When is the best time to write an offer?

Nearly half a decade ago, I wrote this:

You have undoubtedly heard the saying “the first offer is the best”. I am here to tell you that this is not so. The “best” offer is the one, or one of several, that is submitted when your agent is on vacation.

I don’t know how they know (they being every agent in the Greater San Diego area), but the moment my checked luggage disappears into the bowels of the Baggage Mishandling Area, every agent working with a buyer or thinking of working with a buyer goes into full Red Alert status. I suspect that a hidden sensor on my little rolly suitcase triggers a blast email suggesting that now would be the perfect time to write a very complicated offer requiring a lot of work on one of my listings. Which one? Ideally, it will be the one involving a first-time seller who needs a lot of explanin’ therefore maximizing my roaming minute consumption and hours spent in the Hampton Inn business center.

Today, things are only slightly different. Inventory remains dismally low, at least if we define “inventory” as “homes someone might actually want to live in and that are priced within a factor of seven of what a reasonable man might pay.” So the real action lately seems to be in the buyer realm. We seem to have a logjam of buyers anxiously shuffling on the side lines, lender letters hoisted skyward, waiting for that exceptional home in perfect condition priced well below market. How many? Think the 405 at rush hour.

So when’s the best time to write an offer? Well, it’s still when your agent is otherwise indisposed. For us, that doesn’t mean we are on vacation, though, at least not in the conventional sense.

That’s the other thing that has changed. The whole “vacation” concept has been illusive lately — illusive, that is, if you discount the forty-seven trips to various and sundry local airports we have made in the past week. In the old days, we would attempt to take what unenlightened, childless people like to refer to as “family vacations.” We called these “forced family fun,” with the trips simply affording us the opportunity to work and fight from remote locations. Today, with the offspring having migrated to faraway higher learning institutions, only they have vacations while we operate a makeshift Cloud 9 courtesy shuttle in between mold inspections.

(At this point, I must briefly digress and take a moment to thank Drew Carey. And by “thank,” I mean thanks a lot, buddy, for bestowing upon my youngest a prize package of random, very taxable items that included a trip to St. Lucia departing from and returning to Los Angeles at midnight on a Sunday. By “thank,” I mean thanks a bunch, as this is the first time I have seen 2:00 AM since the Mesozoic Era (it’s not pretty) and all for a “free” trip that ended up costing me roughly $7 million in transfer flights, toll roads, parking, spending money and a big shout out to the IRS.)

More to point, the laws of real estate dictate that all of the magic will happen when your agent is attempting to do something unrelated to real estate – like when they are hanging out in Terminal 5 with glazed eyes glued to the incoming flight board. Or when they are at a college campus schlepping a 30 pound mini-fridge up four flights of stairs, entertaining out-of-town guests (who aren’t real estate agents and get to take vacations in August), or penning a Craigslist ad for a 1,000-pound gym-in-a-closet that is now occupying the better part of their three-car garage while secretly wishing Drew Carey dead (requires 220 volt, no reasonable offer refused).

And that’s OK, because where the best properties are concerned – and I am quite serious here – time is never on your side. This may be a buyer’s market, but there are a whole bunch of buyers just like you who are waiting for a home just like the one you want. The laws of real estate also dictate that those other buyers will want the same home you do the exact moment you do.

Contrary to what Case or Shiller or the well-read guy at the cubicle next to yours might tell you, multiple offers are commonplace today, particularly in the more affordable segments. But we are seeing multiples in the higher-priced segments as well. If it looks like a smoking deal, it very well may be, and you may not have the luxury of waiting until next Sunday when it is most convenient for you to see it given the kids’ soccer schedule or your own vacation plans. Rather, you must see it and write the offer immediately, at the first moment you sense your agent is “on vacation” at the bank transferring more money into they daughter’s college account — or sitting in the studio audience watching their children win them into bankruptcy.

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