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If you’re buying a property for the first time, the whole process can seem a little bit of a mystery. There seem to be so many steps, and different people you have to work with. Should you be offering the asking price, or can you propose a lower price? Surely you should just be able to tell the seller you want to buy their house?

In this article we take a look at the process of making an offer on a property, and share some advice on how to get the best deal for your house purchase.

What is the process for making an offer on a house?

With a bit of preparation the process of making an offer on a property doesn’t have to be difficult. There are a few basic steps to follow:

  • Before you make your offer

Before you put in an offer on a house, there are a few things you need to make sure you’ve done first. Most estate agents will ask for ‘proof of funds’ on receipt of your offer. This proves you are a serious buyer, and prevents people making offers who don’t actually have the money.

You can provide proof of funds in the form of a ‘mortgage in principle’ letter from your bank, or a bank statement. A mortgage agreement in principle isn’t an official mortgage approval (which depends upon a lender’s valuation of a property), but does provide proof that the mortgage provider is willing to lend to you. If you know that you’ll need to get a mortgage, make sure you apply for a mortgage in principle soon after you start your property search. This will help avoid delays once you find a property you want to buy.

  • Verbal offer

If you have your proof of funds in place, and have found your dream home, now is the time to place an offer. First, you’ll need to phone or meet with the estate agent representing the seller. You can then submit an offer to them verbally.

It’s likely that the estate agent will ask for some further information, such as your ‘position’ (how soon you can move, how you are financing the sale, whether you need to sell a property before you can buy). They will also ask for some personal information such as copies of your ID, and the contact information for your conveyancer.

  • Follow up with an offer in writing

After you’ve made your offer verbally, make sure you follow up in writing or over email. This creates a written record of your offer, and everything you’ve discussed with the estate agent. This will ensure that there are no crossed wires when the estate agent relays your offer to the home seller.

  • Offer passed on to the seller

Once you’ve submitted your offer formally, the estate agent will pass your proposal to the property owner. They’ll discuss whether the amount you want to pay meets the seller’s expectations, and about your position as a buyer. If there are other interested buyers, they’ll also compare your offer to the others they’ve received.

  • Response

The seller will probably take some time to think through your offer, but should respond within a couple of days. They will either: accept your offer, reject your offer, or propose a counter offer. If your offer is accepted you will progress to the conveyancing stage. If your offer is rejected or countered, you can either walkaway, or attempt to negotiate.

Tip: If your offer has not been accepted, ask the estate agent for feedback. They should be able to tell you why the seller rejected your proposed amount, if they’ve received a higher offer, or are worried about your chain situation. They might even let you know how much you would need to put forward to be accepted.

  • Negotiation

If you decide you want to make a counter offer you will negotiate the details with the seller’s estate agent until you find an amount that you both agree upon, or you can walk away. If you’re uncomfortable negotiating with an agent, you can hire a buyer’s agent to represent you - but they will charge a fee.

  • Offer Accepted

If negotiations go well and a compromise can be reached between the amount that you want to pay, and the amount the property seller is willing to accept - and on the various terms of sale (such a furnishing that will be left behind) - your offer will be accepted. At this point your legal representatives will get to work drawing up a contract.

Tip: Once your offer has been accepted, request that the property is taken off the market straight away. Your offer is not legally binding until a contract has been signed. Removing the property from the market will reduce the chance of another buyer offering a higher price and gazumping you.

Want to know more about what happens once your offer has been accepted? Read our guide, here.

Is it better to offer below the asking price?

When you’re thinking about putting in an offer on a property, it can be difficult to weigh up offering too much to avoid being rejected, versus offering too little money and risking losing the property to another buyer.

The best way to approach the problem is to thoroughly research the local market, the value of the property you’re hoping to buy, and the seller’s personal situation.

You might want to take these questions as a starting point:

  • How many other buyers are interested?

If there’s a lot of competition for the property, it’s likely that the seller won’t accept a lower offer on their home. However, if you’re the only buyer that has expressed interest, you might find that the buyer will be willing to accept a lower price.

