Does Your Real Estate Offer have a Deadline?

Lynchburg, Virginia

Image by DougFrancis via Flickr

If you are submitting a written real estate offer to buy a home then you want the sellers to respond in a reasonable time-frame, right? So, is there a set deadline for them to respond to your offer?

Well here is the truth: Unless you put in a deadline in your offer, then your offer is out there until it is accepted, countered or withdrawn by you. In practice, real estate agents are trained to encourage their clients to respond as quickly as possible, and communicate that fact back to the other party.

But as much as an agent can encourage his or her client to respond quickly, it is the client’s initials or signatures that are required to keep the ball rolling. A slow response from either party can be the first sign the contract isn’t going to work out.

Clear communication is essential when negotiating real estate

Just last week there was an offer on a listing of mine in Vienna, Virginia. As luck would have it, my client had boarded a plane that morning for the 20-hour flight to South Korea while his wife was in California. I communicated this fact to the buyer’s agent because his client had added a hard deadline for a response, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to get the house sold since there was a reasonable explanation for a delayed response.

Making an offer to buy a home is done “in good faith” or with honest intention. I have found that this trust is a fragile especially when one party does not respond within 24 to 36 hours. “Are they jerking me around?” or “are they using my offer to get more money?” or “what is this BS?” are a common question I hear from home buyer clients when we have not heard back from a seller.

People drag their feet for many reasons. I prefer to get to the bottom of things quickly when there is a deafening silence, and then communicate any explanations to my clients. If someone is at 39,000 feet and landing in a foreign country then they really are slightly out of touch, or if they work in a “secure building” like we have in Northern Virginia then they may need to get home before they can respond. And there are variables like a divorce, an estate attorney, a sudden illness, a builder, a bank officer, a snow storm, or a brother who lives in Canada and doesn’t want to sell Dad’s old house!

And I have seen seller clients lose the best offer the ever received because they dragged their feet. Yes, a buyer last summer said “forget it” to one of my seller clients who did not have the same sense of urgency that the buyer had to get a deal together. In his opinion, my client was not acting “in good faith” and he moved on. And when it happened, my client apologized for dropping the ball after not heading my warnings that they buyer was about to walk.

Including a deadline for either party to respond to an offer or counter-offer needs to be discussed. In my opinion deadlines that are “6:00 p.m. tomorrow” sound intimidating and set up ill will, but if it is “6:00 p.m.” two days from now is reasonable. If the deadline needs extending because of a reasonable “variable”, then you can build good will which may come in handy later on if you have an issue.

My client who was on a business trip was able to respond in time thanks to some cutting edge technology that I use for digital signatures from DocuSign. So, add a deadline if you feel it is necessary but remember that you can always withdraw a real estate offer anytime before it is accepted.

I often write about experiences that clients have had recently that you may find useful, read more in my Home Buyer Tips section.