Late one Saturday afternoon this summer, Beverly Harzog and her husband stopped at an open house just before closing time. Within minutes, they knew it was the home of their dreams. It was the perfect size. It had amazing amenities, and a back yard to die for. After a closer inspection the next day, Harzog told the listing agent they wanted to make an offer. The only problem? Twenty-eight other people had the same idea.
Welcome to the current state of home buying: Pandemic Edition. With fewer houses for sale during waves of COVID outbreaks, the U.S. has experienced one of the hottest real estate markets of all time as home prices reached record-highs for five of the first six months of 2021.
Home inventory may not go back to pre-pandemic levels any time soon. A new housing report from Zillow found only about one in seven homeowners — just 15% — say they have plans to move and sell their home within the next three years.
In Harzog’s situation, she and her husband didn’t have an agent, they weren’t pre-qualified for a loan, and their current home wasn’t ready to sell. (They had only just casually started looking.) But armed with excellent credit and sheer determination, the couple decided to take a leap of faith and forge ahead anyway.
“There are always work-arounds,” says Harzog, a credit card expert for U.S. News & World Report. “I let the agent know I have a really high credit score. We wanted her to know it would be no problem to get approved.”
They say all’s fair in love and war. And in 2021, you can add home buying to that list. If you’re looking to win a bidding war, here’s a look at what Harzog + some other motivated buyers have done to break conventional real estate rules and come out on top.
BROKEN RULE 1: DIDN’T USE A REAL ESTATE AGENT
Because they weren’t yet seriously looking for a new home when they found their dream abode, Harzog and her husband didn’t have an agent or broker at the ready. “We had done research on our own and I’m a credit expert, so I felt pretty comfortable with that. If you don’t have a real estate agent, you can still start looking.” Because everything happened so quickly, Harzog personally emailed her offer to the seller’s agent.
Harzog says it’s not that they don’t believe in using real estate agents — it all happened so quickly, the couple just found themselves without one… But they were so impressed with the agent representing the seller in their recent transaction, they hired her to sell their previous residence once their new deal closed.
BROKEN RULE 2: DIDN’T GET PRE-APPROVED FIRST
When she heard about the 28 other offers on the home, Harzog told the agent her credit score —- which was above 800 — so she could let the sellers know they could secure the financing needed for a quick sale. The seller’s agent also knew someone who could pre-approve the couple on a Sunday afternoon for a loan, which is exactly what happened.
This strategy won’t work for everyone. Those with a lower credit score who need financing to buy a home could wait as long as a month or two for loan approval from a financial institution. But if you’ve got good credit, this part of the process can be ironed out fairly quickly.
BROKEN RULE 3: USED AN ESCALATION CLAUSE AND WAIVED INSPECTION
As homeowners for almost 30 years, Harzog says she and her husband spent about 90 minutes going through the house from top to bottom that Sunday so they would feel comfortable taking the risk of waiving contingencies such as a home inspection: “On the surface we knew what kinds of things to look for. We were very focused. We decided we were going to take a leap of faith on that.”
Jeremy Schneider, broker and owner of Jeremy Schneider Real Estate in St. Louis, says removing as many contingencies as possible can be key to beating out other bidders.
“Buying a house as-is, or doing an inspection for informational purposes only, definitely improves your chances,” he says. “But we don’t recommend that for everyone. It depends on how old the house is and its apparent condition, as well as the buyer’s comfort level with doing repairs themselves, or having that work done by contractors they trust.”
BROKEN RULE 4: REFUSED LEASE BACK, OFFERED 90-DAY CLOSING INSTEAD
While cash is king in many home offers, it’s not always the winning factor. Mark Dimas, broker and owner of Mark Dimas Properties in Houston, recently had a client in a multiple offer situation. “My buyer was adamant about not raising their offering price, as we were concerned about it not meeting appraisal,” Dimas says. The seller wanted to lease the home back for 60 days as they prepared to move. Because the buyer was selling their home through Zillow Offers, their closing date was flexible.
They skipped the lease-back request, but were able to move the closing date out to 90 days. “Instead of raising the price, my buyer put down $20,000 in earnest money,” Dimas says. “When it was all said and done, my client was able to close on the home of their dreams, within their budget, and on a timeline that worked for everyone.”
BROKEN RULE 5: HELD BACK HIGHEST OFFER BY $100,000
While Harzog and her husband really wanted the house, they decided to go in lower than they could afford in case they needed to go higher in a possible bidding war. “We set the target range and then decreased it by $100,000, because with the market right now in our neighborhood, it’s not unusual to go $100,000 over list price,” she says. “We had a cut off, but we started with less than we could afford.”
In the end, Harzog believes the escalation clause, and her genuine affection for the house just as it was, helped her offer stand out. “I also conveyed the message to their agent that I loved their house and wanted to take care of it.”
More on HerMoney:
- HerMoney Podcast Bonus Mailbag #15: Home Buying and Real Estate
- Buying Or Selling A Home Virtually? Yep, It’s Totally Doable – And It’s Poopular
- HerMoney Podcast: Home Buying & Real Estate Questions
- Buying Your First Home? How To Get A Mortgage
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