|Spring Real Estate 2004
Publication Date: Wednesday, April 7, 2004
Multiple offers, again
by J. Robert Taylor, J.D.
multiple offers on new listings is the rule rather than the exception
this spring, in the local real-estate market. Spurred by very
low interest rates and a lack of inventory, the old saw of "supply
and demand" is ruling the market.
Hearken back to those zesty dot-com bubble days of 1999-2000
when buyers lined up to bid against each other for a rundown
house in the Silicon Triangle of Palo Alto-Menlo Park-Los Altos,
with the winning bidder often paying 10 percent or more over
the asking price.
What are the differences between today's real-estate market and the market of
the dot-com era? First, interest rates are considerably less. Remember Federal
Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan kept increasing rates during the bubble
and real estate continued to surge until 2001. Given the present long-term rates
in the 5.5-6 percent range, the cost of ownership is less than in 2000.
Second, buyers are borrowing more and are making smaller down payments. As opposed
to 2000 when buyers were often purchasing property with their stock portfolio
and putting 50 percent down or more, today buyers are usually making down payments
of 20 percent or less and the money is coming from selling their home or hard-earned
Third, developers were a major force in buying property in 1999-2000. That trend
seems to have come to a halt, with owner-users being the most likely buyers for
tear-down homes or those in need of a major remodel.
Unfortunately multiple offers has its downside for both buyers and sellers. For
buyers it means that they could easily be paying more than they should. You don't
want to follow the lead of a buyer in my neighborhood who paid more than $5 million
in 2000 and recently resold the same house for $3 million. Buyers more than ever
need to focus on the comparable sales that have occurred in the last six months
in the same area as the property they are purchasing.
Buying a home is a very emotional process; nothing can change that. However,
analyzing objective data will help you control your emotions. Do not rely solely
on the agent's suggestion of what you should pay. Ideally you want to see the
purchase much like an investor would: Be willing to pay a fair price, but no
Many buyers are submitting offers with no contingencies for inspections or financing.
This presents obvious risks since you must rely on information provided by the
seller with respect to the condition of the property instead of getting your
own independent inspections.
If you have no financing contingency and your lender fails to give you the loan
for any reason, including the property failing to appraise at purchase price,
then if you fail to close you will be in default and at risk for losing your
If you default you may be sued by the real-estate brokers for the commission
they would have made had the transaction closed. In the average transaction this
could add up to a sum of almost 9 percent of the purchase price.
Know your limits and carefully consider the risks. You could pay a heavy price
for an emotionally based decision. If you feel any pressure from your real-estate
agent to sign, it is a signal that you should walk away. There is always another
house to buy.
More than once I have seen the person who actually bid less
for the house end up to be the person who eventually bought the
that they were not the "high bidder." High bidders can
wake up the next day and have tremendous remorse because they realize
to purchase was based on pure emotion.
The downside for sellers is a little more difficult to grasp. What could be bad
about having 20 people bidding on your property? It has as much to do about properly
managing a confusing and emotional situation as about how to get the highest
price. The majority of sellers are interested in one thing, getting the most
money for their property.
I would propose that sellers should have two primary objectives. First, to sell
for the most money and, second, to sell the property to a buyer who has full
knowledge of what they are purchasing and a strong desire to own the property.
Balancing both of these objectives will most likely get the seller the most money
in the end, and just as important, a happy buyer who will not come back and haunt
the seller with lawsuits because they overpaid for the property.
Here are some tips for the seller:
J. Robert Taylor, J. D., a real estate attorney and broker for more than 20 years, has served as an expert witness and mediator and is on the judicial arbitration panel for Santa Clara County Superior Court. He is 2004 chairman of the Palo Alto district for the Silicon Valley Board of Realtors. Send questions to Taylor c/o Palo Alto Weekly, P.O. Box 1610, Palo Alto, CA, or via e-mail at email@example.com.