When it comes to buying a house, making a good offer to the home-sellers is everything—but there are ways to get them to accept your offer even if it’s below the ask price.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated August 01, 2019
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Steven Puetzer/Getty Images

The steps to buying a house are almost never as straight-forward as aspiring first-time (or second-time) home-buyers might hope. Even once you have the money for a down payment on a house saved up, you have to find a house that fulfills all your needs (and maybe some wants, if you’re lucky), maybe sell your current home, and get the sellers of your dream home to accept your offer. According to a new report from personal finance site NerdWallet, this last step isn’t always a smooth one.

The 2019 Home Buyer Report from NerdWallet surveyed United States home-buyers who had purchased a home in the past five years and found that almost half—45 percent—had to make an offer that was above asking price in order to get it accepted. First-time home buyers had it even worse; 56 percent of them had to go above the asking price in order to get their offers accepted, and for 15 percent of them, their final offer was higher than they were comfortable with. Overall, only 31 percent of recent home buyers were able to purchase their homes for less than the asking price.

When buying a home is already so costly, the prospect of forking over even more cash can be off-putting. It can also land home-buyers, first-timers or otherwise, in some hot water when mortgage payments, taxes, fees, and more stretch their budgets a touch too thin. Fortunately, there are ways to get home sellers to lower their asking price or even accept a below-ask bid—it just takes some preparation, determination, and luck.

Steven Puetzer/Getty Images

Steven Puetzer/Getty Images

Of course, on average, most people must make several offers (often, on different properties) before one of their bids is accepted. According to NerdWallet’s study, 60 percent of recent home buyers in the U.S. made more than one offer during their home-shopping process; more than one-third made three or more. If your first offer on a home isn’t accepted, you’re certainly not alone.

With these tips from Holden Lewis, home expert at NerdWallet, your first offer on that dream home might have a fighting chance, though—even if it is a little under the list price.

Try to figure out if the seller has a problem that you can be the solution to. “Does the seller need the buyer to be flexible about the move-in date, or move as quickly as possible, or sell the house in as-is condition?” Lewis says. “If you are willing and able to help the seller, it can give you an edge against competitors.”

“Instead of buying a place that's already your dream home, buy a house that needs some work, preferably something you can do yourself,” Lewis says.

Taking on some home repairs and updates yourself can help you save during the buying process, even if it means you’re settling a little. Luxury homes come at a premium, so being willing to turn a non-luxury home into one that comes close can be a smart move—just avoid these most-regretted DIY home improvement projects.

Lewis suggests looking at recent home sales in the neighborhood and comparing those prices to the ask price for the home you’re considering making an offer on. If the houses are comparable in quality and value but the listing prices are completely different, you may be able to talk your way into a lower ask price.

If there are no current offers on the house—and it’s been on the market for more than a few weeks or you’re outside the best time to sell your house window—the sellers may be desperate to find a buyer. “You may have the upper hand,” Lewis says. That could give you leverage to make an offer below the list price.

Know exactly how much you’re willing and able to pay for a house. “When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win,” Lewis says. “But don’t let your emotions take over. Shopping below your preapproval amount creates some wiggle room for bidding.”

If you’re shopping below your means, you have some space to go up, if necessary. If you’re only looking at homes that are right at your budget, you run the risk of having to go over it—and stretching your finances too thin—in order to get your offer accepted. Remember, almost half of recent buyers were forced to make an offer above the asking price; make sure doing so won’t bankrupt you.

“If there’s a house you can picture yourself in, pay close attention to the home’s overall condition and take notes,” Lewis says. “Once you’re ready to make an offer, you may have some wiggle room in negotiating the cost of repairs.”

Also note cleanliness issues, such as pet-stained carpets or lingering smoke odors; you may be able to convince the sellers to fix the issues or lower their asking price.