  • How many other similar properties are available?

If there are lots of similar properties on the market the competition for this particular house will likely be less than if there is only one of its kind. The more competition there is, the higher the price the seller can expect.

  • How much have other similar properties sold for recently?

The recent sold prices of other local properties can be a good indicator of the amount you should offer. If these houses have sold for significantly less than the seller is asking for, it’s likely you can propose a lower amount too. On the other hand, if they consistently sell for more, the property is probably worth more than the advertised price. In this case you might consider offering slightly more to beat any other interested buyers.

  • How much you want this particular property?

If you’ve fallen in love with a particular property, or haven’t found any others that satisfy all the things you need from your new home, you might decide to offer slightly more than you might otherwise do, so that you don’t risk losing the property.

  • What other costs will you incur if you successfully buy the property?

Buying a house costs more than just the price of the property. You will also need to factor in legal costs, stamp duty land tax, survey costs, removal costs, and any maintenance or furnishing you want to do once you move in. If you’re moving to a bigger property you may also find your recurring costs - such as utilities, council tax, and service charges - increase too. Take this into account when figuring out how much you can afford to spend on the purchase, and running of your new home.

  • What can you afford?

It’s incredibly important that you do not spend more than your allocated budget - regardless of how much you love a house. The continuing financial implications of buying a home for more than you can afford can last for several years, in the form of unaffordable monthly mortgage repayments, maintenance costs, or lack of savings for emergencies.

  • What is the seller’s position?

If the seller needs to move quickly they will usually be more likely to accept a lower offer. You might also find that a seller will favour chain free, or cash buyers over others, even if their offer is lower. This is because chain free and cash buyers are able to move more quickly, and pose less risk of falling through than those in long chains. If you’re a first time buyer, for example, you’re in a particularly strong position.

As a general rule of thumb, in England and Wales it is acceptable to offer around 5-10% less than a property’s asking price. In Scotland the etiquette is slightly different, and many estate agents will request ‘OIEO’ (or ‘offers in excess of’) a certain price.

You’re more likely to have a low offer accepted if:

  • The property has been on the market for a long time

  • The seller has already had to reduce the price to attract interest

  • The seller is keen to sell their home quickly (for example, they’re part of a chain, or they need to move for work.)

  • There’s no competition from other buyers

  • You’re a first time buyer, chain free, or cash buyer

Can you make an offer on a house that’s already ‘under offer’?

Yes. It is possible to make an offer on a house that’s already marked as ‘under offer’. Offers can be received right up until the moment the seller has signed a contract, and the buyer has paid their deposit. In fact, estate agents are legally obligated to put forward all offers they receive, at any point in the sales process, however ridiculous, cheeky, or last minute. This means even if the buyer has informally accepted an offer you still have a chance.

However if you plan to put in an offer at the last minute, it’s likely that you’ll have to make it very attractive for the seller. You’ll have to be willing to pay more than the accepted offer, or be in a substantially better position (eg. a completely chain free, cash buyer).

Does it cost money to make an offer on a home?

No, it doesn’t cost anything to put in an offer on a property.

You may be asked to pay a holding deposit, but it’s not compulsory to do so, and usually you’ll only asked to do this in a particularly volatile or competitive market.

There are a few different types of holding deposit so make sure to check the terms before you agree. Try and avoid holding deposits that are non-refundable even if the other party withdraws, and never give a holding deposit directly to a seller. All money should be handled by their conveyancer or solicitor.

Although you won’t have to pay a fee to submit an offer on a property, you must be prepared to pay all of the additional costs that come with buying a house if your offer is accepted. Put aside some money for: legal fees, mortgage arrangement fees, survey costs, stamp duty land tax, removals costs, along with any maintenance or furnishing you hope to do once you move. If you are selling your home too, you will also need to budget for the associated costs - such as estate agent fees.

Once you have signed a contract, or ‘exchanged’, you will be legally obligated to go through with the home purchase. It can be incredibly expensive and stressful trying to withdraw from a sale after this point.