if offers can be sorted and organized by price point, closing date, contingencies and other factors, it will be a lot easier to explain the value of each individual offer. And it helps the agent present them in a very data-driven way that doesn’t raise any Fair Housing issues. “I like to neutralize the offers and just put them in a spreadsheet,” Ed Lyon, broker/owner at Preservation Properties in Newton, Massachusetts, told Inman. “They don’t know who the people are, so there’s no Fair Housing buyer love letter issues or anything like that. It just takes the personalities out of it.” At a recent Inman Connect Now workshop, Maura Neill of RE/MAX Around Atlanta Realty said she even color codes her offer comparison spreadsheets that she puts together for sellers so that it’s easier to highlight the different factors that are important to consider.
Offer management and comparison tools
A few different offer management and comparison tools — often built into platforms that also offer other services — are also available for agents who prefer to explore more tech-based options. Ribbon is a fintech startup that backs buyers with all-cash offers until their financing comes through. Agents can also write offers ‘on the go’ with Ribbon’s auto-fill feature, and compare received offers all within the platform. Ribbon also allows agents to communicate and negotiate with buyers’ agents within the platform, so that agents only need to go to one place to toggle everything related to received offers. The company also announced this week its launch of an appraisal protection service, which may prove helpful during such a heated market. The service allows buyers who use RibbonCash Offers to make all-cash offers without worrying about appraisal contingencies because Ribbon will cover the difference for under-appraised listings. WyzeGyde is another similar company, which just rebranded in late 2020 and shifted its focus to providing listing agents with tools targeted to sellers. The company’s product helps listing agents dig into the comparative financials of different offers, but also allows for the sorting of offer terms so that whatever happens to be most important to a particular seller does not get overlooked. If they so choose, agents can also use WyzeGyde’s Offer Fetch tool to send out a listing to iBuyers and Certified Cash Buyers for consideration. In addition, the company’s platform also includes customer relationship management (CRM) integration setups to streamline information requests. Tools like these can make offer management a lot more simple for a busy agent.
Red flags to watch out for
Once an agent and their seller narrow down offers to those top finalists, it’s still important to keep a sharp eye out for any potential red flags that might be more smoothly folded into the offer. Things like vague contingencies, a long inspection period or just a pre-approval letter that either has errors or seems to be putting forth the bare minimum recommendation for the buyer could all be red flags that might indicate the buyer isn’t the most solid bet. “I would say there’s a lot of ways you can put in contingencies hidden in an offer that are sort of suspect,” Lyon said. “Or if you’re dealing with a builder, some sort of, like, approval from the city permitting to do something on the property that’s ill-defined. If it’s a homeowner, it could be a long date on the purchase and sale.” In Lyon’s state of Massachusetts, the purchase and sale contract is a two-step process, which potentially makes a seller vulnerable to a deal falling through. For instance, a buyer might only put down $1,000 earnest money, set the purchase and sale contract deadline for two weeks later, and then in that time, back out for whatever reason, having only lost the $1,000. “So I like to do pretty quick timelines,” Lyon explained. Collins similarly said that an extended inspection period gives a buyer more time to second-guess their decision, and in the meantime, the property may lose momentum. “You don’t want to take it off the market and lose momentum to the wrong buyer,” Collins said. “You want to make sure that they’re not selling their house [or] they have other issues on their end. Things like that are important to look out for.”
Keep consistent communication across all buyers
In an environment with so many offers flying around, it’s easy to lose track of how all buyers and their agents have been communicated with. So as to not raise any Fair Housing issues, it’s important to keep communications to all buyers and their agents consistent across the board. An easy way to do this is to just compose any relevant updates and copy and paste those in messages to everyone who needs to be contacted. At the aforementioned Connect Now workshop on navigating multiple offers, Maura Neill said one way she addresses this issue, once an offer has been accepted, is to have her seller write a thank you letter to all bidders, notifying them that an offer was chosen. That way, communication is coming from the seller directly without implicating the agent in any way, and the exact same explanation goes out to everyone. Many listing agents are also keeping communications consistent by not accepting buyer love letters. The bidding method that allows buyers to pour out their compliments about a property to the sellers carries a number of Fair Housing risks. To keep things simple, and avoid liability, it’s probably best to just let buyers know those letters won’t be accepted in offers.
Manage seller expectations
Real estate has been all over the news the last several months, and sellers have heard the word that now is their time to thrive. Unfortunately, all that buzz could quickly go to a seller’s head if there isn’t some tempering of expectations. “They get caught up in a sensational news story about the aggressive market and people compare apples to oranges in real estate,” Lyon told Inman. “There are lots of stories about houses that are very desirable – it could be the location, or it could be the size of the lot they’re on, or the quality of what’s inside the house. And if that person owns a house that’s not nearly matching one of those things or all those things, it’s just a completely different number, so it’s really not a comparable kind of thing.”Make sure to fill sellers in on what to expect for their specific market and property type at this time. Show them the data and how their house fits into the picture, Lyon said. That way, you should be on the same page when it comes to asking price, contract contingencies and more, and they’ll be prepared for the kind of offers that come in.
It’s also a good idea to take into consideration the feelings of older homeowners who have been in a property for decades and are now deciding to move, Lyon said. In this market, that may begin happening more often, and it’s important to prep them for the emotional toll such a process might bring. Especially given the pace of today’s market, buyers may also be a bit more frank than usual about what upgrades or demolitions they deem necessary to a property, and catching any whiff of offhand remarks about outdated railings could just add more stress to an already stressful, emotional time for long-time homeowners.
So, despite all the hustle and bustle, don’t forget to mentally and emotionally prepare sellers for their transition. “While I’m working with them, I try to get them to start thinking of the house in a more distant kind of mindset, that it’s almost like it soon will be a product on a shelf to people and it’s not going to be like a home as you see it,” Lyon said. “[There’s] a lot of psychology there, [in] dealing with the sellers,” he added.