The Counteroffer: Negotiating a Real Estate Deal

A lot can happen between an initial offer and the ‘Sold’ sign going up. Meet the counteroffer …

Most Americans don’t have a lot of experience bartering for goods, but it’s one of the most important parts of the home-buying process.

Buying a home is rarely as simple as making an offer and paying that offer out. Negotiations can go back and forth for weeks before the seller and buyer are both satisfied.

The vehicle for this negotiation is the counteroffer — a vital and complex rejection and counter to an offer made by either party.

Counteroffers are typically handled between real estate agents and are time sensitive. Selling or buying a home is more of a process than a transaction, so it’s important to understand counteroffers before you make your first offer.

Why was I countered?

As a home buyer, if you make an offer below list price the seller may choose to reject, accept, or simply let the offer expire. If there are multiple offers, the listing agent will lay out the options for his or her client and then notify all buyers’ agents of the choices.

Sellers may also counter your proposed closing date. If they need to move out quickly, they may want to push it earlier. They may also ask to rent the property for a time after the settlement.

Price and closing date negotiations are common from both parties, but there are even more reasons sellers can potentially get countered.

The condition of the home is likely the biggest factor here. As home buyers conduct ongoing research into the home, any problems with the condition of the house can result in a counteroffer.

If you’ve chosen to take appliances with you when you move, buyers may also look to negotiate for those.

Appraisals are another reason for counteroffers. If an appraisal comes in below the agreed-upon sale price, it will affect the amount the mortgage company will lend to the buyer.

Negotiation power

When reviewing a counteroffer, it’s important to have an experienced real estate agent who can capitalize on your advantages in a negotiation. Both sellers and buyers can take steps to put themselves in an advantageous position through planning and smart counteroffers.

Knowledge is power in negotiations, so try to glean as much information about the seller or buyer as you can. Your agent will also seek information from the other agent on your behalf.

Sometimes sellers use the pending sale of their home to finance another, meaning they have a truncated timeline and could be more eager to make a deal. Similarly, buyers who have terminated a lease may be desperate for a place to live and more willing to negotiate.

If you’re selling a home with known issues, it’s important to anticipate how these problems may put you at a disadvantage during negotiations.

A leaky roof may not be discovered until after buyers order a home inspection. Depending on the cost, they may ask the seller to either fix the roof or deduct the cost of a new roof from the sale price.

These types of issues put sellers at a distinct disadvantage because they have to either pay for repairs, lower the selling price, or reject the counteroffer and hope the next buyer doesn’t notice or care about repairs.

This is why it’s worth the money (around $500) to pay for an inspection before listing a house. Preparation can save you headache and money down the road.

Responding to a counteroffer

If you’ve received a counteroffer as a buyer or a seller, carefully review every aspect. Real estate agents apart from yours are under no obligation to ensure you read the full contract. So make sure you read everything carefully before you sign.

With each individual counteroffer, take into account every aspect of the sale, including old and new information. If you made an offer above the list price, there is always the possibility for an appraisal to come in low.

If you are responding to a counter before an appraisal or inspection, keep those at the forefront of your mind. Prepare yourself for future counteroffers once they are completed.

Whether you’re selling or buying a home, it’s good to establish a baseline where you will walk away from a sale.

As a buyer, you don’t want to spend so much on a home that you move in with no cash for improvements and repairs.

And as a seller, you should have a hard figure in mind of how much you want to make off the sale of your home.

With a measured and informed approach, counteroffers can be your friend. Communicate often with your agent to let him or her know what you want from the sale and never be afraid to walk away if things go south.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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4 Reasons to Go to Open Houses (Even If You’re Not Looking to Buy)

Some people just can’t get enough of that ‘fresh-baked cookie’ smell.

After a seller has staged their home and listed it on the market, it’s likely their real estate agent will recommend holding an open house. Home buyers flock to these events for a chance to get a peek inside the closets and stroll through the rooms.

But not everyone who attends open houses is looking to buy. Here are four opportunities open houses present if you’re willing to devote your weekend afternoons to them.

Learn from listing agents

Would-be sellers and nearby homeowners represent a large portion of open house traffic. You can use the open house not only to see what’s for sale and the price of comparable homes, but also to learn about the market.

