9 July 2018, The Sunday Times
By Graham Norwood
Offer too much and you’ll overpay; offer too little and you’ll miss out for ever. Here’s our top tips for handling this one-shot opportunity
It’s enough to make a buyer’s heart sink: just when you think you’ll make a killer offer on your dream home, the seller asks for sealed bids. This means all interested buyers are requested to submit a bid in a sealed envelope by a set date. It’s a one-shot opportunity: offer too much and you’ll overpay; offer too little and you’ll miss out for ever.
It’s made worse because sealed bids — also known as “informal tenders” — are one-sided affairs. The vendor and agent have all the information on the property, its condition, rival offers and the deadlines and motivations behind the sale. The buyer has… well, not much at all.
Does this process only happen when the local market is strong?
Not always. Sealed bids often crop up for “really high-quality, best-in-class properties”, says Caspar Harvard-Walls, a partner at Black Brick buying agency. “As an extreme example, an unmodernised detached villa in Holland Park, west London, went on the market at about £13m. A round of sealed bids later, it sold last month for more than £18m.”
In a buoyant location, sealed bids can be used to heighten attention and offers. Yet Jeremy Leaf, who runs the north London estate agency Jeremy Leaf & Co, sounds a note of caution: “The whole process could be a bluff in a slower market by owners and agents trying to fool the few prospective purchasers that demand is stronger than it really is.”
Can a buyer find out who they’re bidding against?
It’s not easy, but if you push an agent or seller, you might wheedle out vital intelligence. “For example, if you’re only bidding against one other party who needs a mortgage, you may decide to make a slightly lower bid,” Harvard-Walls says. “If you’re bidding against five others who are all cash buyers, you may choose to go higher.” Canny bidders will seek out the vendor’s social-media accounts to see if they’ve blabbed online about why they are moving.
What counts in a bid? Is it just down to price?
Obviously, the amount offered is crucial, but in a difficult market where a third of agreed sales fall through, costing an average of £2,899 in wasted fees, according to Market Financial Solutions, you should also use the bid to convince the seller that you’re ready to go, without complications.
Remember, there is no obligation for a vendor to choose the highest bid. Agents often advise that a lower offer is preferable if the sale that follows has fewer potential pitfalls.
So what should go in the bid letter?
Anything that gives you the edge as a buyer. Specify if you’re chain-free and/or a cash buyer (and how long it would take you to draw down the money), and provide a copy of the in-principle loan agreement should you need a mortgage. Give your conveyancer’s details and tell the vendor what stage your own sale is at.
Don’t be afraid to pull at a seller’s heartstrings. In America, it’s common to include a letter, with pictures of your family, to demonstrate how much you love the house and how it would be great for your kids/dependents/dog. Estate agents in catchment areas for sought-after schools say the idea is catching on over here, too.
Any clever tricks?
If you’re super-keen, commission a survey of the house you want to buy before bidding. If no horrible problem surfaces, you can make an offer with the genuine promise that it’s not subject to a survey — another advantage over rival bidders. Instruct your solicitor to begin basic searches on the property, too, and let the seller know to emphasise that you’re willing to move quickly.
Vendors should be thinking ahead, too. Leaf says they should make some legal information available to would-be buyers during the process and have replies to conveyancer inquiries ready to go as soon as an offer is accepted. “After all that effort, owners would not want to be responsible for a sale falling through.”
What price should a buyer offer?
This is the trickiest bit. The property portals Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket will give you an idea of other asking prices in the area, while websites such as nethouseprices.com and mouseprice.com show what has been paid in the recent past — but that may be some months or even years earlier, and the market will have changed in the interim.
Obviously, you should put forward a sum you can afford — and remember, if it’s far more than a home is worth, your lender may not advance as much as you want. Mortgage firms make their own valuations, and you could be left high and dry if you bid wildly and can’t borrow enough.
The National Association of Estate Agents recommends avoiding round numbers so that you don’t find yourself making the exact same bid as someone else — you could bid £500,025 instead of £500,000.
And if I don’t win, that’s it?
Not necessarily — if you’re determined to get that house, keep in touch with the agent in case the successful bid falls through.