Making an offer on a house without a Realtor® or a real estate agent is kind of like trying to represent yourself in a court of law — it’s possible, but it’s not a good idea. There’s more that goes into making an offer besides landing on a purchase price.
“Even as an agent with over 400 homes under my belt and 11 years of experience, I would never buy in a market in which I’m not licensed without a real estate agent,” says Jessica Arledge, a top agent who works with over 76% more single-family homes than the average Savannah agent.
However, if you’re dead set on making an offer on a house without a Realtor®, we have a step-by-step guide with some tips from the professionals on how to buy a house without an agent.
What’s a RealtorⓇ, and what’s an agent?
A real estate agent is licensed to help people buy, sell, or rent different housing or real estate property types. To obtain this license, individuals must take prelicensing education, which varies by state. Some states require only 40 hours of pre-licensing classes, while others may require more than 200 hours, for example.
Once classes are completed, aspiring real estate agents must take the licensing exam, which will test their knowledge of federal real estate laws, general real estate principles, and state-specific laws. When the exam is passed, the real estate agent can find a sponsoring broker or a brokerage firm where they can begin working.
A Realtor® is a real estate agent or broker who is a member of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). To become a member, agents or brokers must join a local real estate association, agree to conduct themselves and their business according to the NAR’s Code of Ethics, and pay annual dues to their association.
“The National Association of Realtors® really plays a large role in the decision-making process for rules governing Realtors® and monitoring Realtors®,” explains Arledge. “We’re bound by a certain code of ethics that really governs everything that we do and is designed to protect our clients and to put our clients first.”
By becoming a Realtor®, agents and brokers have access to special discounts and educational resources to help improve their practices.
How do you make an offer on a house without a RealtorⓇ or an agent?
Before you even think about making an offer on a house without a Realtor® or an agent, you need to figure out how much you can afford to spend. There are a number of factors to consider, and you’ll need to assess your finances and take your priorities into account.
There are several different factors that determine home affordability and each lender can have its own mortgage approval standards when it comes to the buyer’s credit score, income, assets, debt, and liabilities. Lenders can also approve you for different loan amounts, give you different interest rates, and charge varying fees. This is why shopping around for a mortgage is so crucial!
Before making an offer, you should also get a mortgage preapproval letter. Having a mortgage preapproval letter before making an offer on a house will show the seller that you’re a serious buyer.
Once you’re preapproved, it’s time to decide how much you should offer. Start by researching recently sold comparable homes, also called comps. Appraisers and real estate agents use them to get the most accurate estimate possible of the value of a home, and you can do it, too!
Arledge recommends finding tax records for homes in the general vicinity to see what other homes have sold for within the last six months. You will want to find properties that match the house in:
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- General layout
- Year built (within a five-year range)
- Upgrades and finishes
Once you find similar properties, take a look at their sold price. This will give you an idea of what to offer; however, there’s more to making an offer on a house than just the price alone.
Try to determine what else the seller may want as far as the timeline and whether they are asking for other concessions (though when you aren’t being guided by an agent, removing any contingencies is a very risky move — you’ve been warned!). Once you know what the seller wants, you’ll better understand whether you should offer more or less than the asking price.
Consider whether you need an attorney. “It’s always a great idea to hire a lawyer,” says Rajeh Saadeh, managing attorney at The Law Office of Rajeh A. Saadeh in New Jersey. “This is usually the biggest purchase and sale someone makes in their life. It’s a very small price to pay to have legal representation in a transaction that big.” In some states, an attorney will oversee the closing of the sale instead of a title company; if you’re going it alone, regardless, it’s a good idea to think about hiring one.
Remember, your offer becomes your legally binding purchase contract.
Step 1: Land on your offer price
You’ll want to land on a price that’s competitive without overpaying — but there’s more to it than that. While price is certainly important to sellers, there are other factors that they might consider. Try to leverage those if you are going below their asking price.
You might be able to go below the asking price during a solid buyer’s market or if the house is overpriced compared to recently sold comparable homes. You can also consider going lower if you’re prepared to forgo some contingencies in your offer (though understand that doing so can present major risks to you as a buyer).
Consider going low if the property has been on the market for a while or if the seller has already reduced their asking price.
In a hot market, it might be a better idea to go over the asking price. Be careful with this one, though! “You really need to figure out how to be competitive without overpaying because it’s easy to get swept up in the frenzy of bidding wars,” explains Arledge.
How a top agent can help you here: A local agent will have more knowledge and experience in that market. Arledge explains that an agent will be the best source when it comes to landing on a strong offer.
Step 2: Document the details
Where is the house? What is the legal address? Who are you? Who is the seller? You need to have the details prepared, and buying a house requires extensive documentation.
How a top agent can help you here: An agent will be able to help you with the paperwork and keep you focused on the important details.
Step 3: Include contingencies
Contingencies are certain conditions that must be met before the closing date and typically relate to financing, inspections, appraisals, and home sale. However, there are other contingencies that can’t be negotiated, such as those related to title and zoning.
Considering 87% of buyers financed their home purchase in 2020, a financing contingency is very common.
This contingency gives the buyer the ability to secure a mortgage to purchase the property. If the buyer cannot obtain financing within the timeframe listed in the purchase contract, the contract may be terminated with no penalties.