Pick the brain of the listing agent to get his or her take on what’s happening in your area. Real estate agents tend to be aware of market changes well before the mainstream press.

Check out home design trends

Sellers generally put their best foot forward. Some go as far as making cosmetic updates or design/staging changes before putting their homes on the market.

They likely rely on their real estate agent to suggest the latest and greatest looks in the market. So if you’re planning to list a home that needs updating, or you aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to choosing paint colors, countertops or bath fixtures, going to open houses will allow you to see styles and designs.

Even if you’re not looking to sell, you may get some design inspiration to make your home feel like new.

Get referrals for contractors or designers

Want to be connected to a good local designer or contractor? Ask the real estate agent selling the home you liked if they can get you the contact information.

Although getting referrals from friends is also a good idea, seeing the finished product in an open house can inspire you to replicate what that owner did, and how they did it.

Fuel your daydreams

For dedicated real estate buffs, browsing the ‘for sale’ sites and flipping through listing photos isn’t enough. If you’re truly obsessed, you hit the open houses in your area to tour the home for yourself.

Watch real-life open house obsessives tour their dream homes.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Ozzy & Sharon’s 90210 Rental Hits the Market

It’s perfect for entertaining, with a formal breakfast room and a dining room that seats 20.

shutterstock_252513817What has a stately entrance, a glamorous swimming pool, and a ZIP code that can’t be beat? Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s rental in Beverly Hills 90210 for the past four years.

The reunited couple moved out recently, and it’s on the market for $26.895 million.

Designed by architect-to-the-stars Paul R. Williams in 1955, as the Los Angeles Times reported, the home spans nearly 5,400 square feet and boasts a marble entryway reminiscent of old Hollywood. It’s ideal for entertaining the children and friends, with a gourmet kitchen, a formal breakfast room and a formal dining room that seats 20. For more casual gatherings, there’s a wood-paneled family room with a fireplace and bar.


The home’s 4 bedrooms and 6 baths include a master suite with dressing rooms, a steam shower and a spa tub.

The home is situated on nearly an acre with a mosaic tile pool and a cabana that features a gym, bathroom and kitchen. The property also offers a guest house and staff quarters.

The listing agent is Lori Berris of Sotheby’s International Realty.


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Working With a Design-Build Team to Create Your Dream Home

What do the experts say you need to do and know for a smooth build out?

Building your dream home from scratch is a daunting task, especially if you’ve never worked with an architect, builder, and design team before.

To make the project a little easier to wrap your head around, here’s some advice from construction professionals.

Do your research

The building process isn’t short, so make sure you are happy with your team — you’re stuck with them for a long time.

This requires doing a little homework.

To start the building process right, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Conduct extensive online research to make sure you’re using a reputable builder
  • Get referrals from friends and family
  • Look at examples of the builder’s current work

Nikki James, studio manager at Ashton Woods, a builder and design studio constructing homes in the South and Southwest, recommends visiting a builder’s model homes and those under construction.

It’s fine to even be a little sneaky, says Jesse Fowler, president of Southern California-based Tellus Design + Build. Pop in at a construction site unannounced to see what the job site looks like. Workers not wearing hard hats or lots of garbage on the ground are red flags.

Ask questions (and more questions)

You need to understand the parameters of what the builder is doing for you, advises Roger Kane of Kane Built Homes in Massachusetts. And you get that information by asking questions. Make sure the builder can execute what you want, because not all builders can accommodate custom designs.

One of the first things you should do before meeting with your team for the first time is to identify what you don’t know, and then eliminate that doubt.

If this is your first time building, there are probably going to be a lot of things you don’t know, and that’s fine, Fowler says. There are no dumb questions.

Here are a few starter questions:

  • What exactly are you paying for?
  • Do you need full architecture/design/build services, or do you just want a blueprint?
  • How much time should you allow?

Know what you want

Design inspiration can come from anywhere,” says James. She asks her clients to bring in plenty of pictures, scraps of fabric, or anything that speaks to their aesthetic.

The first thing to do, Fowler says, is to figure out the look and feel that a customer likes, and weed out what they don’t like.

