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All About Real Estate Counter Offers

Writing, Accepting and Negotiating a Purchase Contract

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What Constitutes a Counter Offer?
Counter offers are generated by a home seller after a buyer has submitted an offer to purchase. Typically, counter offers will state that the seller has accepted the buyer's offer subject to the following particulars. The following particulars can address such items as:
  • Total consideration (generally a higher price)
  • Increasing the size of the earnest money deposit
  • Refusals to pay for certain reports or fees
  • Changing service providers
  • Altering closing or possession date
  • Excluding personal property from the contract
  • Modifying contingency time frames

What's a Normal Number of Counters to Expect?
Just as a seller can submit a counter offer to a buyer, a buyer can counter the seller's counter, which will then become a counter-counter offer or Counter Offer #2. There is no limit to the number of counter offers that can be submitted back and forth. Here is a real example of five counters on a property listed at $415,000. The seller had submitted an offer at $400,000. This was the result:

  • Counter Offer #1 from Seller to Buyer
    1. Seller counters sales price to $412,000.
    2. Appliances included without warranty.

  • Counter Offer #2 from Buyer to Seller
    1. Buyer counters sales price to $405,000.
    2. Appliances included without warranty.

  • Counter Offer #3 from Seller to Buyer
    1. Seller counters sales price to $409,900.
    2. Washer & dryer excluded from sale.

  • Counter Offer #4 from Buyer to Seller
    1. Buyer counters sales price to $407,500.
    2. Washer & dryer to remain as personal property.

  • Counter Offer #5 from Seller to Buyer
    1. Seller agrees to sales price of $407,500.
    2. Refrigerator, washer & dryer excluded from sale.

    Finally, the buyer accepted the fifth counter. Phew.

How are Counter Offers Rejected?
The seller is not required to respond to an offer. Does that surprise you? Of course, it doesn't mean that the brokers might not have earned a commission if the seller refuses to respond to a full-price-and-terms offer. The brokers would likely still demand payment. A non-response doesn't alleviate the seller's responsibility to the broker. Here are the most common ways to reject an offer:

  • Many purchase contracts provide a spot near the bottom for the seller to initial that the offer has been rejected.
  • Sellers can also write "rejected" across the face of the contract, initial and date it.
  • Most offers specify a date of expiration of offer in the event the seller elects not to respond.

What About Multiple Counter Offers?
Depending on your specific state laws, sellers may or may not be able to issue multiple counter offers. In California, it's fairly straight-forward. Sellers can counter more than one offer and each counter can be different. Even if one of the buyers accepts the seller's counter under these circumstances, the seller does not have to accept the buyer's acceptance. For more specific advice, consult a real estate lawyer.

How are Counter Offers Accepted?
If the counter offer is issued by the seller, the buyer can simply accept the counter and deliver it back to the party designated to receive it. Time is always of the essence. Counter offers contain expirations just like purchase offers, which means the seller can accept another offer while the buyer is deciding whether to sign the counter offer.

When I've called agents to find out availability of property and whether any offers have been received, it's very common (especially in seller's markets) to hear, "We have a counter out." Some agents would feel discouraged at that news. But I've snatched homes out from under the noses of competing buyers by immediately submitting an offer from my buyer while the counter "was out." What commonly happens in these situations is the seller accepts the second buyer's offer and then simply withdraws her counter offer from consideration, kicking the first buyer out of the game.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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