Making an Offer: When Is It Lowballing, and When Is It Just a Fair Price?

Q: I’m looking to buy a home in New York’s Hudson Valley, where it seems sellers sometimes ask considerably more than what a property is actually worth. So when it comes time to make an offer, when is it lowballing, and when is it simply offering what I think is a realistic market price? My real estate agent and I have different philosophies. I tend to live by the “it can’t hurt to ask” rule, especially for properties that have been on the market for months and months. Any guidance is appreciated.

A: No two potential home purchases are exactly the same, so there isn’t a universal answer to your question. In any event, you should be upfront with your agent about your strategy so you can have a good working relationship, or find another agent who can support your goals.

A seller might have set the price using local market data, or because they know they want to achieve a certain price, or a combination of both, said John Avenia, a broker with Columbia County Real Estate Specialists, LLC.

One thing you can do is have a conversation with the seller’s agent to understand what kinds of offers their client might entertain. “Whether the seller is flexible or not, you should understand the local market, the comparable properties, and where the market is trending,” said Jeff Cohen, a real estate agent with NextStopNY, who works in New York City and has experience in the Hudson Valley.

An experienced real estate agent who knows the area can help you strategize. If the seller is asking too much based on recent sales of comparable properties in the area, and if the days on market are above average for the neighborhood, you should certainly consider submitting a lower offer.

“However,” Mr. Cohen said, “keep in mind that the seller may not entertain such offers or respond with a counteroffer.”

Regardless, prospective buyers should limit any offer to the value of the property as they see it. “Missing out on the purchase of a property to another buyer because you undervalued it is unfortunate,” Mr. Avenia said. “Overpaying for a property can be much worse.”

He noted that some home buyers have had success with offering well below what they believe to be the market value of the property. But the overheated housing market has diminished the success of this strategy in recent years.

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