It’s also important to know your limitations, though. James warns that you must make the structural selections for your floor plan before picking design elements so you know what you can and can’t have. For example, if you want a freestanding tub, you will first need to know if you have the right plumbing for it.

An architect wants to know how you’re going to use your home, advises Kim Nigro, the architect at Chicago-based Studio Nigro Architecture. Tell your architect what you don’t like about your current home, and what your day-to-day needs are.

This can be as simple as letting them know you shop at Costco a lot, so you want a big pantry, James says.

The details matter

You probably never thought about what kind of grout you want between your tiles. But these are the kinds of decisions you will be making.

Ashton Woods gives its customers a checklist for details like this, and there are a lot of specific items on it, from what kind of edge you want on your counters to how many outlets and phone jacks you’ll need.

This sounds overwhelming, but Kane’s advice is to just take it room by room. Start out with the basics. Determine how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need, then go inside each room and think about what should be in it.

“Make a list,” he says. “’We want hardwood flooring; we need his-and-her closets.’ Make your own little notebook and just address every room. That’s a great way to start.“

Know your budget

The harsh reality is that you can’t buy something you can’t afford. So, do your math, and be upfront about your budget.

“Not communicating a clear budget to a designer is a mistake,” Fowler advises. “Designers need something tangible. If you let them go wild, 99 times out of 100 they are going to do something you can’t afford.”

There are good reasons not to pinch too many pennies, though.

As the saying goes, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” You probably shouldn’t go with the cheapest guy out there, Fowler suggests. A lot of builders, he says, cut corners by doing things illegally.

Don’t get roped into a mess like that. Saving a few bucks now might end up costing you more later.

James recommends doing things exactly the way you want them from the beginning, because remodeling later will cost you more money and more stress.

“We see a lot of buyers getting nervous about spending too much. As people get closer [to finishing], they wish they had spent that extra money,” she reports.

Spending more for quality products is another big consideration. Kane uses sustainable products for the exterior of his houses that last “pretty much a family’s life in a home — 30 to 40 years.”

That’s good for the environment and your wallet, because regular maintenance like repainting the outside of a house can cost $15,000.

Be decisive

The biggest mistake Kane, a veteran homebuilder, has seen homeowners make is being wishy-washy with their decisions.

Once a home is under construction, it’s important to have made all your major design selections.

“Paint color’s not a big deal,” Kane says. “But you should have things like all your tile and granite picked out.”

Why? Because at this point in the process, your selections could be backordered, and waiting on them is costly to the builder and to you.

If you do tend to change your mind a lot, make sure you pick a builder with a good warranty program.

Communication is key

One core piece of advice from construction professionals: Keep the lines of communication open. The biggest mistake you can make, says Fowler, is leaving gray areas in your building and design plan.

“I’ve heard horror stories, and most are because one party’s expectations were different from the other’s,” Nigro states. “The more developed drawings can be, the fewer assumptions the contractor will have to make.”

And it’s not only important for you to communicate to your design team. The members of your team need to be on the same page with each other as well.

“They need to really create a collaborative team,” Nigro says. “There are a lot of decisions to be made.”

Fowler recommends getting the whole team together to meet each other and start working collaboratively from the start. Most times, he says, architects, designers, and builders who work in a community have met and done projects with each other before.

Consider the trends

More homes across the country are being built “healthy” or “green.” These are homes built with non-toxic, natural products and materials.

Nigro says she used to recommend healthy building to her clients, and now people are coming to her asking for it.

Another trend sweeping the nation is “mother-in-law suites” or homes that accommodate multi-generational families.

Over the past five years, a lot of Nigro’s clients have started looking down the road to when older relatives might move in with them, or maybe their adult children will move back home after college.

This could mean a separate apartment over a garage, or maybe a guest bedroom on the main floor.

Why are trends an important factor to consider? It could help you sell your home in the future.

Have fun

“It’s important for us to personalize your home and make it yours and something that you’re proud of,” James remarks.

If this means having a full basketball court right on the main floor next to the dining room, like one of Nigro’s customers wanted, then that’s what you should have!

Custom features can range from practical to fantastical: Fowler has had clients ask for water pipes over their nightstand so they wouldn’t have to get up for water in the middle of the night; “living walls” (walls with plants or grass growing right on them); hidden cameras; and even an unexplained hole in the closet floor.

