When Home Sellers Can Make Multiple Counteroffers

Instead of choosing just one home-buying bidder to negotiate a purchase contract with, how about negotiating with several at once?

As a home seller, you may find yourself in the fortunate situation of having a number of buyers interested in, and submitting offers on, your home. But what if none of the offers you receive stands out? Perhaps more than one is somewhere in the ballpark of what you'd willingly accept—in terms of price, closing time, and contingencies—but none is making you want to sign on the dotted line.

One possible solution (depending on real estate practice in your area) is to counteroffer several offers at once.

Why Multiple Counteroffers Must Be Handled Carefully

The reason that multiple counteroffers aren’t more common is a legal one. In a normal offer and counteroffer situation (as it plays out in most states), the home buyer makes a written offer, using a standard form that contains all the details, terms, and language that would go into the final purchase agreement. The buyer signs it at the bottom and leaves a blank space for your signature. So if you were to sign it, the two of you would be “in contract,” and proceed to closing on the home sale.

As the seller, however, you’re more likely to counteroffer an individual buyer; redoing the paperwork to alter a term or two—for example, raising the purchase price (if the buyer offered less than your list price) or adding a contingency of your home, perhaps saying that you will be allowed to live in the home for a week after the closing. You would then sign the counteroffer and leave a blank space for the buyer’s signature. As before, if the buyer were to sign the form, the two of you would be in contract, and proceed to closing on the home sale.

Using the standard contract forms in this manner makes multiple counteroffers all but impossible. If you were to counteroffer several buyers at once, and they all signed the forms to say, “Yes, we accept these terms,” you would have agreed to sell your house to a number of people simultaneously, and could be sued for breach of contract by all but the one buyer whom you choose to actually sell to.

Using a Multiple Counteroffer Form

The way to avoid a scenario such as the one descried above is to use a special multiple counteroffer form (which your real estate agent can provide).

Such a form will say that the contract isn't final and binding until not only has the buyer signed it, but you have “re-signed” it, indicating your final acceptance. That last chance to enter your signature means that you have the legal last word, and can safely choose only one buyer. See, for example, the Las Vegas Asssociation of Realtors Sample Multiple Counter Offer Form.

When you fill these forms out, you can customize each one to the offer you received. Perhaps you want to ask one buyer to raise the offer amount nearer to your list price, ask another to shorten or extend the closing period, and ask a third to drop a particular contingency.

Counteroffers should never, however, be used to ask buyers to pay more than what you originally listed the property for, however—that's unethical and will definitely anger buyers.

Talk to your real estate agent about the possibilities in your state.

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