Negotiating the Offer Part 2 – The “Contingent” Seller

[photopress:startinggate.jpg,thumb,alignright]The “Contingent” seller knows exactly where he is going if and when his house sells. He is stuck at the starting gate until he gets an acceptable offer on his home. Every day he faces the possibility that someone else will come along and snatch his new home from him; someone who can make an offer without a home sale contingency.

Contingent offers have a limited time frame, and can potentially leave a seller at the starting gate, if his home is not sold within that timeframe.

Presenting an offer from a buyer to a “contingent” seller is one of my favorite scenarios. It is one of the few true win-win set ups. The seller is more focused on being able to get out of the starting gate and to the finish line. He’s chomping at the bit for the race to start and is genuinely happy to have received an offer on his home. The buyer usually doesn’t have to leap over as many hurdles, to get his offer accepted with a fair price and fair terms.

One of the tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a contingent seller is that the seller’s agent is from far away. When you see a Seattle condo listed by a Lynnwood agent, you get the hint that maybe this seller is buying new construction in Lynnwood. When you see an agent whose inventory generally consists of $700,000 homes in Lakemont, list a home in Kenmore for $450,000, you get the idea that maybe this seller has a contingent offer on a house in Lakemont.

Often buyers make the mistake of looking the seller right in the eye and asking “Why are you moving?”, the normal reaction being a look on their face that resembles that of a deer in headlights. As with all fact finding endeavors in the residential real estate market, it is better to surmise and test, than to point blank ask. When I suspect that I am dealing with a “contingent” seller, I call the agent and say I MAY be writing an offer and would like to know if the seller needs a specific closing date. Most often the seller’s agent will respond that the seller needs “closing plus 3”, so that the funds from his sale can get to his next transaction, and so the seller doesn’t have to move his things out of his house until that next transaction closes. This way I can quickly find out that there is a next transaction identified and that the seller cannot close unless he sells this house.

“Closing plus 3” is often identified in the mls, but it is by no means a sure sign that the seller is in a contingent contract. Closing plus 3 is used in divorce situations and almost any scenario where the seller is going to a rental, so you can’t rely on that fact alone to determine seller motivation.

Negotiating price and terms is generally a piece of cake when dealing with the “contingent” seller. The sticky point in negotiations with a contingent seller often becomes the washer, dryer and refrigerator, if they did not negotiate to receive those in their contingent sale contract, minor detail. When preparing and negotiating offers with “contingent” sellers, we are more likely to be looking over our shoulders for another buyer, than to be worrying about reaching a fair agreement with the seller.

Anytime you take too long getting from offer stage to signed around, you leave the door open for another buyer to swoop in and stop your negotiations in their tracks. Move forward with smarts and speed and wrap it up when the issues in dispute become minor and not worth losing the house over.