Hey, it’s your dream house, after all.


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13 Metros with the Most Real-Life Haunted Houses

In 2016, a visit to a haunted house is on the Halloween agenda for about one-fifth of Americans, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Kids and adults alike will be shelling out millions of dollars to snake their way through haunted attractions with names like House of Torment and 13th Gate.

“From locations in creepy old industrial districts to country farms and hayrides under the stars, each location has a unique approach to interactive horror, but all deliver the thrills and excitement that Halloween fans are seeking,” says James Olmsted, a spokesman for

We get that these attractions are fun and frightening, but they’re just temporary, Hollywood-inspired spots. They’re not real haunted houses. So we went looking for the metro areas in the U.S. where you’re most likely to find real haunted houses that’ll give you a real scare.

Old and Vacant
To come up with the list, we sifted through two sets of data for the 100 largest metro areas: the number of homes built before 1940 and the number of vacant homes. LawnStarter pulled the data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey.

Why did we pick these two sets of data? Because older homes and vacant homes have a perceived, if not actual, chance of being haunted. In our ranking, we assigned 75 percent of our score to the percentage of homes in a metro that were built before 1940 and 25 percent to the percentage of homes in a metro that are vacant.

Tragedy and Trauma
Paranormal investigator Sharon Day says that the older a home is, the more residents it’s probably had and, therefore, the house has more of an “emotional and traumatic history” tied to any number of tragedies. Furthermore, she says, older homes might have been used in the past as hospitals, morgues, TB clinics and retirement homes—all of which are associated with death.

“Whether you believe in ghosts or not, one thing is certain: an old house has so many little quirks and creaks that the thought of ghosts definitely messes with your head,” writer Shannon Lee says on Old House Web.

‘Reclaimed by Ghosts’
As for the likelihood of a vacant home being haunted, Sarah Petruno, a shaman who serves as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, says “something interesting can happen” when homes, apartments and other structures don’t have human inhabitants. Petruno says vacant homes can be spiritually “reclaimed by the land” and then ghosts can freely take up residence.

“Abandoned and mostly abandoned homes can become inhabited by ghosts forever if they remain mostly vacant indefinitely,” Petruno says.

In those situations, you might come across some uninvited guests, she warns.

“If you own a vacation home or are considering buying or renting a mostly vacant or abandoned home, do consider the spirit inhabitants that are almost assuredly present in the space. It may take considerable work to get them to leave,” Petruno says.

Here, for your Halloween pleasure, are the 13 metro areas that potentially have the most real-life haunted houses, based on their mix of old and vacant homes. For purposes of this ranking, LawnStarter included houses, apartments, condos and other dwellings.

  1. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.


Credit: Scranton Ghost Tours

Number of homes: 259,918
Number of homes built in 1939 or before: 96,993
Percentage of homes built in 1939 or before: 37.3 percent
Number of vacant homes: 38,718
Percentage of vacant homes: 14.9 percent

  1. Albany, N.Y.


Credit: Discover Albany

Number of homes: 398,555
Number of homes built in 1939 or before: 118,984
Percentage of homes built in 1939 or before: 29.9 percent
Number of vacant homes: 55,789
Percentage of vacant homes: 14 percent

  1. Syracuse, N.Y.


Credit: The Daily Orange

Number of homes: 290,445
Number of homes built in 1939 or before: 74,858
Percentage of homes built in 1939 or before: 25.8 percent
Number of vacant homes: 36,444
Percentage of vacant homes: 12.5 percent

  1. Toledo, Ohio



Number of homes: 273,783
Number of homes built in 1939 or before: 69,616
Percentage of homes built in 1939 or before: 25.4 percent
Number of vacant homes: 31,142
Percentage of vacant homes: 11.4 percent

  1. Cleveland, Ohio



Number of homes: 957,518
Number of homes built in 1939 or before: 232,103
Percentage of homes built in 1939 or before: 24.2 percent
Number of vacant homes: 108,043
Percentage of vacant homes: 11.3 percent

View the full list of top 13 real-life haunted houses on Housecall.

This post was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends.

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