A professional home inspection gives the buyer the opportunity to uncover any potential problems with the house before purchasing. An inspection contingency also gives the buyer a timeframe to have an inspection before the contract becomes binding.
Having these details provides the buyer with room to negotiate on repairs, price, or even walk away from the sale entirely.
A real estate appraisal is a valuation of the property by an appraiser — often required by mortgage lenders. An appraisal contingency allows the homebuyer to back out of the contract if the purchase price is more than the appraised value.
Home sale contingency
First-time buyers usually don’t have to worry about this one. With a home sale contingency, the transaction is contingent on the sale of the buyer’s home. This protects buyers from being responsible for two mortgages if their house fails to sell.
During a home purchase, a title search is done to ensure that the seller is the property owner with full rights to sell.
A title contingency allows the buyer to terminate the contract if the title search reveals any issues, such as a lien against the property. Liens are generally tied to debts, unpaid taxes, bankruptcy, or more.
If you’re planning to change the use of the property other than for residential purposes, you need to make sure that it’s permitted by local zoning ordinances. You don’t want to buy a property to run your business if the local governing body will never grant approval for that location.
How a top agent can help you here: Contingency clauses are there to protect your interests as a buyer, but they can be unpopular with sellers. A local agent will be able to help with this balancing act.
Additionally, certain parameters of contingency clauses can vary by state, and having an expert who is familiar with local real estate law will help. “There has to be language in there to protect you,” says Saadeh.
Step 4: Offer earnest money
Earnest money shows the seller that you’re serious about buying. This deposit can be a percentage of the purchase price, usually between 1% and 5% of the home’s purchase price, or a flat amount; the standard amount varies depending on where you live.
Generally, the earnest money is held in an escrow account. Without an agent, Arledge recommends figuring out who will hold your earnest money ahead of time. “You really want it going to a third party who is not someone who has skin in the game when it comes to this transaction,” she explains.
The earnest money is negotiated and included in your paperwork as part of your offer, says Arledge.
How a top agent can help you here: An agent will help you to negotiate and determine how much earnest money you should put down and what is standard in your area. Your agent is there to make sure the home buying process runs smoothly and that you get the best value for money.
Step 5: Make your asks
Now it’s time to make any additional asks you have on top of contingencies.
Do you want the seller to cover closing costs? A warranty for appliances and house systems? Don’t forget to put these in writing! Are you drawn to any particular furniture in the home? You can add a consideration when making your offer.
You can ask for anything you want when writing your offer; however, you’ll need to negotiate with the seller. Don’t be surprised if you receive a counter offer!
How a top agent can help you here: Your agent is there to help you and will negotiate on your behalf when making your asks. If you receive a counter offer, your agent is there to make sure you get the best deal.
Step 6: Lay out the timeline
Your offer needs to have deadlines, and the schedule should be negotiated and laid out in your purchase contract before you make the offer. Each offer and counter-offer should also come with a set deadline for a response.
Think carefully and take these deadlines seriously — missing these deadlines could result in losing your earnest money.
How a top agent can help you here: An agent can help you lay out a timeline and stay on track to meet those deadlines.
Step 7: Include any addenda
An addendum or rider is a term added to the end of the contract, based on unique circumstances to protect your interests.
These typically include items such as state-mandated seller disclosure forms (these vary from state to state), inspection requirements, and possibly even contingencies that you are requesting as the buyer to ensure you can use the property the way you intend.
If you aren’t using a real estate agent, then you’ll want someone to look over your contract and ensure that they’re helping with any addendum that’s needed to close loopholes and protect your best interests as the buyer. An attorney is an excellent choice.
This is also the time to ask whether the house is in an HOA and to inquire about all of the rules and regulations if it is. (You might be doing that in an addendum!)
How a top agent can help you here: Riders generally involve specific language that varies from state to state and is meant to protect you, which is best left to an attorney or agent with deep experience in real estate contracts.
Step 8: Deliver the offer to the seller
Once your offer is complete, it’s time to deliver your offer to the seller. The seller may prepare a counter-offer, which will then be passed back to you for negotiation. Review the details of the counter-offer carefully.
The seller may counter your offer with a higher purchase price, or ask you to remove some or all of the contingencies.
How a top agent can help you here: Having an agent by your side can make you feel more comfortable and confident as you submit your offer. If the seller counters your offer, your agent is there to help navigate the negotiation process.
Step 9: Sign the agreement
Congratulations! You’re under contract, or you can negotiate the counter offer.
Should you make an offer on a house without an agent?
While it’s possible to make an offer on a house without an agent, it’s not advised unless you’re familiar with local real estate law and practice.
“If you don’t have a full grasp of what is typical for an area, how the real estate law works for that state, and how to overcome potential obstacles, it’s a big risk to enter into a binding agreement without the help of a local agent,” says Arledge.
She also added that finding a buyer’s agent who has been in the business for 5, 10 or even 20 years is invaluable. “Finding the house is honestly the easy part of our jobs. It’s everything that happens between finding the house and closing where we spend most of our time,” she explains.
Making an offer on a house, even without an agent, is still a legally binding contract. Think hard about whether forgoing representation is actually worth the potential hazard should something happen.
Header Image Source: (ISO Republic)